Tag Archives: sacrifice

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.

 

Lent Ends: Do We Take Up Our Habits Again?


 

Today was Good Friday.  Depending on the way you view the liturgical calendar Lent either ended last night or tomorrow, the day before Easter.  This leads to my quandary of the day…do I go back on Facebook and Twitter? 

 

If you count Sundays, I have not logged on to my FB and Twitter accounts now for 45 or 46 days.  In some way I didn’t really miss it.  I didn’t feel tempted to log on.  I took them off my home page list on my browsers and my BlackBerry and I guess the old out-of-sight out-of-mind thing works.  On the other hand I had many bouts of feeling isolated which I can only attribute to that lack of interaction which comes from at least keeping up with the doings of my friends. 

 

Did I make use of the time I saved and the loss of distraction throughout Lent in order to spend more time in prayer, study and reflection on God?  I did a really good job of it for a while at least.  I did, as I planned, spend more time reading books and doing cross word puzzles.  I completed my on-line course and prepared two services.  I’m really glad I decided to make this sacrifice and it is really hard to believe it has really been so long. 

 

How did you make out?  Did you give something up for Lent?  However we spent Lent, Sunday morning it is time to celebrate the risen Christ.  Sing songs! Shout hosannas! Give thanks that God has given this amazing free gift to all of us!

 

Santa Claus, Christ, And The Easter Bunny


Bonnets and Baskets Tea

What events do your family celebrate?  Many families celebrate birthdays and  anniversaries as important family milestones.  For Christian families we celebrate Christmas and Easter, Muslim families Ramadan and Eid, Jewish families Passover, Chanukkah, etc.  For the purpose of this post we are going to focus, as I usually do, on the Christian traditions.

 

What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word Christmas?  I’m willing to bet that for a number of you it was either a tree or Santa.  Sure, lots of people would have pictured a manger scene, a star, an angel, or maybe an Advent wreath, but for every one of those I bet there are two people out there wishing they could have a do-over.  How about Easter?  Images like crosses, palms, nails, empty tombs, mix in with brightly decorated baskets filled with chocolate and candies, bunnies, and chicks.

 

Both of these celebrations have, at their hearts, the life of Jesus Christ.  Christmas celebrates Jesus taking on human life in the unlikely form of a helpless infant who was almost immediately the focus of a plot to kill him.  Easter celebrates Christ’s rising from the dead, but not without the pain and sacrifice of his arrest, and crucifixion.

 

The other day I was surprised to hear students in my class discussing Easter gift giving.  I don’t mean asking what their family puts in the Easter basket/ what the Easter Bunny brings, but actually discussing the exchange of Easter gifts like we do Christmas gifts.  It seems silly that the idea bothered me a bit, after-all I really enjoy buying Christmas gifts for people, and of course opening mine.  It just doesn’t seem to be a part of Easter. 

 

My husband and I have drawn some odd lines with our family traditions. We told the kids all about Santa Claus and even now read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, after getting home from the midnight communion service.  We decorate extensively (well, I do), have stockings, and exchange gifts.  Somehow this doesn’t seem to lessen the event as a celebration of the birth of Christ.  Easter on the other hand is all about church.  I put up a few decorations like spring flowers to brighten things up after the long winter, but we have never pretended even for a moment that there was an Easter Bunny.  We coined the term Easter Parents to explain who put out the tiny pile of treats on Easter morning (not to be touched until after church). 

 

It seems hypocritical to “lie” to our kids and tell them about Santa Claus, the spirit of Christmas who enters into people and makes them more giving, and then not follow along and tell them about a bunny who delivers treats to children on Easter.  I’m sure no real harm would be done.  It is just that while at Christmas we are celebrating an entirely happy event, the birth of a child, Easter is much more complicated.  Jesus was a gift from God.  Like the birth of any child this is a joyous event.  Theoretically, our gift giving is inspired by this gift. 

 

Easter is about a huge sacrifice made by an innocent man to take away the sins of others.  Jesus bled, was ridiculed, and died a shameful death.  That is the most amazing gift anyone could give to another, but it is not easy to deal with.  We celebrate Christ’s defeat of death when he rises on the third day, but the celebration is necessarily coloured by the events of the previous week.  I see no role for a bunny carrying a basket of eggs here.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think bunnies are adorable.  I have a couple little ceramic bunnies on my mantle along with a jug of artificial spring flowers and palm branches.  My kids will get a few chocolates, a book, and new socks or something on Sunday morning.  I love Cadbury Easter cream eggs, and think the ads with the bunny clucking like a chicken are brilliant.  But Easter is about church, services like Good Friday complete with the somber reminder of the cross, as well as Easter worship with communion. 

 

 

A Bookmark In Your Bible Or A Nail In Your Pocket


People handle the period of Lent in different ways.  First, I realize of course that many people are not Christians and wouldn’t even know what Lent and Easter are all about. 

 

My husband and I were talking about Lenten sacrifice at lunch today.  He was saying that he always figured that Lent was a Roman Catholic thing and that the Presbyterians weren’t into that sort of thing.  He said he didn’t understand the point of giving something up.

 

When we were growing up we didn’t hear much about the liturgical year.  This has been shifting in the last ten years or so, and I think it is a good change.  My response about the point was that it was about giving up the distraction that took my attention off of spiritual matters.

 

We usually get a booklet from the church with devotions for each day of Lent, or a bookmark with the lectionary readings for the season.  This is a great way of focusing on the scriptural story of the life and mission of Christ.  One year we were each given a horseshoe nail to carry in our pockets throughout the season.  Every time you reached into your pocket or purse you were reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you,  for all of us.