Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reflections on the Palm Sunday celebrations

Well, I feel rather certain that it will happen again. It has happened for many, many years why would this year be any different? The people gather. Children carry palm branches. Hosannas are sung. And the church celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That is now, in the present, in the reality of the resurrection. We celebrate because we have read the conclusion to the story. We know how it ends. There are no surprises for us. It is our story. We own it. It is told again and again from memory. It has been embedded into the very fabric of our spirit. “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

A pastor’s challenge is how to make it more than just an ancient tradition, to make it come alive, to help people discovered the deeper levels of this once-in-a-life-time event? Or, as a wise old mentor shared: “Just tell the story.” It’s like the little boy in the story I shared with my congregation in this week’s e-newsletter: The story is told that a little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him, so we got palm branches today.” The little boy replied, “Aw shucks, the one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up”

For the first century Jews in Jerusalem it took on a different meaning. They were an occupied country. Their land and cities were not theirs. The “ownership” was in the hands of others. Decisions were made not of their choosing. The desire for a savior was keen. They were looking for a hero, a leader, a person who would lead a revolt ... someone, anyone who would lead a revolution.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey the people would have remembered others that came into their city in such manner. They would remember about 50 such riders … 50 such events … 50 days of hope and promise … 50 individuals who were going to save the country … 50 individuals who would lead them in a revolt … 50 who were greeted by palm branches, cloaks and shouts of praise, “Blessed is he who come sin the name of the Lord.”

Hosannas had greeted others. The people would remember the most successful of those who led successful revolutions, Judas Maccabeus. The year was 165 B.C. A zionist movement had started out of the Galilean region of Israel. They fought gallently. The victory was won and the Temple was restored to its original purpose. Sactified for Yahweh worship once again. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” greeted Judas Maccabeus.

And now another from the Galilean region. There is hope. Possibilities rest on his shoulders. Through this rabbi, teacher, healer, miracle worker, leader of men and women, this dynamic speaker … maybe we can reclaim our land, our country from the foreign occupiers. Revolution is just round the corner. It is right there on the horizon. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Let the celebration begin.

But, alas, those in Jerusalem on that original Palm Sunday missed the point. Jesus’ revolution wasn’t to restore the land, but to restore the person. It wasn’t a political revolution, but a change of the heart. It wasn’t for the purpose of sanctifing the Temple on Mount Zion, but the purifing the altar of the heart. Jesus expanded the scope and magnitiude of the relationship we had with the Almighty.

Will we miss it again this year? It will be there right there in plain view or will we get caught up in the palm branches and the singing of the Hosannas. Will our lives change? Will our eyes opened to Kingdom possibilities? Will we simply echo the ancient words of “blessed is he who comes”? Will we be captured by the magnitiude of the revolution Jesus started with that simple ride into the city of Jerusalem? Will we get caught up in nation-building and lose sight of the Kingdom issues involved?

So gather as we must. Wave the Palm Branches. Sing the Hosannas. Celebrate the event. Enjoy the music … just don’t miss him in the middle of the celebration … don’t miss the spiritual revolution he brings … don’t miss the new life he offers. 

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