Greetings Peninsula United Methodist Church!
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! I pray that this Palm Sunday will find you well and practicing your social distancing and self care. I have a video and a message for you that I hope will be a blessing to you. Even though the video has a very white and English speaking Jesus, it will remind us of the experience of Jesus’ followers that first Palm Sunday. Then, when you read the message I have prepared, I hope it will be more meaningful as you recall the Palm Sunday scene.
Let’s continue to stay closely connected in the Spirit–even as we are staying safe in the comfort of our homes.
Short video: https://youtu.be/dwHBPC5V8MA
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mt. 21: 9-NRSV). These were the words the Scriptures tell us were shouted by the exuberant crowd surrounding Jesus as he made the final journey of his ministry into the city of Jerusalem. The shouts echoed the feeling of joy that was deep within the hearts of Jesus’ followers. After all, their king was now making his triumphant entry into the great city of Jerusalem, the place where they believed he would take his rightful seat of power and authority. And so he entered Jerusalem to all of the pomp and circumstance the joyous crowd could show him. They made enough noise to rattle some Pharisees who were also among the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “order your disciples to stop.” Jesus replied to them, “If these were silent, the stones would cry out.” (Lk 19: 39-40-NRSV).
As a child, I can recall reenacting this triumphant and joy-filled scene at home with the palms I had received on Palm Sunday at Sunday School. “Hosanna” I, too, would shout with all of the exuberance a seven-year-old child could muster. I waved my palms in the air and declared Jesus to be the “blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord!” I loved Jesus with the all my heart…well…with all the sincere but ultimately flighty love of a seven-year-old attention span. Never-the-less, this activity was an important part of my own personal faith formation.
As I have been pondering these two scenes, the Palm Sunday scene portrayed in the Scriptures and my own childhood celebration of the events of that first Palm Sunday, an interesting commonality between them has come to my attention. Both of these scenes reveal the rich emotional enthusiasm for Jesus’ “triumphant” journey into Jerusalem that resulted from individual expectations and interpretations, and even from some personal agendas. The downtrodden and marginalized Jewish people needed Jesus to assume a seat of power that would overcome the burdened life they faced under the authority of Roman rule. They had experienced first-hand the compassionate and healing ministry of Jesus, and they received with gladness his promise of a new kingdom that would usher in a whole new world authority. They hungered for this new kingdom, and they wanted and expected it…now!
As a child, like the Palm Sunday crowd, I too loved Jesus—the Jesus I had created from the Church lessons I was able to comprehend and retain. As I waved my palm branches high, I was reacting to the joyful emotion of the Palm Sunday crowd I had learned about in my class. I was caught up in the joy of the Palm Sunday moment, an emotion I suspect many who gathered in Jerusalem that day also experienced. Joy is contagious—and who doesn’t like a parade? I did not know that “Hosanna” meant “save us.” I suspect many who happened to join in with the crowd in Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna” that day may also have wondered just what it meant. But, the on looking Pharisees knew exactly what the word Hosanna meant for them. Jesus questioned the authority of their rule among the people, and the crowds he was gathering jeopardized their role in keeping peace and calm within Jerusalem. They were angry at Jesus, and they were looking for a way to put an end to him. As the week progressed, and Jesus did not assume the power of an earthly king the people expected, they became disillusioned with him. Some became angry, and the Pharisees hoped to use the growing negative emotions of the people to their advantage. They conspired to arrest Jesus and to turn the disappointed crowd into an angry mob that would call for Jesus’ death. And so, a week that had begun with joyous shouts of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, culminated with that same crowd shouting loudly at his trial, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
As we have seen illustrated above, our human feelings and emotions are so fragile, and they can be so changeable. The scriptures reveal to us that after his death and resurrection, many of his followers came to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ mission and message. Jesus, once again, was declared to be a king, but not of an earthly kingdom. Understanding the truth about God’s plan of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed how people felt about him, and again they gladly received him. That is because the truth has the power to change our emotions as well as our actions, once we know the truth. Take for example the young man chose to go partying with his friends during Spring Break last month, even though the health experts were recommending against large gatherings due to the concern over the spread of COVID-19. He had convinced himself that there was no cause for him to change his vacation plans. When this young man returned home from his vacation, he discovered how quickly the illness from this virus was spreading throughout our country and the world. He publicly recanted his frivolous attitude. He became very remorseful for his actions. Once he understood the truth that the virus causes serious illness, the young man’s feelings about it changed.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday this year from our homes, we are painfully aware of the seriousness of COVID-19. That we need to practice social distancing and take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of this disease is the truth. But, as Christians, we should not allow this truth to overwhelm us or to overshadow the truth we know about our marvelous God. For, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God: no height, no depth, no sin, no pandemic virus. God gave us Jesus, so that everyone who believes in him would have marvelous, abundant and everlasting life. This is the life Jesus has promised his followers. Even in the most difficult times, God is with us and for us. Our current situation of social distancing may seem a bit lonely, but we are never alone. We have the unconditional and everlasting love, forgiveness and peace of God, and we have strong and loving bonds of connection to each other to comfort and assure us. We are, even in this unusual Lenten season, a blessed people.
So, I will end with words Paul shared with the Phillippian Church,
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your needs known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Blessed Palm Sunday Peninsula United Methodist Church! Amen