2014 8 April

Lenten Study 6- Palm Sunday

Posted in Steinbach United

by Moderator Gary Paterson

Welcome to the final week of our Lenten journey, “Turn Around Take Off.” Two years ago I was in Jerusalem for Holy Week. I remember the Palm Sunday Procession that began at the Church of Bethphage just over the summit of the Mount of Olives, me and thousands of pilgrims from around the world, many waving palm branches, although most of us had olive branches, which were much easier to come by. The day was bright; the energy, high; the singing, joyous, as the language of praise changed at almost every bend in the road  –English, Arabic, German, Tagalog, Swahili, Korean….

We were following the route Jesus took so long ago, the beginning of his last week, the time of the troubles, travelling from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). Many of us paused part way down the hill, at the church Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”), not following Matthew’s gospel, but rather, Luke’s description of the event, where Jesus stopped and wept over the city of Jerusalem, “If you had only recognized on this day the thing things that make for peace… but they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-44). It’s a haunting cry, embodied in the architecture of the church itself, built in the shape of a tear drop.

I remember that moment, asking myself if I have recognized those moments of visitation, when the message of an angel arrives embodied in a stranger, when the Spirit comes close, and I am invited into a new path, a new way. I’m afraid that all too often, like Jerusalem, I do not see, I do not hear the challenge, the opportunity, the voice of Christ.

And our United Church – is now the moment for us, when Christ calls out to us? And finding no response, weeps, saying once again, “O United Church, if you had only recognized on this day the things that make for life….” What might Jesus be asking of us, in this time, in our place? And will we ignore it at our peril?

The journey down the Mount of Olives continued, and then there was another pause, at the bottom, at the Church of the Agony beside the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a moment to remember the night of final prayer, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.” Thoughts about hard choices, my desire to avoid, side-step; my skill at avoiding crosses; thoughts about the United Church maybe praying a similar prayer – who wants to go through the crucifixion times? But what if God is in the diminishment we are experiencing? What if it is God’s will to change us, each one of us; to change the United Church? What would it mean to say, “not what I want but what you want”?

The march into Jerusalem – thousands of us enjoying the great parade, perhaps not remembering the fear that must have hovered over that first procession. It probably wasn’t a crowd of cheering thousands, more likely a small band of followers, and Jesus on his donkey (though even the donkey might be in question, suggest some scholars).

Palm Sunday is a day to acknowledge that there is an edge to this Jesus, a sharp and demanding challenge. The gospel writers, perhaps adding details in the knowledge that came with hindsight, are clear that Jesus is staking a claim – challenging the powers that be, whether Roman or temple elites, proclaiming that there is a different way of living where we render unto God what is God’s – which, finally, is everything; Caesar can only claim the leftovers. Is this the zealot moment of revolution, of social transformation – no longer simply a reborn Nicodemus, a thirst-quenched Samaritan woman, a sight-restored beggar, a newly-alive Lazarus, but freedom for a city, a temple, a people – a second exodus, a Kingdom of God moment? The claims of the Palm Sunday Jesus have political dimensions, his teachings and witness have social and economic implications. He dreams of turning lives and the world upside down.

Note how both Matthew and Luke conclude the Palm Sunday entry with Jesus striding into the temple and overthrowing the money changers’ tables. There are lots of explanations for Jesus’ actions – maybe the money-changers were unfairly, unjustly gouging pilgrims and worshippers? Who knows exactly, but it one of the few times that Jesus gets really angry. Following Jesus will change our ways of doing business – no question about that! And whenever a Jesus follower (or a church) starts criticizing the way business is done, or government organized – then there will be push back. We have lots of modern examples, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States.

I wonder where Palm Sunday challenges face us, in Canada, as individual followers of Jesus, and as the United Church – right relations with Aboriginal brothers and sisters? Right relations with the earth – “You have made my Father’s house a den of carbon emissions!” Or maybe it’s still the money tables two thousand years later, the growing inequalities of wealth and privilege with too many people living in poverty in a country of such wealth. Where is the Palm Sunday moment in your community, in your neighbourhood?

In this journey of transformation we know that with Jesus the personal and the political are intertwined. And as followers, we are called to speak up, to speak truth to power, as the Quakers say – to recognize that the life of the city, of every Jerusalem, is a place where the challenge and invitation of Jesus Christ need to be heard.


You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.