Would you please join me in a moment of prayer?
Holy One, It is relatively easy for us to rustle up someone to go and gather palm leaves to spread in the church. And we can easily find music and a few good words to help us remember Palm Sunday. But what if you arrived inviting us to really lay down something important to us to acknowledge your arrival? What if we knew the imminence of the danger that accompanies you, or sensed that the authorities were watching us as we worship? How then, Jesus, would we meet you? With abiding love or denial and confusion? What would we spread before you? Dear Jesus, help us to see how and where you enter our world today and what you ask us to lay at your feet and how we may greet you with love. Amen. -Ann Siddall, Stillpoint, adapted
Today we began our service and our Holy Week observance with the passing of the palms- a joyous remembrance of the processional Jesus and the disciples held as they came into the city at the beginning of Passover.
This morning we are invited to journey beyond the processional, beyond the parade, deeper into the story of Holy Week. We are invited to consider: What is the difference between a sacred procession and a violent mob?
The answer lies somewhere between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. As we enter this stretch of the season, we might do well to linger long with this turning of the tale. In this time when it has grown so difficult to discern the truth among the multiplicity of messages, the ancient story of Christ’s journey to the cross has something to teach us about whose voice we listen to, how we respond and what parade we choose to join.
For today, we turn our ears toward the sound of rejoicing. Today we join our voices with the cries that sing praise to the one who comes in the name of the Lord. And we pray for wisdom, that we may see the Christ who enters again into our midst, greet them with love and kindness, rejoice when we recognize them, and follow in the way that they go.
As we accompany Christ, who draws ever closer to the cross this week, we are invited more deeply into the experience of Holy Week. We ask ourselves, “what are we hearing, and how do we sift and sort it? Where and how do we choose to lift our own voices? Pay attention to how you are feeling. Consider how you share the love in your heart with others. –Jan Richardson, adapted
By a show of hands- How many of us here today have ever been in a large crowd? Either at a sporting event or even a political protest or a concert put on by our favorite band? We know the power of a crowd, we know that it can be exciting and empowering and we know it can also feel dangerous and maybe scary.
There is nothing quite like when the entire crowd is singing a song together or praying together or working toward a common cause together.
There is also nothing like it when a crowd gets a little out of control. When someone gets carried away at a soccer match or when someone at a concert gets crushed up against a barrier- indeed, crowds can be dangerous.
Or how about when there are two “crowds” sharing one space? We can probably relate to this feeling if we have gone to root on our favorite team at a sporting event and are surrounded by fans of the rival team…there is nothing quite like being the only Red Sox jersey in a sea of Yankees fans…
In the first reading that Beth shared with us, the crowd plays a very important part- the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, cut down branches and spread them on the road, and went ahead of Jesus, shouting “Hosanna!” That word, Hosanna is a curious word. It has been interpreted to be a word of praise, but it actually comes from the Aramaic word “Oshana” which means “save us.” Scripture tells us, when Jesus entered the city, the city was in turmoil and asking “Who is this?” and the crowds answered, saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” “this is the one who has come to save us.”
The crowd is important, but so is the city and all those watching this processional are not entirely sure what it means… At least when we are at a sporting event, in worship or at a concert, everyone there pretty much knows why they are there- they understand the basic reason for the crowd gathering
On Palm Sunday, in Jerusalem, this was not the case.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan tell us that, in addition to the turmoil going on that day in the city because of the Passover festival, there was also another parade happening- a parade on the other side of the city with war horses and military led by Pontius Pilate. This parade was designed to intimidate the gathering masses that were celebrating Passover to insure that no uprising or riot would occur. This parade was designed to squelch any glimmer of hope that the gathering crowd might muster.
Let’s not lose sight of the context all of this is happening in. Jesus and his crowd are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the festival in Jewish tradition that lifts up freedom from slavery in Egypt. The people of Jerusalem who are under occupation by Rome are celebrating their history of freedom. And Rome, while they allow the celebration to happen, may just be a little nervous and feel the need to flex their military might.
This is indeed turmoil, it is complete mayhem! A city about the size of Portsmouth, now hosting 5 times as many people, holding two parades! No wonder there was chaos! For those of us who are planners and organizers, this is our worst nightmare- someone obviously did not communicate clearly! I thought we reserved this day for OUR parade!
Be all of this as it may, the fact remains that on this day and at this time, Jesus and his “crowd” are making an entrance into the city- the political and religious center of the world. The city may not understand who this is, but the crowd thinks they know who Jesus is and over the course of the next few days, the city will learn- we all will learn.
The question is, friends, what will we learn?
What will we take with us as we journey into Holy Week and beyond?
Will we come to understand that those in the city of this day and age still wonder to a large degree who Jesus is?
And once we learn or come to understand these things, what will it manifest in us?
You see, friends, Palm Sunday is not just a day to celebrate Jesus’ entry into the city; it is a day that sets up the entire week that is coming. Palm Sunday and the bold move Jesus and his crowd made puts the ball squarely in our court as to what we are going to do in His name, to continue God’s mission on earth.
This small parade of a man on a donkey and a crowd gathered round him was enough to set in motion the events of Holy Week that end with the miracle of Easter!
After these events, the world was not the same. As Barbara Brown Taylor says in one of her Palm Sunday sermons, “afterward, the world was a different place and the world knew it. The earth shook, rocks split, tombs groaned open so light could shine in…God said, you don’t have to come meet me where I am anymore, I will come to you. In this gift of my son, I will come to you!” (BBT, Gospel Medicine)
Indeed, on Palm Sunday, the city was in mayhem and friends, our world is also in a state of mayhem. We have so many issues and causes happening around us that we do not know which end is up! Our world could use a little shaking up, a little splitting open.
Enter in the second reading that Beth shared this morning.
“While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.”
Just a day or two after their entry into the city, Jesus and his disciples are hanging out and a woman comes to him to anoint him. Many artists have depicted this woman to be Mary Magdalene. Scholars have argued over this for millennia. Who was this woman that showed such extravagant love to Jesus?
Now, the disciples were beside themselves! “This is not what she should have done! This is not the proper thing to do! Such an extravagance wasted on Jesus!” they thought.
In actuality, this woman was one of the few who understood what was coming in the days ahead. This woman, whoever she was, with the alabaster jar is one of the few people who walk with Jesus in love, who care for him as he makes his way towards the cross. She was shaking things up and splitting things open!
I want us to check in with ourselves as we sit here today. As we have just experienced a wonderful parade, as we have been journeying through Lent, as we have been considering what time it is for us- how does this moment hit us? When we hear this story of love and care lavished upon Jesus, do we see ourselves there? Do we consider ourselves to be in the company of this woman or of Simon of Cyrene who helps Jesus later on in the week carry his cross to Golgotha?
Or do we see ourselves in the disciples, questioning the woman for her extravagance in the moment, not wanting to see what is coming next? As we look ahead into Holy Week, we have the benefit of knowing how things are going to go, but if we could suspend that for just a moment and be here with the disciples and Jesus, I wonder who we identify most with in this moment in time? (pause)
Over the course of the next few days, we are invited to participate in several services that will allow us to experience the passion of Jesus on different levels- a hand and foot washing ritual, taking communion together, the candlelight Tenebrae service, a quiet vigil in this darkened sanctuary… all of these opportunities are designed to help us reflect and ruminate on our relationship with God. They may just shake things up and split things open for you…
I hope you will take some time in the coming days to journey with Jesus and to reflect on where you see yourself in the story. There is a little bit of all of us in this most amazing happening…
May it be so, dear God.