Psalm 118:1-2,19-29 Isaiah 50:4-9a, Mark 11:1-11
Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight our Rock and Redeemer.
What is Lent and Holy Week all about, anyway? How can our modern liturgical observances of those ancient Holy Week happenings from so long ago have anything to do with our lives today? In one phrase, it is a collision at the cross-roads of faith and life. To help unpack that a bit farther, I would like to offer three lenses through which to view Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week: through the community of faith, through a biblical socio-political lens, and through individual personal journey of faith.
First of all, the lens of the community of faith: Lent is a time to engage in reflecting on all that has been in our collective past, letting go of it, and preparing to live the journey with our Lord and Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Living the journey means going through our passion with his passion as well as our denominational and congregational dying and rising through his death and resurrection. Now wait just a minute, Pastor Scott. Are you saying our denomination, indeed, our very congregation must die to be reborn? In a sense, yes, that is what I am saying. But why do we have to live through that, you might ask? Aren’t we already Easter people? Hasn’t Christ risen already? Yes and no.
The study of congregational life has proven time and time again that congregations go through a life cycle of birth, growth, decline, and depending on what community course of action is agreed upon, death or rebirth. Here, then, is our first challenge for Holy Week: Where is Trout Lake First Presbyterian Church in that cycle? Now I did mention it is a cycle, right? So at that crucial cross roads, at that collision of faith and life, either something new happens and a rebirth goes on, or the congregation dies. What do you want to do?
The second lens to view Palm Sunday and Holy Week through is a biblical socio-political one. And a good bit of that is tied up with history. Picture this: It is the Passover celebration, so Jews are gathering in Jerusalem from all over the region. Any time the natives start gathering for any reason in large numbers, Rome sends in reinforcements to remind them just who is in control, just who has the might and the right.
So, undoubtedly, coming into Jerusalem from wherever the nearest other large garrison of troops is, we have a procession of Roman soldiers; who knows, perhaps as many as two legions, to join the garrison already permanently housed in the former Jewish capital. They come openly garbed in uniform, ready for military action, prepared to carry out whatever is necessary to “keep the Pax Romana, and, I might add, to keep Rome in control of all Roman subjugated peoples.
At the same time, coming in from Bethany, on the other side of town, we have a quiet-ish procession turned parade-like with a holy figure riding a donkey into town; palm branches being waved and cloaks spread on the Way. Why a donkey? Commentator Jack Kelley reminds us,
The reason He chose a donkey was to leave absolutely no doubt that He was Israel’s Messiah. And yes, riding an unbroken colt like that was a miracle in and of itself. But there was even more to it than that. Zechariah 9:9 says: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Next to His resurrection, which they wouldn’t see until after they had put Him to death, riding into Jerusalem on this unbroken donkey colt was the most obvious sign He could have given them.
Who is the “them” Jack reminds us of? It doesn’t matter, actually. For the Jews, it proclaims who their king is and to whom they owe their allegiance. For the Romans, it says louder than words that here is a figure setting himself up to oppose Caesar, and there can be no king in Jerusalem but Caesar.
Jesus comes into the city that calls out to him to be their king; and indeed his gesture of riding the donkey proclaims him thus. But his kingdom is not of this world; it is of another deeper, more internal worlds realm superimposed in and through all cosmos where he is already King and Lord. So he permits the masses the glimpse of who he really is – their rightful King and Lord, but then he does something extraordinary and unexpected. He does not lay claim to the earthly realm at all. What does he do?
With that in mind, I would like to remind us of today’s scripture reading. When Christ rides into town on the donkey, blatantly proclaiming his true kingship over Israel and Jerusalem, where does he go? Not to the palace or seat of political power, he goes to the Temple, to the place where God is enthroned above the cherubim that decorate the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. What does he do? Mark tells us he looks around, and then he leaves. What does that say?
I can only wonder what sort of thoughts when through his head when he entered the Temple and looked around. Perhaps it was an all-seeing-not just a glance across the surface, but into the very heart of things. It was but a glance, but perhaps a look so long and so far that each and every soul from all time, each and every body of believers that claim him as their Lord and King was pierced through so that with his look all false gods dissolve and the truth of who we are – and whose we are – is laid bare before him.
In addition to that, I think it is significant that in just a short while after this Jesus will sit down at table, lift a cup and say, “This cup is a new covenant.”
For us, we commemorate this specific Passover with Maunday Thursday and call it the Last Supper. Then we remember it whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In the Gospel of John, at that meal Jesus wraps a towel around himself and washes the feet of his disciples, showing, as John says, “the full extent of his love.” In Mark we learn of the other things that happen at that last supper; the breaking of bread as a metaphor for Jesus being broken for us, the cup of the new covenant I just mentioned which is a metaphor for the blood of Christ poured out for us. Following that, we have the scene on the Mount of Olives and in the Garden of Gethsemane* (i.e. olive press).
There, according to Mark’s gospel, Jesus once again explains that the shepherd will be struck down and the sheep scattered…meaning he will be arrested and led off for sentencing and death, and they will desert him. Sure enough, it happens. Friday of Holy Week we commemorate his crucifixion, death and burial. And all of that because of his perceived threat to the Roman authorities…and the very real threat to the Jewish religious establishment that didn’t want anything at all changed from business as usual in the corporate body of faith.
The third lens I offer to you is the lens of personal journey of faith. You might call that the journey of the heart. And I don’t mean the beating organ at the center of our bodies. As contemporary theologian Marcus Borg writes,
The word “heart” appears well over a thousand times in the Bible. Most often, it is a comprehensive metaphor for the self. It covers much more than does the metaphorical meaning of “heart” in contemporary English. In our usage, the heart is most commonly associated with love, as in Valentine hearts; courage, as in brave hearts; and grief, as in broken hearts. But in the Bible, the “heart” includes these and more: it is a metaphor for the inner self as a whole.
What Lenten message then, can we draw from this lesson in our season of sacred reflection? We live and move and have our being through Christ’s almighty sacrifice. Called as Christ’s own, we must journey the Calvary way. If we live Christ’s passion and make it our own, even as he has taken all humanity’s sin with him to the cross, then we, like Christ, emerge triumphant through the death of our self and a new life of Christ in us.
Oh, it is not easy, dying to self. Do we not brazenly bring our past life with us, dragging it along behind as we follow Jesus, as we move through his triumphant entry into his very Passion and crucifixion? As all of this happens, our challenge to leave all behind is re-lived in how (or who) we choose to show our allegiance to. I would urge all of us in this Passion week to leave our past nailed to the cross with Christ, so the old life we have led dies along with Christ, who takes up our burdens unto himself and is lifted high. Then, like Christ’s coming resurrection, we become free, rising with Christ into a new life.
So, if you have not taken the 40 days of Lent to do so, take this Passion Week to reflect on and review all that you have been. Give up all that causes you to lose life, and be born anew in a springtime of new growth, new life. Then on Easter morn, be witnesses to the Resurrection! Taste and see that the Lord is good!
May all glory be unto God, in the name of the One who lived, who died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Borg, Marcus E. The Heart of Christianity, Harper Collins Publishers 2003.