Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Happy Un-Palm Sunday!


Cancun 2009 076           No palm trees were harmed and no hosannas were shouted in this Sunday’s gospel! Happy UnPalm Sunday! From its first chapter, Luke’s gospel has been headed, with Jesus, to Jerusalem and here we are, disciples entering the city with our Lord. While it is the last Sunday of Lent it is the beginning of the most important week of the Christian year. This is what it is all about right? For the unchurched, it may seem as if Christmas is the most important, or most central celebration, but, if it weren’t for the series of events we commemorate this week, Christianity wouldn’t exist!

We think of the events from the entry into Jerusalem through the resurrection as having taken place over a period of eight days, but this comes from a literary compression of the story. We are never told clearly how long Jesus ministered in Jerusalem. Based on surrounding details in other accounts, some estimate that Jesus was in Jerusalem for six months; from his entrance for the Feast of Tabernacles in November to Passover in April.

This morning, we entered with the children’s procession with palms but, unlike the other Gospels, Luke’s story of the entry to Jerusalem makes no mention of children or palms. He actually says nothing that would indicate that any of the other people crowding Jerusalem that day paid any particular notice to this rowdy group, that is, other than the Pharisees. All it says is that Jesus entered riding a colt with his disciples, people put their coats down on the road in front of him, and the disciples called out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory to God in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38)

With all the focus usually placed on palm leaves, I expect that we often overlook the coats being laid on the ground, or at least don’t take time to wonder if this is significant in some way.  With the palms out of the way in this year’s reading, I discovered that entry on a colt with coats laid on the ground was a common greeting for a royal figure and part of a pre-exilic annual ritual of enthronement. The nature of his entrance also fulfils prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 which states.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion?

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you:

triumphant and victorious on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The fact that it was only Jesus and his disciples entering, and only his disciples who were cheering, is important to note. They are believers celebrating the Messiah, but they will not, as it would seem in the other Gospels, later be the same people crying out for him to be crucified. Luke also makes no Davidic claims in this Gospel account. For Luke it is clear that the entry into Jerusalem was, “an event for believers by believers” (Craddock).

So, instead of focusing on palms and cheering crowds let’s continue, as we did through the temptations, to focus on Jesus’ experiences. Scott Hoezee begins his lectionary guide for this Sunday with a story from M*A*S*H*.

 

“In one of the earlier episodes …the doctor known as “Trapper” gets diagnosed with a stomach ulcer (Trapper was memorably played by Wayne Rogers, who died recently). Although initially upset about having to deal with a hole in his gut, Trapper soon beams with joy when his bunkmate Hawkeye reminds him that according to Army regulations, Trapper was going home! His ulcer was his ticket out of the misery of the Korean War.

As the episode progresses, they arrange a farewell party for Trapper. But minutes before Trapper shows up for his party, he is informed by the Company Clerk, Radar, that the Army had recently changed its regulations and his ulcer would have to be treated right there in Korea. Trapper goes to the party anyway and allows the hilarity, festivity, and joy of the evening to proceed for a good long while until he’s asked to give a final speech, at which time he tells everyone the truth: he’s not going anywhere after all.

But throughout the party, both Trapper and Radar have a look in their eyes that betrays the truth, if only anyone had looked close enough to notice. Trapper smiles and even laughs during the party at times but it’s a bit muted and the sadness in his eyes tells the reason why: it’s a nice party but it’s not going to end the way he had hoped or the way all the other partygoers were anticipating (“Palm Sunday Center For Excellence In Preaching” 2016).

 

Philippians reminds us of all Jesus had already given up: the glories and splendors of heaven and any powers of divinity. He had to restrain his power, stay in one place, and give in to a body which demanded sleep and food and experienced illness. We know that he suffered major temptation and torment with the devil in the wilderness. Living amidst his creation, he would have been daily reminded of just how badly corrupted it had become. His own creations did not even recognize him.

Think about what Jesus was facing as he rode into Jerusalem with his cheering disciples that must have muted his smiles and laughs that day. He would have been acutely aware that soon, in this same city, he would be arrested, held captive, denied by his closest followers, ridiculed, condemned, beaten, and crucified. He knew that he could avoid it all if he chose to; he knew that he would do nothing to stop it; and he knew he would experience a very public, shameful,  and human death.

His disciples were full of excitement about the new king and, despite Jesus having predicted his death three times, still didn’t understand the true nature of the Messiah.  Presumably they thought that the cutting off of chariots, war horses, battle bows, and commanding peace would be done through military victories (Zech 9:10).

Most of the Philippians reading today is a hymn which scholars presume Paul quotes from common use amongst Christ’s followers at the time. It covers Jesus’ story in clear progression from pre-existence, earthly career, and glorification.  But Jesus sacrificed all for us. He wasn’t looking for honours, for a big throne and lots of wealth, and not so that crowds would cheer and shout his name.

Paul seems to have been dealing with problems in Philippi. The first four verses of Philippians 2 indicate that pride was becoming a problem. One of my et peeves is the use of the word humbled. Have you ever noticed that most of the time when you hear the word being used it is in speeches being given by people who are being highly honoured for some reason? Receiving an Oscar or other form of recognition is the opposite of humbling it is honouring! Sure Jesus was exalted by God in the end but at no time in his human existence nor after his resurrection was he anything but humble. He emptied himself completely for us, people who couldn’t even recognize that he was the very one who had created us. Paul said to the congregation at Philippi,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves, ‘Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’ Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, (Phil 2: 4-5).

For us it may be impossible to see Holy Week without the sure knowledge of the victory coming next week, but even for us we meet today with smiles and laughs somewhat muted, truly humbled by the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

 

23 Days Until Easter


The days are getting longer, the sun stronger, and the snow is lasting for a shorter time.  These are sure signs of spring, of rebirth of our natural world.  The reawakening of mother earth.  Along with this people’s spirits are lifting and thoughts and dreams are focused more on the short summer (in Canada anyway) which is on the horizon.

This brightening can be seen in the church as well.  Sure, we are still in Lent for our worship services, but at choir practices and planning meetings the focus has moved on the joyous celebration which is coming in a mere 23 days!  We are still practising our hymns for Lenten services but now the end part of practise is focused on the cheering crowd of Palm Sunday and the weeks of celebration which begin on Easter morning.

So, hang in there! Easter, rejoicing, and spring are coming!! 

Palm Carpet Part Two


The other day when I wrote my blog it was as part of preparation for today’s sermon.  I thought I would post some of what came from that beginning today… 

 

Are you a royal watcher?  There is an exciting week coming up for people who follow the lives and activities of the British royal family.  There are many websites devoted exclusively to the upcoming wedding of Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton.   At 4 AM Atlantic Time on April 29th people like my sister-in-law will be awake watching their TV sets to see full coverage of this bit of history being made.  They will be watching the “pregame show” and then Kate arriving at the church in a car and Lady Catherine and her husband driving away in a glass coach.  The red carpet will be out for all the dignitaries who will be at the wedding, most notably Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Crowds will have gathered along the route from the palace to the church as much as 24 hours in advance in hopes of getting a glimpse of the royals and their guests. 

 

Today is Palm Sunday and we are looking at another big day, a procession of an important person and people all lined up to catch a glimpse.  The story that begins Matthew’s account of the passion story serves the purpose of showing Jesus’ royal status publicly.

 

First, palm branches were a symbol of triumph and victory to the Jewish people for instance, in Leviticus 23, they were instructed to celebrate the triumph of God bringing the people out of Egypt with branches of palm and leafy willow. It was a custom in the Middle East to cover up the paths of people worthy of the highest honour. In 2 Kings 9:13 (dated in approximately 830 BCE) when Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was declared king, the people spread their coats on the ground in front of him. This may have been a precursor to the red carpet which at one time was rolled out only for heads of state though now this extends to include famous people of almost any sort. “The earliest known reference to walking a red carpet in literature is in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC. In this story Agamemnon’s wife has servants spread out a “crimson path” for him to walk over when he returns from Troy. He is reluctant due to “knowing that only gods walk on such luxury…”

 

The main connections between the Old Testament and Palm Sunday come from Zechariah 9:9 which is quoted in Matthew 21:5 where it prophesies, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. and Psalm 118 which we read today, from which came the words people were chanting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” and another mention of laying down branches, “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.”

 

For those of us who have the benefit of hindsight in this matter, the perceptions of the people of Israel in Jesus’ day don’t make much difference.  Regardless of the size of the crowd none of the people really knew what was going on.  The disciples had a fair hint at what was going on after Jesus told them that taking the donkeys was to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah and yet even they were surprised by the events of the coming week.  We know that he was not the king they had been hoping for, entering to get rid of Herod and the Romans.  We also know that he was much more than they could ever have imagined.  Jesus was not entering as a king of one small area in Israel; he was really the king of heaven.  His task, while it would have been confusing to them, was much greater than grasping for political power and improving the lives of the people of the city and surrounding area during his lifetime.  He was coming to improve the lives of all the people of the world for all time.

 

Our current reality in Canada is a battle for power between our political parties.  In Egypt power was just taken away from a dictator by the people.  In Libya there is a civil war in progress to try to eliminate another dictatorship.  Let’s take comfort in the greater reality that the ultimate king is on his throne and he will be coming again.

Getting Ready to Roll Out the Palm Carpet!


The best experience I’ve ever had with palm trees was a few years ago when my sister and I went to Cancun.  We spent hours sitting under the shade of palm trees reading the books which had weighed down our suitcases on the trip down.  It was peaceful, it was beautiful, and most importantly right now, it was warm!

 

For most kids who grow up in New Brunswick (those who don’t travel south on vacations) their experience of palm trees is limited to the occasional house plant, and the palm fronds that are passed out to the children in churches on Palm Sunday. In churches around the world palm branches will be passed out to children this Sunday in commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem which began what we call Holy Week.

 

I started thinking about what we do with the branches in relation to what was actually done on that first day.  I always assumed that the children waved the branches in the air, which may be the case for some, but mostly they laid them down on the ground in front of him, creating a carpet of green, a palm carpet. As far as the people were concerned, Jesus was entering Jerusalem as a king and deserved special attention.  They gave him the “red carpet” treatment on Sunday and then by Friday they were crying for his death. 

 

My dad was saying the other day that it seemed strange that we consider Palm Sunday as a celebration when it really is the beginning of the end for Jesus and based on the Jew’s misinterpretation of Jesus’ role as the Messiah.  He wasn’t here to be an earthly king who would defeat the Romans and seize control.  That is the person they were dancing, cheering, and quoting scripture about, but it wasn’t the man on the donkey. 

 

By Palm Sunday word was definitely spread wide about all the miracles that Jesus had been doing, all the radical ideas he had been preaching, and definitely the news that he had just raised a man who had been dead for four days!  This was, to borrow from the popular rock opera of the 70’s, a Superstar entering the temple city!  Jerusalem was already filled to overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the Passover at the temple.   Everyone wanted to see him.  For our politicians today it would have been a photo-op and media  event for which they could only wish! 

 

 I think the reason we celebrate Palm Sunday isn’t that we are commemorating the erroneous reason from Jesus’ day, but celebrating the true meaning of the entry of the Messiah.  Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the man who would not conquer the Romans, but would conquer death itself!  So, get out your palm branches, or whatever materials you choose, and make a carpet for our king. “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” (Psalm 118: 27)


Half-way: How Goes The Fast?


If you have been following my blog for a while you may recall that I made the decision to give up the distractions of Face Book and Twitter for Lent.  Last Sunday was the third Sunday of Lent, two more Lenten Sundays and we will be at Passion Week beginning with Palm Sunday. We are basically half-way to Easter and can begin to see the end of our fasts (not all fasts involve food and many people don’t give something up for Lent at all).  I thought it was a good time to touch base.


I didn’t realize before that the primary use of my Black Berry was checking FB and Twitter, but I can go days without recharging it now.  It isn’t very draining to check my email and blog stats and after that is done there isn’t any other reason to have the screen on.


So, has this change in my habit made a difference in the amount of time I have my focus on God?  Yes and no.


I have done pretty well at keeping up with Bible reading and reflections and blog postings.  I had time and focus for preparing a couple of services I led recently and for the course on church polity which I am taking. Less time with social-media distractions has led to more time spent on the crossword puzzle book I got for Christmas several years ago and more time spent hanging out with my kids watching TV.  I’m not sure they are thrilled, but I need the social contact.


I am an extrovert in many ways.  I gain my energy and strength from contact with other people, although I can be very quickly drained by negative contact.  While I am with people at work all day, when I leave I only have one or two built-in social activities in my week.  I now realize to what extent I have come to rely on social media to give me that feeling of connection with others.  I have not yet concluded whether or not this is a good thing.


More quiet time has also given me time to run things over (and over) in my head.  This is almost always a negative thing.  One might think it was good, as solutions might be found that way, but it doesn’t tend to work that way for me.  I am more likely to find solutions in discussion while in my head I just run around in circles.

Overall I would say that I’m doing ok with Lent this year.  I’m not totally focused on the spiritual realm, but then meals need to be cooked and work done.  I’m not sure if I will go back to my social media sites as much after Easter.  It has been interesting to note that with no Twitter presence other than one post to announce my blog each day, I have been gaining followers in the past couple weeks.  Maybe it is true that less is more?