03 April 2006

palm sunday

Mark 11:1-11

“It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there . . .” –Bob Dylan

Palm Sunday is this Sunday! And it’s a celebration! Maybe in your church you too have children processing down the aisle with palm branches, maybe the whole congregation will get into the act!

The gospel of Mark has Jesus traveling from Bethany to Jerusalem and people along the way to Jerusalem are shouting “Hosanna”. They are comparing Jesus to David with their shouts, David the king of the people of Israel during their best times. There they are laying out cloth and leafy branches for Jesus to ride across as he continues on his way. When we marched in with the children this morning with their palm branches, this is what we remember, this is what we reenact, this is what we participate in . . . that Jesus is coming to save us! That word “hosanna” was originally a way of appealing to God to save. To say “hosanna” was to say “God save me!”

But what is funny about this passage is that there is all of this hullabaloo about Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the palms and the shouting. And then, when he actually gets there, at least according to the gospel of Mark’s interpretation of the event, Jesus goes into Jerusalem, practically alone . . . but for the twelve. He wanders around a bit, checks out the temple, decides that it is little late in the day, and goes back to Bethany where he came from at the beginning of the day. That’s it! The celebration that had happened earlier in the day was over. Jesus had ridden into town on a colt, not a stallion, but a colt. The people had seen this, this display that the power of Jesus was different than what they knew power to be. This was a humble savior, not a bold and mighty king. This was a spontaneous parade by the people, not a highly organized and highly visible royal procession. The comparison to David is one that compares Jesus to a mighty ruler in the history of the people, but David also started out as a simple shepherd, protecting his sheep.

I like a good celebration, a good party, as much as anybody. For my wife’s graduation from seminary, which happened about the time of her birthday, we threw a surprise party with some friends from Georgia and the friends that we had made there in Virginia. We had a blast, there was singing and dancing . . . and we ended up at this Karaoke place and sang until probably two in the morning. It was a celebration! For my wife it was a birthday, but it also marked the end of her time at seminary, a time of preparation for what was next. It was a time to mark how one thing had ended. And it was a time to get you ready for the next thing that would begin. The celebration gets you off to a good start so to speak, helps you remember the past fondly and helps you to remember all the love of everyone around you as you venture off into the future. Some of the people at that party we continue to see on a regular basis, but some of them we do not. But at that moment in time, it was important to know their love for her, to have their presence.

As Jesus came from Bethany that day a celebration happened. And most of the time scholars that comment on the scriptures state that this was a misunderstanding on the part of the people. They say that the people that were there that day were hoping for Jesus to be a political leader who would liberate them from Roman rule; they were wanting Jesus to be a ruler with power in the way that the Roman officials had power, the power to conquer, the power to fight. But, Jesus was not showing them this type of power. There were no tanks or armored personnel carriers. There were no air strikes called in ahead of time to weaken the enemy forces. These are the ways that the world thinks about power. Jesus rode in on a colt with very good, common folk throwing palms and garments to cover the path in front of him.

And who knows whether they understood what type of ruler Jesus would be or not?!? Maybe they did think that Jesus would liberate them, or maybe they were looking for the healings that Jesus had provided at other locations. Or maybe, just maybe, they somehow knew that this time, this was an important time. Without being able to put a finger on exactly why it was important, they just knew. The people there that day crowded the streets to show their love and care for Jesus. Jesus may have been the only one who knew what was ahead, but it was important that he knew that everyone was with him at this time, as Jesus continued on the road that was ahead of him.

There are times in our own lives where there may be a big celebration, but then there is the day after. You know these days: New Year’s Day, that day after your birthday, those days when you are cleaning up from the party, where there is almost a sense of being let down. Maybe you still have some food left over, or some balloons that just aren’t as full as the day before. The big celebration marking that big day in your life is over. Now it is time to go forward.

That day after that big night on the town in Richmond, Virginia, several folks spent the night with us. We woke up late that next day and went to have our breakfast at Waffle House or IHOP or someplace. We talked about what was next, where we would be moving to (she actually had to wait on me a year so that I could finish school too). After we ate our breakfast and paid our bill, we came back and cleaned up our apartment (from which we would be moving in a few days anyway). The two friends who had driven all the way from Georgia got their stuff together, packed their car and left to drive back south on I-95, to go back to Georgia. It is at times like these that you are left with a sense of something being over, and maybe something else, something pretty big, is about to begin.

Jesus sort of did this too in a way. Jesus headed straight for the temple after being celebrated by the crowd as he traveled toward the city of Jerusalem. But then . . . when he got to the place where he had been heading in the first place, he went into the temple, looked around a bit, and headed back to the place where he came from in the first place, back to Bethany.

No, he didn’t immediately run in and shoo out the moneychangers who were there.
No he didn’t organize another crowd of folks and spark an uprising. Jesus looked around a bit, surveying the landscape, and headed back.

And I guess that I want to think that maybe Jesus saw very clearly how difficult this was going to be in that moment. Maybe Jesus then knew, maybe he felt that flutter in his heart. The celebration was nice, being reminded of the love of the people was a wonderful feeling, but now . . . this was it. It would only be normal, only human, for Jesus to worry a bit as he faced this next week. It is only natural that this man from a small poor community would come to the big city and be somewhat intimidated. Maybe some of Jesus’ journey had been easy, but the next part would not be.

In our faith life, Holy Week is nearly upon us. A week where on Thursday we remember the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal. We remember the times in our lives when we have betrayed God, when we have failed miserably. We will remember the day of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. We will prepare ourselves for an experience of God’s salvation, of resurrection as we acknowledge the suffering in our own lives, in the lives of others around us, and in our world.

May God be with us as we pray.
May God be with us as we read scripture and consider its meaning in our lives.
May God be with us all as we face the cross of Christ.

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