Palms and Promises

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. In the church, the services of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday are full of drama and movement. We all know that this is not a normal year isn’t it? So what’s a worship leader to do when all her plans for Holy Week are blown away like the wind the other night?

Start again…

When I think of Palm Sunday, I have two images that come to mind. One is a picture from a book I have from my childhood entitled, “The Bible in Pictures.” And the other is the scene from Jesus Christ Superstar.

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In the book a gentle Jesus is portrayed riding on a donkey with people of all ages around him. In Jesus Christ Superstar he is seen striding triumphantly into Jerusalem again with people of all ages around him, praising him and shouting loud hosannas!

But in all reality, we don’t know what it was like to be in the crowd that day. I don’t think that this was an orderly procession. This was probably loud and noisy and dirty and smelly. He came into Jerusalem on a donkey, amid the noise and the confusion of all of the pilgrims who were streaming in for the Feast of the Passover. People screaming. Trying to get attention. Waving branches in support of Jesus. Caught up in the emotion of the moment. What did they want from this man they called the Messiah? Many of the people were expecting a triumphant ruler, one that would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel and its people to its former glory.

Is this what we are still looking for? Someone to save us? Save us from ourselves? Save us from the consequences of our actions? What I do know is that the Jesus that the people were shouting loud hosannas to was probably a figment of their imagination. He was not a fighting man. He was not going to incite the crowd to overthrow the Romans. He was not going to solve all of their problems for them. But a man who persistently challenged the status quo and the accepted way of doing things. A man who spoke with women and foreigners. A man who ate with tax collectors and sinners. A man who told stories to children and adults alike. A man who wanted us to recognize that we are all neighbors. Nowhere do we find a man who wants change the world using force and violence. We have a man who says quite simply and radically, “Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.” This is the power and the paradox of his message.
It is so simple and so complex. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.

I find Palm Sunday difficult. Because I know what happens next. Some of those same people who praised him, were soon calling for his arrest and crucifixion. Some of those same people who cried out to him to be saved, soon abandoned him. Do we do the same thing? Do we abandon God and Jesus when things in our lives don’t go according to plan? When we can’t see God as alive and acting in our lives? It is easy to support the crowd. Whether the crowd is shouting with loud hosannas as they did when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Or whether that same crowd is calling for his crucifixion.

This Palm Sunday, with it’s physical distancing, helps me to imagine of what might have taken place the next year in Jerusalem. No Jesus… no palm branches… not adoring, praising crowds… His followers frightened and unsettled… wondering if the authorities would discover that they had been associated with Jesus. Perhaps they were ‘sheltering in place’ sort of like we are. We too are in danger… but not because we follow Jesus. We are in danger from an unseen force… a tiny virus… that has most of us sheltering in place.

Almost all of our religious practices and rituals are designed to be in community… in physical proximity to one another. And yet, here we are, participating in rituals ancient and new. Gathered together in this virtual space, not knowing how much longer we will be asked to do so. I think this time of enforced separation from one another has highlighted just how important gathering together as a community of faith is. Can we use this time as fallow time… to be pondering what it means to be followers of Jesus? I wonder what path we will take once we are allowed to congregate together once again? Will we take the path of going right back to ‘normal’ whatever normal is? Or will we seek to create a new normal… more in balance with the earth… with one another… Where loving God and loving neighbour will be lived out in new and creative ways.

As we move through this last week of Lent I would encourage all of us to walk in that path that Jesus walked before us. The path that ultimately led to his death on a cross.
But that was not the end for Jesus and that need not be the end for us. We can rise again in new life just as Jesus did. We can spread the Good News that Jesus taught us.
We can be the people that God intended us to be.

I am going to close with the BLESSING OF PALMS; it’s written by Jan Richardson:

This blessing
can be heard coming
from a long way off.
This blessing
is making
its steady way
up the road
toward you.
This blessing
blooms in the throats
of women,
springs from the hearts
of men,
tumbles out of the mouths
of children.
This blessing
is stitched into
the seams
of the cloaks
that line the road,
etched into
the branches
that trace the path,
echoes in
the breathing
of the willing colt,
the click
of the donkey’s hoof
against the stones.
Something is rising
beneath this blessing.
Something will try
to drown it out.
But this blessing
cannot be turned back,
cannot be made
to still its voice,
cannot cease
to sing its praise
of the One who comes
along the way
it makes.
—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Thanks be to God for these promises, and thanks be to God for you. Amen.

Matthew 21:1-11
April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday – SMUC

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