To open this time of worship, we will commemorate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for what turned out to be the last week of his life. And then the rest of the service we’ll go journey through that last week. (I wish to dedicate this service to the three Black churches in Louisiana who were the targets recently of white supremacist arson).
On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the holy capital astride his mighty steed, a donkey. The people who came with him were peasants. And the people of Jerusalem who welcomed them on were peasants who took what was at hand- palm fronds – to wave and celebrate and place on muddy road before Jesus.
They sang out to Jesus. Their song was a song of hope and of desperation: “Hosana!” Which means, God save us!
Because, you see, at the same time as Jesus’ scrappy entourage is entering Jerusalem from this side, on the other side of the city another entourage is parading in: The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate is making a grand and intimidating entrance, with troops and trumpets on full display. Because, you see, Jerusalem was preparing to celebrate Passover, when the Hebrew people commemorate how God helped liberate their people from bondage in Egypt. This tended to be a time of the years when insurrection among the Jews would flare up against Roman oppression.
So Pilate made sure that Passover was one of the times he was in Jerusalem personally to do the business of governing with the force of Rome on display. Make sure everyone knew who was in charge.
Jesus was entering Jerusalem for Passover to make sure everyone kept God as their end all and be all. But this makes him the opposite of a conquering general. He’s ushering in a kind of upside-down kingdom, and proclaiming Jubilee.
So as our dear children and choir process in and represent the Jesus people entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, know that this procession is both innocent and bold, but humble and formidable. The promise, embodied by Jesus, is Jubilee! true jubilee. So we sing “Hosana!”
PALM SUNDAY PROCESSION
READINGS & REFLECTIONS
Jesus was not just about liberation from Roman oppression and violence. Jesus was about full-scale jubilee from the forces of oppression and the cycles of violence themselves, as they play out in human hearts and human societies. He had a world historic mission.
This involved a profound challenge. Jesus profoundly challenged his own people and their leaders. And he continues to profoundly challenge all of us.
Throughout that challenge, Jesus embodies Jubilee, he teaches and models and invites us into a holy way that is liberated from fear, from greed, from anger, resentment, ego … Sounds nice, but it ain’t easy.
Before we move from Palm Sunday into Jesus’ last week and the Passion story, let’s flashback for a moment to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the story of when he first proclaimed Jubilee. Notice what happens.
When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Holy One is upon me, because the Holy One has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, has sent me to proclaim release to the captivesand recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepersin Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. – Luke 4:16-30
Jesus proclaims Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, when debts are forgiven, people are set free from enslavement and oppression and blindness, the way of forgiveness washes over the land. The people who hear him are very excited about this – ‘cause they could use some Jubilee.
But Jesus says, “Sorry, the Jubilee I’ve got isn’t for you, it’s for Syrians, it’s for Somalis, and Mexicans, and Salvadorans…” This is for the foreigners you hate and mistrust. This may sound harsh, but what he’s doing is challenging them with the truespirit of Jubilee. And in response they reveal the violence within them. They quickly become just as bad as the Roman legions and the thuggish lynch mobs they hate. Jesus, however, embodies a Jubilee that is so free that he just melts right through them and goes on his way.
This way of his, this Jubilee way continues to draw out the forces of violence that can keep us from peace, expose those forces as false, and embody a holy way of freedom.
With this in mind, let’s go through Jesus’ last week and Passion…
As Jesus came near and saw Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,“My house shall be a house of prayer.” But you have made it a den of robbers.’
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. – Luke 19:41-42, 45-48
Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Miss, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” – John 8:1-11
So we see that as Jesus presses on with the challenge of this holy way of Jubilee, this is not a meek kind of mercy. This is a mercy that actively intervenes to unmask violence, especially violence against vulnerable people. Notice that this woman is about to be stoned for adultery but the man who also committed adultery, where’s he? He may even be part of the mob against her. Jesus’ way of mercy exposes the false sense of self-righteousness and grievance and resentment and judgment and superiority that motivates violence. This makes Jesus a dangerous person, and leads Jesus to himself become the target for group violence.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” By doing this you are furnishing evidence against yourselves that you are true children of the people who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors’ guilt. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being cast into the realm of hell? Therefore, I send you prophets, wise people, and teachers of the Law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that every drop of innocent blood spilled on earth may fall on your heads, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come home upon this generation.
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones the messengers sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:1, 23, 29-37
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Humanity will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Abba, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Humanity is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:1-4, 36-52
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” As the violence escalates, let’s keep our focus on the heart that Jesus brings. It is heart that remains loving, free of anger, fear, a heart that is set within a wider realm, the realm of God’s peace.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Anointed One, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Humanity will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesusbefore Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. Luke 22:63-71, 23:1-12
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.
Two others also, who were insurrectionaries, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Abba God, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Anointed One of God, the chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the insurrectionaries who were hanged there kept deridinghim and saying, “Are you not the Anointed One? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole landuntil three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Abba, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a good and just man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the realm of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.- Luke 23:26-27, 32-56
Jesus taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the humble , for theirs is the realm of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the realm of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falselyon my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.