Palm Sunday has got to be my absolutely least favorite day in Holy Week. We start with a parade, like a circus, with people waving palms. We get miracles like Jesus being placed on the back of an unbroken colt and he was not bucked off. People are waving palms leaves and yelling, Hosanna, Hosanna and everything is fabulous and not five minutes later, Jesus is crucified.
I don’t know about you, but that arc is too quick for me. It’s heartbreaking. It’s breathtakingly difficult. That arc reminded me of a time when, my oldest daughter was about five (and, by the way, I do have her permission to tell this story.) So, when she was about five, we went to a park with a little kid roller coaster and her friends talked her into going on ride. I was standing in the parent’s waiting place, watching and as it went up on highest part of the ride and swooped down, I could tell from her face that she hated it.
Every second of it, her mouth was open in a scream. At the end of the circle, it came around the bend and it’s slowed down as it came into the place where she got on and you could see her visibly sag with relief. She had made it, and it was over. Then the roller coaster started to pick up speed and she realized that the ride actually went around twice. I’ll admit I had to turn my back because I was laughing so hard.
But it was a terrible moment. You could tell it was just too much for her. And when she got off she’s, she said, “I did not like that.” And I taught her a phrase that has done me a world of good in my life: “I am not a rollercoaster kind of gal.” People say “Do you want to go on the roller coaster?” And I say, “I am not a rollercoaster kind of gal.”
The carousel is more my speed. I know we live in a roller coaster loving world but allow me to make an argument for the carousel. It gives you time to see what’s going on. It gives you time to enjoy the experience and, in the really best carousels, there’s a chance to win. You grab the brass ring and you win. I think that Palm Sunday is for the roller coaster people. That’s fine, but i’m not a roll coaster kind of gal.
I think Holy Week gives us the carousel ride. Thursday. First, on Palm Sunday, we have the parade. We couldn’t just do Palm Sunday and not read the Passion story. That is one of the options, although it’s not one that almost any church I know does. We could do that, where we just have the great parade and we’re in Jerusalem and we take a couple of days to enjoy the triumph of that.
And then we gather for dinner together a family with Jesus on Maundy Thursday. We affirmed the many meals to we have had together and the importance of the three years of work that Jesus did with his disciples and understand, by washing each other’s feet, the importance of caring for one another and loving one another and being there for each other.
Then, from Thursday night into Friday morning, we have the night watch in the beautiful garden that represents the Garden of Gethsemane where you can come for an hour or more and you can watch with Jesus and pray and be in the quiet of the experience. You can soak in that time of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, not really knowing if you’re ready for it, not really understanding what’s in the darkness, but knowing the darkness is there.
And then you get to Good Friday and Jesus dies and God is no longer present in the world and there is shock and sorrow and devastation. But you had the meals, you had the foot washing, you had the sitting and praying in the garden, and you have been together in that moment of devastation.
The next day we come back in the dark for the Easter Vigil and we tell the stories of the many times that God has loved us enough to invite us into relationship. We tell so many stories because, as often as we have walked away from God, God has invited us into relationship again and again. That is what the Easter Vigil reminds us, that God is more faithful than we can imagine. God loves us more than we can imagine. Easter is the final fulfillment, the final promise that lasts forever. And then we’re ready to grab the brass ring. We can really celebrate Easter morning.
I went ands a play recently and Come from Away. It’s a play about, September 11th, 2001, the twin towers and, and the terrorist attacks. But the story, the story of this play Come from Aways is the story of the people who were in the air on airplanes when the attacks occurred. There were 4,000 airplanes in the air and hoping to land in the United States and they couldn’t because the FAA closed down the airspace.
And so 38 of those planes were rerouted to the Gander International Airport. And I have to say from all accounts, international airport is a very hyped up term for two air strips and a town with 10,000 people. So these 38 planes dropped off 6,700 people in a 10,000 person town and they were stranded there for days. The town got together and they thought, “How do we feed these people?” The people who were being fed helped out with the cooking. They got to share a meal, they got to take care of each other and the people who are grounded on 9/11 got moments of quiet where there was nowhere to go, where there was nothing to do to try to make sense of something that was completely nonsensical. They got to sit in the garden and they got to experience the devastation of the unimaginable happening in a way that no one could have imagined and they got to wonder what was next.
Now I was here in California on 9/11 but I lived in New York for 10 years. It was everything I could do to not get my car and drive to New York after the attacks because my people were there. Experiencing 9/11 in San Carlos was a roller coaster ride. People were shocked and dismayed and it was terrible. And then we moved on.
I am not a roller coaster kind of gal. I needed to sit with the darkness and the sadness. I needed to understand how the world had changed and I needed Easter. I need the process before I could find Easter. I needed the carousel. The people in Gander got the carousel ride.
You know, this service on Palm Sunday is always highly attended and that’s wonderful, but I feel sad that most people only get the roller coaster. Let me invite you on the carousel. The carousel is great. We get to see what’s going on. We get to feel what’s happening. We get to be together and we get to grab that brass ring. and if we are really lucky, we get to throw it right back into the world.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos on Sunday April 14, 2019.