Posts Tagged ‘Palm Sunday’

Palm Sunday, 2017

April 9, 2017

Parade’s are fantastic, aren’t they?  Versatile; colourful; full of activity, noise and wonder.  They help define our triumphs, they shape our memories; they offer joy and encouragement.  Parades can be vehicles for pride, promise, or protest.  They can promote patriotism and politicking.  They help us honour heroes, living and dead.

Parades help us express things that are not easily captured by words alone. Just watch the frantic flag-waving in Westville on 1 July, or the tears of joy when the Maple Leafs celebrate their next cup.  What’s not to love about a parade?

Bearing all this in mind, is it a parade that best describes what we encounter in the gospels, at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry in Palestine?  A quick organizational meeting to arrange transport.  Impromptu decoration with clothing and foliage.  Crowds willing to shout themselves hoarse along the route, chosen for maximum visibility.  This is the only “parade” Jesus is known to have taken part, and he was both the organizer and the ‘grand marshal’.  His was the only ‘float’; his followers and friends provide the sound-track…and his opponents used this simple (but effective) procession as part of the evidence against him at his “trial” (so called).  And of course, we know that what began with shouts of triumph ended in disaster.  Sometimes, this happens – especially when the gathering is emotionally charged, or motivated by an ideal (or a dream) – think Martin Luther King Jr., or the senseless violence that seems to grow around victory celebrations of sports teams or politicians –  So why take the chance?

Jericho to Jerusalem – healing along the way – gathering stories, and courage, and the will to celebrate the festival in the city that “kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13: 34). Trouble around Jesus has been building for some time.  He has (in Matthew’s gospel) suggested, three different times , that he would be handed over, condemned to death, mocked, flogged and crucified; but still, the journey must continue.  Not because of a death wish on Jesus’ part – and not because “he had no choice” in the pure, pre-deterministic sense of the phrase – indeed, Jesus chose to live (and die) into his convictions about who God is and what God intends for Creation.  But is this a parade, or a protest march?

What’s the difference?  Both draw attention to an event; large, noisy, mobile gatherings of citizens are designed to convey messages.  Parades assume celebration or remembrance, while a protest march is likely to point a finger at the societal problems where politics, power, religion and reality meet.  In the days before social media campaigns and the lobbying of special interest groups, parades, and protest marches could be distinguished by the presence (or absence) of marching bands – think ‘million man’ (and more recently woman) marches on Washington, or civil rights marches in Selma, or marches, gatherings, and vigils by first nations people in our own country – politics, religion and personal convictions all coming together to raise awareness, or challenge injustice…or, in Jesus case, to proclaim “liberty to the captives and release to the captives…” (Isaiah 61: 1).  In the festive, chaos of the capital, what is needed is a display; you must be noticed to be heard (then and now), so the noise, the branches, the subtle symbolism – all this lends itself to Jesus message.

He leads this parade as a prophet – so say the crowds who gather with him – but the establishment is not kind to prophets.  Prophets say too much; they challenge traditions and view the world through different eyes.  They claim insight and they bring turmoil; they speak the truth to power.  If this is who Jesus is, then we must reexamine our ideas about this day on the church calendar – this pivotal event in the history of faith.  We mark the day by waving palms and imagining a festive, cheerful feeling in the air.  We allow ourselves to breath a little easier as we near the end of our Lenten reflections and welcome the life and hope of spring (at least in this part of the world…).   We often treat Palm Sunday as a ‘warm-up” for Easter; and while it’s true that we are very close – that we, who know how the story ends, can afford to be joyful and hopeful whenever we gather – this event in Jesus life marks the height of the tension between Jesus and his opponents.  This parade of protest was the last straw.

Chanting – singing praise to the “Son of David” – seems harmless, right?  Except that slogan suggests a new king in the old style – from a time when Israel was a sovereign nation – when God’s chosen ruled the land – when God’s rules were the only rules in town.

The whole city was in turmoil.  Civic leaders, loyal to Caesar; religious authorities with their own skins to save; indifferent citizens who imagine that politics and religion have nothing to do with one another.  This talk of David’s son, not to mention the shape of this noisy crowd – donkeys and peasant clothing and leftover shrubbery – mocks everyone who sits in power of their own procuring.  This seemingly harmless collection of people, animals, songs and actions has offered a challenge to the powerful that will be answered with force.  Jesus knows it – he’s been warning his disciples about the consequences – he knows how rebellion is dealt with, and this is a sign of rebellion.

Jesus mocks the powerful to point us to the true power of God.  Power that lifts up the broken hearted and cries out against injustice.  Jesus displays disdain for power with his donkey-riding cavalcade – as though heads of state arrived at the UN on roller-skates.   Jesus actions suggest that true power – real leadership – resides, not in the trappings of power, but in the power of God.

That power will be tested by the powers that be.  Disciples will be coerced; crowds will be scattered; the power of the state will be exercised to its ruthless limits.  And we will see who prevails.

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Palm-less Sunday (as reported in Luke 19: 28-40)

March 20, 2016

This doesn’t have to happen.  There is no reason for Jesus to make such a fuss.  Go to Jerusalem; celebrate the festival; lose yourself in the crowds; honour God with the worship that is required, then get the heck out of town.  That option was always open – that’s how everyone else dealt with the horrifying political reality in this once proud capital city; the city that symbolized all that was great about this nation of God’s chosen people…  though any illusion of being special in the eyes of God has faded for this generation.

But Jesus has spent most of his adult life reminding people of God’s claim on them.  He declares that a kingdom is coming; his intriguing use of parables relates God’s ancient covenant promise in new ways; he is bold to suggest that the promised kingdom may be almost upon them.  Peace, justice, compassion, and above all, a new understanding of power and order – these things sound too good to be true to a people whose earliest memories are of Roman occupation and foreign rule.  The Promised Land seemed void of promise…until Jesus started talking.

Still, for all his attractive ideas, this decision to steal a donkey – well okay, borrow, but it’s a near thing – and tumble in to town along one of the main roads…that’s just crazy!  If you are representing a power other than Roman power, and claiming a heritage that suggests you have historic rights to a land that is (once again) under foreign occupation, then someone is going to notice; questions will be asked, and if you’re not careful, somebody could get hurt

And that’s what happens, of course – predictable as the tide, here come the authorities; fellow citizens and co-religionists who do not want to make waves.  They covet their positions; they seek the safety offered by Roman indifference.  “Teacher, control your students!  Keep them quiet!”  No one want’s attention drawn to the promise of God’s redemption, especially when that redemption looks like self-rule.  This is no time for ‘kingdom’ talk.  Jesus has his answer ready: “If these were quiet, the stones would shout out.”  This promise of redemption is not limited to any one nation.  God has promised nothing less than the liberation of the earth itself.  How will Rome react to that?  We’ll know soon enough.

The troubling thing is that Rome’s reaction will be aided by those who are afraid of real freedom.  Jesus will be betrayed by a friend, denied by one who was like a brother to him, rejected by fellow scholars and religious experts – all these were (are) threatened by the suggestion that God is on the verge of offering something different.  Those who call for silence are the ones who cannot face the truth.

Jesus is not a guide to a new kind of morality – there is nothing new about a morality guided by love of God and neighbour – Jesus destroys our ideas about power and success; Jesus puts God at the heart of his every action, and dares his opponents to find fault – and of course they do, because the Divine power Jesus honours had been gradually assumed by human agents, religious and political.  They fear the loss of their authority – an authority that was never properly theirs.

Human vanity has, from the very beginning of the biblical record, led us to presume to act as gods.  We take liberties, we make pronouncements, we establish kingdoms that satisfy our own need for recognition; our own thirst for glory.  The problem we have with Jesus is consistent with the reaction of those who opposed him in Judea.  He asks us to imagine a different structure and to acknowledge a different power. To illustrate, he consorts with societies forgotten souls; he touches the untouchable, he treats the unfortunate poor as his equal and he dares to address God in personal (and occasionally intimate) terms.  His “triumphal entry” (so it is named in most of our memories) is very little triumph, unless you see progress in the mocking of the powerful.  That’s what it is to ride a donkey, covered in peasant cloaks and welcomed by a rough voiced choir singing the praises, not of the man on the mule, but rather praising God for all the deeds of power they had seen.

The king they bless that day was not Jesus – though we are bold to name him king.  They bless the King of Heaven; and that, of course, is trouble.  The powers that be will set this right – they cannot help themselves.  Jesus will pay for this defiant illustration.  But he will not deviate from his convictions.  He will remain obedient to the power of God to the end.  A power that will not lay waste to the opposition; a power that responds to violence with love and forgiveness; a power that will, in love, see us liberated from our deadly pride, once and for all.

Why Jesus?

March 28, 2015

Jesus is the centre and soul of our worship, and the rock upon which our faith must stand, but why Jesus?  It might have been anyone, really; there were plenty of faithful servants of God who might have been the focus for a movement to ‘change the world’ – to ‘usher in the promised Kingdom of God’…Prophets & kings lived and learned and passed away.  Judges held power and made policy – rabbis nurtured the faithful and yearned for a better day – why was Jesus’ influence so great?  what was different about him?

This was the main talking point as the Christian Church began to describe and defend itself.  Scholars and students, religious experts and ordinary citizens all wanted to know; what did Jesus do that we should follow him?  What does Jesus offer that cannot be found in the faith of our ancestors?  It was a question that not even Jesus’ disciples could answer as they approached Jerusalem for the passover celebrations.

They were following a friend – someone who seemed able to speak their dreams into reality.  People were finding healing and wholeness in Jesus’ presence.  Hungry people were being fed; those whom religious rules had long ignored (or disdained) were offered a place in the conversation, and heard – for the first time – that they were among those whom God loved. The were, in fact, revealed (by Jesus) to be the ones God loved the most.

Those who developed the theology of liberation, with the notion of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” were affirming this teaching of Jesus – suggesting that God does play favourites; but not in the way we may have imagined…

We have had many generations to try and understand this – in some places in the church, it is the only way to describe the reign of God – but in the beginning, the disciples had no words for what they saw happening.  It was different; it was exciting; and in the end it would get them all killed.

All of this is still so new to Jesus followers and friends, that as they enter Jerusalem, most of them are taken aback by the tension in the city.  The Romans are on edge, as they would be – occupiers are never comfortable when the people they oppress gather for festivals / celebrations.  The Jewish authorities are buzzing about this new teacher – who is gathering support; saying radical things; making a statement with his entry to the city (on a donkey – a mockery of a parade; a joke, really – what does he mean by that?  who is he insulting?  How can we stop his dangerous talk?)  Jesus  has suggested that the temple will be “thrown down” (Mark 13:1-2), and he has told his disciples that there is trouble coming (Mark 13:8ff)

For all that the disciples of Jesus have seen during their time together, and for all that they will see and experience in the next seven days, it is Jesus absolute determination to trust God that affects them the most; his summary of the commandments (Mark 12:28-31); his urging that they keep watch for the signs of God’s deliverance in the midst of the trouble that is coming their way, and the way he redefined the passover meal for them (Mark14:12-25); all these things reveal Jesus’ complete trust in God’s ability to redeem, to rescue, and to make good on the promise of ‘something new’.

This morning, we begin again the journey from Passion to Resurrection.  Jesus has confirmed his confidence in God’s providence in his brief but poignant prayer in Gethsemane.  His disciples have proven that they don’t appreciate what is really at stake; Peter brags that he will not be driven away  – none of them are able to keep their eyes open while Jesus prays.   Judas has chosen to profit from the act of turning Jesus over for ‘questioning’  because Jesus’ convictions have left he authorities no choice; this radical compassion is not welcome in a society that is devoted to security and control, and so the threat that Jesus represents must be removed.  If he will not ‘toe the line’, he must be punished – Jesus has to die.

What does not die – what cannot be killed –  is the principles that guided Jesus throughout his life.  His devotion to God; his absolute belief in justice, mercy and grace for all people; his assertion that God desired a relationship with us that was not ‘arms length’, but intimate and real; as close as that of a parent and child.  These are the things that attract us to Jesus.  These are the truths that will not be denied.  No hardship, no disaster, not even death can overwhelm God’s desire to see justice done – to show love to us and promote love among us – and the proof of this meets us three days after Jesus meets his doom on the cross.

A compelling story, some say; others say it is only an enduring myth, or a cruel trick to play on a people searching desperately for hope.  But we dare to say it is true.  Jesus, a kind and caring teacher – a humble man of God – endured ridicule, pain and death only to be raised from the grave by the power of God; a sign of hope for us and a confirmation of all that Jesus himself proclaimed about the lasting, living God.  We gather in worship to celebrate Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  We form communities that seek to share the love of God with one another, and with those who are harder to love.  We honour traditions of service and occasionally we reach out in new and dangerous ways.  We treasure our buildings as holy places, and recognize that the gift of faith makes all of creation holy again.

This is hard to explain to people who don’t know the story.  it seems like foolishness to those who choose to find satisfaction in the temporary delights that surround us in these days.  But we are given the task of living in a way that honours the gift of Jesus’ life and work.  We are called to give an account of the hope that is in us.  We are privileged to have this fantastic story to tell at a time when hope is very much needed, and faith seems a forgotten thing.  Let us take to the task with joy – let us live our faith as Jesus did – let us, this Holy Week, rediscover the truth of God’s undying love, made clear -at last- in Jesus.

Parade of sorrows – Matthew 21 – Palm Sunday yr A

April 13, 2014

We are at the beginning of a great adventure.
Holy week – the final lap in the race towards Easter – begins today.
We recall excited crowds, waving palm branches – a welcome fit for a king.
We remember a man gathered with his friends – sharing his wisdom and his hope,
even as they share their last meal together.
It is this Easter story that we look forward to –
the Easter story we claim as our great hope as Christians
This is the story we live for.
But what of the story we live with?

What about the story of bitterness and betrayal?
What about the story of darkness and desertion?
These things are part of this story too.
We talk about the “Good News” – that is what the resurrection story is for us –
but the good news comes with its darker side.

We know that there is more to the story than we heard here this morning.

Palm-waving crowds welcome a king on a donkey –
the disciples are puzzled, for this is a man they thought they knew.
And Matthew reports that the parade ends at the temple,
where Jesus drives out the moneychangers and merchants in a fury.
Later we will hear of the priests, who are determined to eliminate a threat to their power.
Jesus will predict a lonely end for himself, and his friends will be loud and loyal;
None of them able to imagine what awaits them.
In a few days everything will change.

The resurrection story keeps us coming back – because in resurrection there is hope and joy and celebration;
by next Sunday, there will be no doubt that God has conquered and we are free.
But what keeps us coming back to hear the rest of the story;
The part that involves deceit and doubt –
the part that reveals more about us than we are comfortable with?

The rest of the story suggests
that we have learned none of the lessons that God would have us learn.
+++++++++
We read that Jesus taught of a “kingdom” that was like no other
one that favoured the weak, the oppressed and the outcast.
We read that Jesus healed all who sought wholeness,
that he ignored cultural restrictions and religious boundaries,
and sought to establish new boundaries, based on the kingdom he proclaims.

We read this message and claim it, seeking to follow this man we call Christ
– yet we continue to establish kingdoms based on power and privilege for and among ourselves
– we establish greater religious boundaries, and operate in fear of our natural diversity
– we cast out those who would complain or resist.
This is the legacy of the Christian world, two thousand years after the fact.
This is the story we live with, and yet there is hope even in this reality;

When we read in Scripture that one of Jesus closest friends was eager to betray him,
we can convince ourselves that our weakness is excusable.
When we read of the uncertainty of the disciples,
we can forgive our own doubts.
When his friends boast of their loyalty,
we too can claim to stand firm in our faith.
And when we fail, as they failed – we find that this is our story.

It is our story to live with – all of it, from beginning to end.
The power and glory of Easter –
the thrilling welcome of the palm parade.
the confusion of the disciples as they watch their teacher hailed as king.
The bitter words over wasted perfume; the boastful assurance of continued loyalty –
the secret, silent plotting of the betrayer.
It is entirely ours, and we have to live with it.
To live with the guilt that comes from valuing the wrong things – pursuing the wrong things.
To live with the knowledge that we cannot live up to our inflated expectations –
to understand how vulnerable we are to greed and temptation,
even though we have heard the call of Christ.

The whole story is ours – in it we hear familiar challenges,
and recognize ourselves in the subtle twists and turns of the plot.
The whole story from beginning to end, but how difficult it is to see it through to the end!

So easy to give up when we see ourselves in such a bad light.
So easy to despair when our faults are so boldly and realistically displayed.

But we must not give up.
This is a story worth finishing, because it ends in triumph;
Both for Jesus and for us.
We can live with it, because though there are painful truths revealed (about us),
there is also glory and hope revealed (for us) through Christ and his triumph.

This story will soon descend into deep darkness, but ends in the bright light of Easter day.
Once, we lived in darkness – lost in our story; but now we live as people in the light.
Let us remember, as the story unfolds, that it ends in hope.
Thanks be to God.. Amen

I love a parade…

March 24, 2013

 

Parades are connected with celebrations, in our time –

happy moments marking victories, or holidays.

So we are inclined to read accounts of Jesus making his way into Jerusalem,

with the Passover celebrations looming as ‘just another occasion to celebrate.

We imagine a triumphal parade, complete with palm branches and singing crowds –

some churches will re-create that parade this morning

but the truth about this morning’s parade is more sinister.

 

Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem motivated by terrible purpose.

He is at odds with the authorities – he has baffled even his closest friends –

and this final stage of his journey leaves no doubt that he is making a fatal statement.

Jesus has taught and told the story of this new kingdom all around the territory.

His bold proclamation – the company he keeps – and the parables he offers

all propose a wildly different way of doing things.

And because of this, trouble is coming.

 

He has said so, more than once.

“Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” [1]

 

So let’s review – Luke has brought Jesus to the edge of the city,

telling tax collectors that they have found salvation[2], and he follows Zaccheus’ story  with a horrifying parable about a man who would be king [3].

His actions and his words have been deeply critical of the current kingdom –

a kingdom ruled by folks who are desperate

to maintain power in the region and over the people.

 

And Jesus’ entry to the city openly mocks those desires.

 

He borrows a colt – un-trained and therefore unpredictable –

and descends on the city surrounded by singing, waving and shouting.

 

It is the opposite of an impressive sight;

this parade is laughable, given the reality of the power that controls the city,

but Jesus point is apparently made.

The Pharisees are nervous.  Too much attention is being drawn to the crowd –

by the crowd.

“Teacher, order your disciples to stop”, they say.

But there is no stopping this.

“…even the stones would shout out.” Jesus famously says,

Thus endeth the lesson – but the statement made by Jesus at this moment

continues to speak across time. –

 

Only at the cross, and then at the empty tomb, will Jesus make a bolder statement.

He has, by his teaching and his mock parade, declared to all who would listen

that the kingdom he proclaims – the kingdom God has promised –

has no use for the usual symbols of power, or the ‘ordinary’ trappings of authority.

 

***(the parable that precedes Luke’s telling of the palm parade,

suggests that the man who would be king will not stand for criticism,

is a singularly greedy, demanding overseer, whose mission is only to establish – without question – his personal power and authority.

Yet Jesus, proclaimed as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” comes in humility (on a colt) surrounded by joy, rather than those who trembled before the return of the “king” in fear [4])

 

And so Jesus’ entry really is a triumphal one –

but the celebrations are muted, for the moment.

Jesus will triumph over the prevailing ideas, the prevailing fear,

But he arrives knowing that his presence (and the manner of his coming)

will provoke a negative response –

such is the price you pay for proclaiming freedom in the midst of oppression,

and joy in the face of fear –

 

But Jesus does all of this confident in the power of God,  not to protect him from harm,

but to prevail over the power that holds all people captive.

 

Sin, in all its forms, is about to be given a fatal blow

(not swept away/banished, but robbed of its power).

That includes the sin of pride – of greed – of oppression and judgement.

All the things that make people think they are strong

are diminished as Jesus makes his approach in humility –

and they are further frustrated by the power of God that sees Jesus raised from death.

 

 

All this is present in this morning’s parade,

though perhaps we choose not to see it.

Our celebrations will be interrupted by betrayal, abandonment and crucifixion –

The power of sin will not be overcome by waving and singing,

but the celebration is coming.

Those once ruled by sin will meet a new master,

And soon – very soon – the power of God shall be revealed

in ways that will leave the followers of Jesus speechless.

 

 


[1]  Luke 18: 31-34

[2] Luke 19: 1-10

[3] Luke 19: 11-27

[4] Luke 19:21