PALM SUNDAY READINGS
Fr. Jim has chosen alternate readings for today instead of those listed at the link on the left.
Almighty and ever living God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens--wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 "This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Hosanna, Lord, hosanna! *
Lord, send us now success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28 "You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
"Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Palm Sunday Sermon: SAVE US!!
Let us pray: Oh God, your Messiah draws near. We pray that you will bless us with your presence and enable us to cry out with the very stones beneath his feet saying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar the chorus sings:
“Hey sanna, ho sanna, hey sanna, ho sanna, hey sanna. Hey, hey JC, JC won’t you smile at me. Jesus Christ, if you’re divine, turn my water into wine. Prove to me that you’re no fool. Walk across my swimming pool.” With these words, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” captures the anticipation of that first Palm Sunday parade. “Jesus Christ if you’re divine, turn my water into wine.”
That same mixture of this world and the next is really the story of the first Palm Sunday. But even more, the original Palm Sunday is the story of expectations that are not met. Instead, they were answered by something that seemed to be far worse, but proved to be much better.
To understand what was going on that day, you have to understand that Jerusalem was an occupied city; under the strict authoritarian control of the most fearsome army the world had ever known up to that point. And yet the city was packed to the rafters with people commemorating the Passover — the annual celebration of the time that God freed the Jewish people from slavery under another oppressive foreign government.
Every male Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was expected to celebrate every Passover in that city, while Jews from all over the world hoped to be able to spend at least one Passover in Jerusalem. It was a religious festival to commemorate the debt the people of Israel owed to God in the past, of course. However, it was also indistinguishable from a political yearning for freedom in the present. Every year, they would think, “Maybe this would be the time God will win our freedom once again.”
As a result, pilgrims were stuffed into every nook and cranny of the holy city and far out into the suburbs — all of them rehearsing the stories of God’s miraculous rescues of his people in the past. Nationalistic feelings were all but boiling over, barely held in check by the fear of Roman power.
The Romans, of course, were well aware of the potential for rebellion and each soldier on every street corner was on the highest of alerts, ready for even the slightest sign of any brewing insurrection. Tension was quite literally everywhere.
That was the setting when Jesus came riding into town at the head of a parade rife with ancient symbolism. Borrowing an image from the prophet Zechariah, Jesus chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem, symbolic both of his claim to be king and of his intent to enter the city in peace. The crowds immediately recognized the Messianic claim of his entrance, although they clearly missed the part about his coming in peace.
Instead, they expected that Jesus would become the ancient equivalent of John Wayne and Rambo and Superman all rolled into one. They expected that the streets were about to run red with Roman blood and that God would ensure their victory, even if that victory might prove to be hard won.
So the crowd instantly greeted Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna,” a Hebrew word that means “Save us, please!” And they waved palm branches, which were a long-term symbol of Jewish nationalism. In effect, they were saying, “Praise God! The revolution against the Romans is about to begin and we’re behind you all the way, Jesus!”
The Romans understood all that and they were ready to crush any slightest gesture of rebellion. Under these circumstances, Jesus’ dramatic entrance was like waving a lit match over a barrel of dynamite. The tiniest miscalculation and everything would have gone sky high.
Just a word or two from Jesus and the long-simmering bloodbath would have begun. But that word never came from him. Instead, there in the center of that pressure cooker of nationalistic feelings, Jesus calmly rode on, knowing that he was riding toward his own death — a death that would offer the crowds the salvation they were asking for, even if it would come in a way that was totally unexpected and which the crowds weren’t able to understand at that point.
Scott Black Johnston is the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. He met with a seventh-grade class recently and had them write down questions they wanted to pose to their pastors. Four of the twelve cards asked: “Is Jesus the only way to salvation?” At that point, he says:
“Being an annoying pastor, I told them that before I would answer that question, they had to answer one for me. ‘Since salvation implies that you are being saved from something, what do you think Jesus is saving you from?’ The first answer that came back was ‘hell.’ Jesus saves people from hell.” That struck Johnston as being the kind of answer that the class might think that he wanted to hear instead of being an answer that had any real connection to their lives.
So he pressed them further. He said, “Let me put it this way, if God was on the ball, what would God save you from?” That’s when the conversation got interesting.
One of the youths raised her hand and said, “Death.” Another fellow offered that God could really help him out by saving him from an upcoming math test. Then one of the seventh graders said, “Pressure.” And another youth said, “My parents’ expectations.” Then another, shy individual, almost in a whisper said, “Fear. I want God to save me from my fears.” All of these answers struck Johnston as more sincere than “hell,” although, he added that you could argue their comments gave a pretty clear picture of what “hell” looks like to a 7th grader. Then Johnston poses the same question to us adults.
“Can we dip down into our souls and be as honest as these young people were? When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from getting sent back to Iraq. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save us all from this terrible pandemic. Save us, God, save us from our fears.”
I keep coming back to that strange word, "Hosanna." You've got to admit that it is not a term that comes up in everyday conversation. If you are like me, the last time you uttered "Hosanna" was, well... a year ago in March, last Palm Sunday. It is a peculiar word--one that is difficult to define. Scholars' best guess is that "Hosanna" is a contraction of two Hebrew terms: yaw-shah, meaning to save or deliver, and naw, meaning to beseech or pray. So you might translate the shouts of the crowd as: "We beseech you to deliver us." The people cheered. They tossed branches from the nearby trees to the ground, and they called out, "Hosanna." They looked upon this prophet--rumored to be the Messiah--and they cried out to him, "Save us. Save us." I'm thinking that the meaning of Palm Sunday hangs on those two words--on that simple plea. Do we feel compelled to shout, "Save us!" to God as we prepare for Holy Week during this unsettling time?
Whatever you may hope God will save you from, Palm Sunday serves to remind you that Jesus has the power to bring you that salvation — both in this life and for the next. He can calm your fears, sustain you in your pain and transform your life in ways that are far better than you can imagine. So blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Let us pray: Holy and gracious God, we need you to rescue us from the depths. Please do what you have always done when your people have cried out, "Please save us!" In Christ's name we pray. Amen.