It took me nearly half an hour to read the lections for Palm, or Passion, Sunday. There is so much going on: the march to Jerusalem, the woman with the alabaster jar, the final meal, the conspiracy, the betrayal, the trial, and the execution. In my church tradition, where the preacher can go on for 45 minutes, the prospect of a super long scripture reading is terrifying. Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, there is a lot of story to tell, and there are many themes to explore. There is enough content here to develop a ten-episode emotional drama series for Netflix.
My home church did not follow the liturgical year with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, etc. There was Christmas, and there was Easter. You may see palms in the sanctuary the week before Easter, but that was just a prelude to the big day. For a church that gathered on Sundays only, one could go from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Alleluias of Resurrection Day, but miss all the passion in between. You could have palms and lilies, but no cross, no lamentation, no tomb.
Later, when I pastored a church that observed Lent, I discovered the ability of the Lenten season to communicate and celebrate the power of God’s love as compassionate solidarity with us and the world. Amid the layers upon layers of encounters in the Passion story, we experience hope and jubilation, danger and disruption, and ultimately grief and despair. The readings end with a typical penultimate cliffhanger episode. We witness a lament, a final breath, a burial, and a sealed tomb. To be continued.
As a pastor, I wanted the congregation to experience the notion of God’s solidarity with us in all seasons of life. Palm/Passion Sunday provided the stories and images to engage this experience. We began the service with a procession of palms, African drums, and Hosannas. We ended the service in silent recession, covering the altar in black. This practice deepened our appreciation of the power of God’s steadfast love and solidarity with us in the suffering seasons of life. It also heightened our celebration of new life arising from a tomb, of which the seal has been broken open.
We are living in a very long moment of suffering around the world. Amid the pandemic, we are experiencing “all the things”—layers upon layers of grief, rage, and fear. Even with vaccinations presenting the opportunity of a new spring in our lives, we would be remiss if we did not hold space together to acknowledge the sustaining power of God’s solidarity with us.
In the Passion story, we witness a God whose love for us is steadfast. In the passion of Jesus, we experience God’s solidarity in our suffering. We see compassion running through the layers of grief, rage, and fear. It is a reminder and a resource for us as we seek to embody that compassionate solidarity with our lives, for that is what the call to steadfast love is about: a commission to experience, embody, and extend God’s compassionate solidarity in every season of life.
- How has Lent awakened you to the reality of God’s compassionate solidarity?
Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews (he/him/his) brings over 30 years of leadership experience—as a senior pastor, grassroots leader, psalmist and community organizer—to his work as deputy director for Faith in Action (formerly PICO National Network). He is the host of the Prophetic Resistance Podcast, where he engages multi-faith leaders in conversations about cultivating communities of belonging and sacred resistance to injustice. Rev. Mathews is president of the Alliance of Baptists, a progressive movement for justice and healing, and co-editor of Trouble the Waters: A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice. A visiting professor of public theology at American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, he is also a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary in New York. Michael-Ray is co-founder of and public theologian-in-residence with Sympara, a multifaith/interspiritual community of practice, repurposing spiritual assets for the common good.
Reverendo Michael-Ray Mathews es el director adjunto para Faith in Action.