The message for this Palm Sunday worship consisted of short ‘reflections’ after the lectionary readings for the day.
FIRST LESSON Psalm 31:1-4, 9-16
Everything in Scripture, including the Psalms, ultimately points us towards Easter.
Brother Lawrence served in the kitchen of his monastery and said he experienced the presence of God as clearly in washing pots and pans as in the Blessed Sacrament. Though known as Brother Lawrence, his name was Nicholas Herman. He was born into a peasant family in Lorraine, France, in 1611. At the age of eighteen, he awakened to the presence of God in nature by gazing upon a bare tree in winter and thinking about its coming renewal. Later he became a professional soldier but was wounded and retired from the army; thereafter walking with a severe limp that troubled him throughout the rest of his life. Sometime later, he attempted living as a hermit, but failed at that. Then he joined the Carmelite Order in Paris. He was there as a lay person, serving in the kitchen and as a cobbler.
He is best known for the record of his conversations and writings entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. Like many others, Brother Lawrence entered a monastic order believing that he was giving up this world’s happiness to become a monk. He discovered a much deeper happiness than he had ever imagined. Reflecting on this turn of events, Brother Lawrence said to God: “You have outwitted me.”
Isn’t that a delightful phrase? “You have outwitted me.” What a testimony to the providence of God, the working of God’s grace in our lives, grace that consistently offers us the gift of hope.
Listen again to some of Psalm 31, this time from The Message translation:
1-2 I run to you, God; I run for dear life. Don’t let me down!. . . Get down on my level and listen,
3-5 You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader, Free me from hidden traps; I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands. You won’t drop me, you’ll never let me down.
How easily we forget that when we are in the midst of difficult times. God will never let us down. The psalmist says,
6-13 You, God, I trust. you saw my pain, I’ve cried my eyes out; I feel hollow inside.
. . . My troubles have worn me out, turned my bones to powder.
14-18 Desperate, I throw myself on you: you are my God!
The psalmist, after describing his condition as desperate, clearly finds hope in God.
Getting through life is like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, good times and hard times. Some are small hills and gentle valleys, and others are gigantic mountains and deep canyons. The incarnation reminds us that God rides along with us. God identifies with our problems, sorrows, hopes, frustrations and joys. God knows these things, not because God is omniscient. God knows these things because in Jesus Christ, God became a human being and experienced the joys and pain we experience.
Knowing our joys and our troubles, we find hope in this, that God is the ultimate giver of second chances.
One night, Thomas Edison watched helplessly as his laboratory was on fire, taking his costly experiments up in flames. He called his son Charles. "Come!" he said. "You'll never see anything like this again!" Then he called his wife. As the three stood gazing, Edison said, "There go all our mistakes. Now we can start over afresh." In two weeks he started rebuilding the plant, and it was not long before he invented the phonograph.
Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us hope, and he entered Jerusalem that day to the cheers of the crowd. Only he knew what the hope he was bringing truly was, and what the price was to be.
SECOND LESSON Isaiah 50:4-9
We've all seen it: that too-cute poster of a clinging kitten, hind feet dangling in the air, only its front paws, claws dug in frantically, keeping the kitty doing a chin-up somewhere above the ground. Underneath the picture of this panicked pussycat is the admonition, "Hang In There!"
Where the psalmist reminds us that God knows in a real and intimate way what we go through in life, the Isaiah passage, from the Servant Songs, perhaps even anticipating Jesus’ post-resurrection words to his disciples encourages us to “hang in there.” God is always with us. God promises never to leave or abandon us.
Are there any times when God leaves us? The following is adapted from a poem by Ray Strawser, and affirms that God is with us
When we feel lonely; When we are hurt; When we are afraid When we feel inadequate; When we can't pray.
When we don't understand; When we are stuck; When we are misunderstood; When we really goofed.
When we have stopped before we should have; When we don't recognize God at all; When our prayers seem like dead words to us.
When the seeds of faith seem to be dying. When we get weary of religion; When friends fail us.
When money is scarce or nonexistent; When we feel sick; When we are plain down discouraged.
When Christians greatly disappoint us; When we have been forsaken and life seems unfair
When we have misjudged someone; When we don't want to hear the truth; When we don't like ourselves.
When we are blind to opportunities pressing in on us; When we are in real danger.
When the world is too much for us; When we need courage and grace.
When we have lost a loved one; When we have been emotionally abused.
When it seems like there is no relief in sight; When we have become "unglued."
When other people's "spirituality" annoys us.
When we need peace; When we don't know the right way, are not sure, or struggle with the gray areas of life.
When we are depressed; When we have lost control; When we must wait; When we need to trust.
When we have nothing more to give; When we feel trapped; When we have "lost it."
When our love has grown lukewarm;
When we need healing in body, mind or spirit; When we need to be forgiven. When we face our own death.
As we move through the passion narrative we will learn that Peter abandoned Jesus at his darkest moments. But God never abandoned Peter. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God will never abandon you.
As we move through Holy Week towards Easter, we are encouraged that because Jesus overcame the power of death, we can always approach God in prayer. Because of God’s powerful, everlasting love; we are strengthened to “hang in there.”
THIRD LESSON Philippians 2:5-11
FOURTH LESSON Luke 19:28-40
Imagine with me for a moment how frustrated Judas Iscariot must have been as he watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem. Like many of the people waving palm branches and yelling out Hosanna, Judas wanted Jesus to be a military conqueror. Having seen Jesus defeat demons and diseases, changing water into wine and walking on water, raising people from the dead, Judas surely believed that Jesus had the power to call upon God to defeat the regime that oppressed the Hebrew people.
How often do we want Jesus to enter our daily lives to conquer those who cause us pain and heartache, whether it’s the corporate CEO who cuts jobs or the guy who just cut us off on the interstate, certainly this miracle worker could take care of all the tyrants and tormentors in our lives.
In a blog post, back in 2011 author Brian McLaren engaged in an imaginative exercise, retelling the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of those who expected a military and political savior. What if Palm Sunday had happened that way, he wonders, as a carefully planned assault on Roman Jerusalem, rather than the tragicomic image of Jesus perched upon his donkey that we read about in the Scriptures?
"Operation Sacred Vengeance" is the name of the rebel campaign. Jesus and his disciples have engaged in careful preparation, storing caches of weapons, arranging for relays of horses, establishing communications with Zealot factions who are awaiting the signal rise up and sow chaos in the streets, preparing the way for
their military assault.
As McLaren tells it:
Jesus mounts a white horse. He is carrying a huge sword, but has it hidden in a palm branch. His disciples are similarly well-armed with swords, daggers, and shields, all camouflaged behind palm branches. They are mounted on warhorses, prepared for battle. The word goes out and the crowds assemble. In each man's right hand is a sword or dagger raised to the sky, concealed beneath in a palm frond or coat. Each left hand is raised in a fist. Younger men and boys carry concealed torches, ready to light them, march on the city, and create mayhem when the battle
begins . . . .
As they cross the brow of the hill near Bethany and the city comes into view, Jesus gives a rousing speech. "It is wrong for the heathen idolaters to have power over the faithful people of God!" he shouts. "That wrong must end today! We have suffered enough. Now we will make our persecutors suffer!" The people cheer and chant, "Victory! Victory! Crush the Romans! Kill the collaborators!"
"Who is with me in our holy cause?" Jesus asks. The crowds shout, "We are!" in a roar that echoes across the valley into the streets of Jerusalem. "Who is willing to fight to the death and avenge the blood of our ancestors?" Again the crowds shout, "We are!" "And who will shed a gallon of Roman blood for every drop of our blood that is shed?" Again the crowd erupts. Then the branches and coats are thrown to the ground and blades glisten in the sun.
Not exactly the way it happened.
Would we really want a Palm Sunday story that sounded like that? Of course not, because we know the rest of the story.
We know that the real enemy wasn’t Rome, but sin and death. Thanks be to God for sending, not a soldier or warrior, but the King of Glory. Amen.