Palm Sunday Reflection – Mark 11:1-11
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As the introduction on the front page of our bulletin this week states directly – “How can we Americans grasp what it means to have or want a king when we reject the notion that bloodline conveys the right to rule?” This is a pretty profound statement isn’t it? I mean we reject the notion of a monarchy, but are obsessed with the British Royal Family. We reject the notion of overwhelming political power, but have created a culture in which politicians remain in power for generations.
There are two contrasting kingdoms in Jesus’ time – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. Two of the greatest theological minds of our time, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, wrote an incredibly important book about Holy Week called The Last Week.
In this book they suggest that there are two parades in Jerusalem on this day. The two parades reveal the presence of two kingdoms in a very dramatic and powerful way. Borg and Crossan offer that on one end of Jerusalem there was a parade taking place with cheers and celebrations for the kingdom of Caesar. A kind of parade that took place frequently in order for the Roman Empire to show off its power and might over the people. But, on this day and at the same time, on the other end of Jerusalem there was another parade taking place. This one with palms waving and crowds cheering too. But this parade was celebrating the kingdom of God.
Each year, our Lenten journey takes us to this day of worship, Palm Sunday. A day that leads us into the holiest week of the year in the life of God’s children who try to follow Jesus. I wonder how different you and I are today in comparison to the children of God living in Jesus’ day. In many ways, we’re much the same, aren’t we? Which kingdom are we cheering for as we enter Holy Week this year? The question that I ask myself every year on this day is this – which end of the city will I be cheering? How about you, which end of the city are you at cheering?
Now, in addition to making the claim that two parades were taking place on this day, Borg and Crossan also believe that the term “Kingdom of God” is a political as well as religious metaphor in Mark’s gospel.
Pastor Nancy Rockwell says that “Jesus didn’t start a protest movement, he started a here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement. He didn’t start a political movement. But everything he said and did had political implications. He deliberately used kingdom language, knowing he was challenging the other kingdoms.”
Even though you and I live in a time and place that is 2,000 years removed from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we live as children of God who are being invited each and every day of our life together as part of the body of Christ to participate in the here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement.
Wave your palms brothers and sisters in Christ! Shout Hosanna – here is our king! at the top of your voices! Together, let’s celebrate the Kingdom of God’s unending reign. Brothers and sisters in Christ, who is your king?
Passion Sunday Reflection – Mark 14:1-15:47
Our worship now takes a significant turn. Within the time allotment of one worship service, you and I sing Hosanna! at the triumphant entry of king Jesus into Jerusalem and quickly move to shouts of Crucify Him! toward this same king Jesus. In the historic Christian church, this dramatic shift in the same worship service is not supposed to happen.
Worship leaders and pastors around the world despise this type of movement in a single worship event. You and I are supposed wave palms and celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem today which then moves us into Holy Week. We are to walk together through the passion story of Jesus as we gather for worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. I long for the day when people will gather for worship in Christian churches in just as great of numbers on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as they do on Easter Sunday.
Good Shepherd, just like tens of thousands of other Christian churches this week, will offer worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. And our worship attendance during Holy Week will only be a tiny percentage of those who will worship on Easter next Sunday.
If we don’t experience the passion story in today’s worship, then the majority of people who worship at Good Shepherd, or any other Christian church for that matter, will only hear the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the celebration of the empty tomb of Easter. They will miss the climactic point of the Jesus story entirely.
Jesus is the beginning and the end and the every middle in between of the here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement that began at creation. Hearing and experiencing the passion story of Jesus each year during Holy Week connects us together deeply and intimately to that ancient story – an ancient story of God’s unending love for all of creation that you and I live out in the world today. We simply can’t skip over it because it’s too difficult for us to hear or because we’ve heard it before or because we really don’t think we can fit three additional times of worship into our schedules this week.
One of my favorites pastors serving the church today is Nadia Bolz-Weber. Her thoughts on Holy Week worship have touched me very deeply this week. I want to share them with you now.
Pastor Nadia wrote, “Two thousand years ago in the Middle East, there had to have been crowds who shouted praise and friends who betrayed and followers who denied and women who wept and soldiers who mocked and thieves who believed. It would have happened like this even if the Jesus event were happening now instead of then. Even if we knew everything in advance – were we the ones on the street we too would shout Hosanna and a few days later shout crucify him. And that’s the good news when it comes down to it. Because these people of the Holy Week story are we people. And we people are the likes of which God came to save. God did not become human and dwell among us as Jesus to save only an improved, doesn’t make the wrong choices kind of people. There is no improved version of humanity that could have done any differently. So go ahead. Don’t wait until you think your motivations are correct. Don’t wait till you are sure you believe every single line of the Nicene Creed (no one does all the time!). Don’t worry about coming to church this week for the right reasons. Just wave branches. Shout praise for the wrong reason. Eat a meal. Have your feet washed. Grab at coins. Shout crucify him. Walk away when the cock crows. Because we, as we are and not as some improved version of ourselves…we are who God came to save. And nothing can stop what’s going to happen.” (Not Sure if You Want to Go to Holy Week Services)
As you leave worship today, I invite you to take the palm branch you are holding with you. Put it on the front seat of your car, or your nigh stand, or on your desk at work, or underneath a magnet on your kitchen refrigerator. May this simple palm branch and the words we are about to receive from Holy Scripture remind you that you, yes you, are the reason why God came into the world and who God came to save. You.
So, as brothers and sisters united as one in the body of Christ, we enter into this year’s reading of the passion story of Jesus according to Saint Mark. I invite you to close your eyes if you want or open the red pew Bible to the 1st verse of the 14th chapter of Mark. Take a few deep breaths. And receive these holy words from God on this day…