Palm Sunday 2019

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Title:Palm Sunday 2019

 Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019 (full size gallery)

While the magnolia blooms have faded, there was abundant new leaf growth in our trees, including the dogwoods and sycamore. It’s that light shade of green that is a part of this new growth. Unfortunately the weather was overcast though the weather was mild. We only had 34 for the service.

Lent wrapped up this week. Spanish Bible Study had 9 on April 13, the best attendance of Lent. The group would like to meet periodically in the future.

We also had a good number, 10 for the First Corinthians study. This week Chapter 9 concerning Paul’s rights as an apostle.

Palm Sunday is the hinge between Lent and Holy Week.Lent has been the 40 day season of fasting and spiritual preparation intended to understand in practices, ritual and disciplines critical to living in the way of Jesus and Holy Week. Holy Week is a time of more intense fasting, reading and prayers in which we pay particular attention to the final days, suffering, and execution of Jesus.

While Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the events of that day set in motion Jesus’ death 5 days later before the Passover begins. Zechariah had forecast “Zion’s king” coming “righteous and victorious” on a donkey. It looked like Jesus was proclaiming himself King of Israel to the anger of some of the Jewish authorities.

Palm Sunday has two liturgies – the Liturgy of the Palms where we consider Jesus arrival in Jerusalem from Galilee and the Liturgy of the Passion, a foreshadowing of Holy Week.

We gathered for “Liturgy of the Palms”, this year from Luke and processed into the church with the first hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor” that goes back to the 9th century. At this Jesus knows what’s about to happen – “you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.”

The Gospels go on to recount how Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the midst of the Passover and how the people there lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down small branches of trees. Traditionally, entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace, rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse. This has been foretold in scripture by Zechariah, five centuries earlier.

Jerusalem will be the place of confrontation with the authorities to fulfill what Jesus would know as the final act in his life Jerusalem with its temple was still seen as “the city of God” that called forth Jewish devotion. But it was also the center of a local domination system, the center of the ruling class, the center of great wealth, and the center of collaboration with Rome.

Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. It is about the kingdom. In the first century, “kingdom” was a political term. Jesus’s hearers (and Mark’s community) knew of and lived under kingdoms: the kingdoms of Herod and his sons, the kingdom of Rome.

Jesus talks about a different Kingdom -not the kingdom the people expected. “The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13).

The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity in the world. It is the kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace and joy. These qualities are not works of the human spirit. They proceed from the life of God and reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom.

The celebration on Palm Sunday quickly recedes into the passion story that takes place over the week. The passion readings are presented twice this week – from Luke on Palm Sunday and from John on Good Friday.

This year we did the Passion from the Gospel of Luke in parts. The congregation became the “assembly” and had an active role.

Today’s readings call us to follow the path of humility modeled by Jesus throughout Holy Week. Isaiah reminds us that God is the savior, who helps those who serve God’s plan. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul commends the attitude of Christ who lived in humility and obedience. In today’s gospel, Christ’s passion leads him from the anguish of Gethsemane through the humiliation of the cross to the abandonment of the cold tomb.

The Isaiah reading from 50:4-9a is the third of the four “servant songs” in Isaiah. (The others are found in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-7 and 52:13–53:12.) It is not certain whom the author intended the servant to represent—perhaps the people of Israel, an actual historical figure or an individual who would embody all the features of Israel’s election and mission.

Isaiah presents the servant as one who submits to God’s purposes, whether in a personal response to God or in acceptance of suffering. The servant knows that he is called to be a misunderstood and ill-treated prophet to a sin-weary people. Nevertheless, he is confidence that God will vindicate him.

The second reading, Philippians 2:5-11 is generally considered to be a hymn to Christ that Paul adopts. The hymn, poetic in rhythm and structure, contains a full outline of Christ’s saving work: his divine preexistence (v. 6), incarnation (v. 7), death (v. 8), celestial exaltation (v. 9), heavenly adoration (v. 10) and new title (v. 11).

The first stanza (vv. 6-8) recounts Jesus’ own action. His “equality with God” is not a prize to be “exploited” for his own advantage but is a treasure to lay down. The second stanza of the hymn (vv. 9-11) stresses God’s action. The “name” God has bestowed on Jesus is “Lord” (Greek, Kyrios), a term used by Jews to substitute for speaking the name of God, YHWH. This name is now given to Jesus, and the honor due to God is now due to Jesus. Jesus’ redemptive life becomes the basis of and model for our own communal life.

The passion narrative, Luke 22:14–23:56 is the core and climax of each gospel. Each evangelist shaped his account to help his community deal with the paradox of the cross. The passion account is not an appeal to pity, sorrow or even repentance. It witnesses to the presence of God, to the evidence of God’s purpose at work in the midst of these events. The response called for is faith.

Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man, full of compassion, love and patience in dying as he was in living. He is in command of the situation and is not seized by guards until he gives himself over. He heals, responds with compassion to the pain of others and forgives. Luke emphasizes the serenity of Jesus’ death, recalling his utter confidence in the Father’s plan.

Finding good news in the passion according to Luke is no simple trick, nor a matter of whistling in the dark. Instead, it is the result of tuning into the nuances of the passage.

In the agony in the garden, for example, Jesus’ experience there gives us all the right to be afraid. In addition to his natural fear of death, Jesus’ knowledge of countless human beings crushed by each other gave Christ sadness as God’s representative. It’s okay to share Christ’s fear, his sorrow.

Observe next how Jesus remains a still center in the midst of the chaos of his arrest and trial. He demonstrates the dignity and credibility lost by the leaders, even deflecting Judas’s kiss with an ironic comment when the traitor approaches to embrace him. Despite the turmoil, Christ stands steady, trusting that God’s plan will unfold even under tumultuous conditions.

While Pilate and Herod have the perfect opportunity to condemn Jesus, they find the charges against him flimsy. Their declarations of his innocence seem to make the religious leaders more frenzied. Such malice makes Jesus’ words to the women even more comforting, coming, as they do, out of his own anguish and vulnerability: “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28b).

Jesus’ first words on arriving at Calvary are those of forgiveness: “They do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34b). When one of the thieves asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus’ response is out of all proportion to the request: he promises not only memory, but paradise.

At the time of Jesus’ death, he is deluged with jeers. But after it, Luke shows other responses: the faithfulness of the women, the generosity of Joseph of Arimathea, the bold declaration of the centurion, the remorse of the people. Through Joseph’s offer of a tomb, we discover the Lord’s kindness in accepting timorous disciples. We pray that acceptance includes us.

Perspective from Lutheran minister David Lose on Palm Sunday and Holy Week:

“Earlier this week, one of you wrote to me and observed that in Luke’s version of the Passion, Peter denies Jesus three times and Pilate proclaims his innocence three times. The preacher writing asked if this was significant.

“What I find interesting about this juxtaposition of triplets is that they are, when you stop to think about it, exactly contrary to what our expectations would be. That is, Peter is the one who should be shouting Jesus’ innocence and Pilate the one denying him rights or condemning him as a threat to the empire. But that’s not what happens.

“And perhaps the very “unexpectedness” of the behavior of these two characters is a key not simply to the larger Passion of our Lord but also to the whole of Luke’s Gospel. After all, we should not expect a conniving prodigal to be received back into the household without genuine repentance. We should not expect a shepherd to leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and at risk to pursue one straggler. We should not expect that Jesus would lift up a chief tax collector as a model of righteousness. (These are among several “minority” interpretations of familiar stories in Luke that I happen to believe are accurate.) And we should definitely not expect the Lord of glory and Savior of the world to suffer and die in such an undignified, horrible way.

“Which maybe, just maybe means that the God Jesus reveals is, well, unexpected. As in totally not what we imagine possible. No wonder the disciples don’t believe the testimony of the women at the empty tomb. It’s just beyond what they can imagine, believe, or ever – in a million years – expected.

“Perhaps that’s why we turn the cross into an instrument of divine justice and punishment rather than seeing it as an expression of the deepest kind of sacrificial love. I mean, we’d expect a holy, just, and powerful God to demand punishment for sin. So Jesus standing in for us and taking our punishment makes a certain sense. It’s what we expect. But perhaps our imagination has been so shaped by the systems of power of the world that we can only imagine God as a mighty king offended by the sin of his subjects.

“Yet if we take the countless stories Luke shares about Jesus and, more importantly, Jesus’ words about God and God’s kingdom seriously, then we might be grow more accustomed to God doing the unexpected. God just forgiving us out of love rather than demanding satisfaction first. God acting more like a desperate parent than an angry monarch. God reaching out again and again in love and mercy rather than exacting retribution.

“That’s the God we discover in Luke’s – and, I’d argue, the whole of the New Testament’s – witness to Christ and his cross. And that’s the God we’re called to preach, this Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and most especially on Easter Sunday.”