This post is an edited manuscript of a sermon I gave at Grace UMC and Bethel UMC in Salisbury, NC on Palm Sunday 2022.
Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. 2 You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. 3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, 6 and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. 9 I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. 10 I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. 11 So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Today marks the start of one of the high holy weeks of the Christian calendar. Palm Sunday. On this day, we hear the story of the triumphal entry. We wave our palms and shout our hosannas. We celebrate!
And most people I know LOVE to celebrate things. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, educational milestones, and retirements, and in our family, we celebrate top five finishes at the race track. What kinds of things do you celebrate?
Today, we celebrate by waving palms and shouting hosannas. I don’t know many people who do that for other people these days. I’ve seen confetti, flower petals, birdseed, and flags or ribbons thrown or waved, but never palm branches. Most people I know celebrate in other ways today. How does your family celebrate? Our family’s favorite way to celebrate is with ice cream.
Celebrations are good and fun and connect us in important ways.
And celebrations end.
Sure, sometimes the emotions and decorations and memories linger. Sometimes a song or a smell or a particular item will bring back the memory and usually, those memories fade again.
And when life takes a turn that is directly opposite of the celebration, those memories drop to the deep recesses of our hearts and minds. When life goes wrong – division, brokenness, betrayal, ruin and devastation… When life goes wrong, the echoes of the celebrations get drowned out by the shouts of fear, anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness. When life goes wrong, we forget how the celebrations once drew us together even when we didn’t have it all together. When life goes wrong, we forget.
In the Scripture passage, the apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, a church in turmoil. Church life had taken a turn and gone wrong. There was disagreement and division. And while we weren’t there in the church at that time, human emotions have remain unchanged after all this time and you can imagine how everyone was feeling – likely fear, anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness. Add in the normal stresses of family and community life… I imagine the people of the church in Corinth had long ago forgotten the joy of the celebration.
So Paul reminds them of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Good News they had received, not earned or discovered. The Good News was simply shared with them.
Good News that gives them stability. The Good News that helps them resist and endure and stay on their feet.
Good News that is saving them. The Good News that is never exhausted and is always present.
Good News that must be held onto.
You see, as theologian William Barclay writes “Life makes many an attempt to take away our faith. Things happen… which baffle our understanding; life has its problems to which there seems no solution and its questions to which there seems no answer; life has its dark places where there seems to be nothing to do but hold on.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, The Letters to the Corinthians, 1975, p. 143)
My friends, as we enter in to this most holy of weeks in the Christian calendar, we carry with us both celebrations and heartaches. We carry with us the sounds of anguish and the sounds of celebration. They are not mutually exclusive. The sounds of one does not erase the sounds of the other. The shouts of the Hosannas do not ring louder than the cries of the crowd to crucify him which are not loud enough to drown out the echoes of the hosannas.
And we get choose which we want to hold onto.
My friends, hold on to the hosannas. Hold on to the hosannas with purpose. Hold on to the hosannas with intention. Hold on the hosannas because they are the precursors to victory. To victory over sin. To victory over death. To victory over all that tries to keep us separated and divided and broken and in ruin. The hosannas are the precursors to victory over fear, anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness. My friends, hold on to the hosannas that remind us victory is on the way.