Ride on, Ride on, in Majesty
2008-03-12 by Dee Dee Haines
As the people of God, we are daily confronted with challenging choices. We ask ourselves, “Will this trip darken my carbon footprint? If I buy this coffee, am I assured that those who picked the beans were fairly paid? Should I go all the way back to the car and get the recyclable shopping bag? Do I name this policy as unjust--- even when it may endanger my position in this company? Do I have to reconcile when I’d rather just exclude this person from community?” Choose. Choose some more. Choose what is good and right in the sight of God.
Our modern context may give these choices contemporary arenas of reference but the underlying question of choosing is as old as dust. Two people chose to put their bite marks on that shiny apple in the middle of the garden.
When we hear Matthew’s account of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, I suspect that most of us identify with the crowd. We, too, want to lay down our coats and wave those palms. We want to see ourselves as a part of the crowd that sings, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” As the drama unfolds, we sing with confidence, “Ride on, ride on, in majesty.” But do we fully understand what it means?”
In The Last Week (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006), John Dominic Crossan and Marcus J. Borg suggest that there were two processions that entered into Jerusalem on the day we now remember as Palm Sunday. One was a peasant procession, the other a procession of Roman imperial power and theology. Jesus entered the city from one direction, riding on a lowly donkey. The Roman procession proceeded from the opposite direction with their armoured horses and soldiers, marching feet and helmeted heads, displays of opulence and military power.
Each procession would have been received in a different way. With a comfortable reassurance or an uncomfortable fear, some would have identified with the Empire of Rome. Still others, desperately hungry for change and fatigued with the status quo, may have found themselves drawn to the procession of the one who entered with different symbols, heralding the promised realm of God. Those who stood with Jesus would have recognised the dangerous position we find ourselves in when we resist the Empire, and its power, and proclaim God’s alternative.
When the drama of Palm Sunday unfolds in worship spaces the Sunday before Holy Week, we will sing boldly, “All glory, laud, and honour…thou art the king of Israel, thou David’s royal son.” It is an act of defiance. We claim our place with Jesus, preparing ourselves to make those choices that deny the Empire of injustice, and proclaim the coming of God’s Empire on earth.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
2008-03-12 by CJ Teets
We received an email wondering why we did not have any material on Matthew 21:1-11. Articles and sermons on that text might not be found in the Journal for this week (always look in Back Issues/Sermons). But also go to Search at bottom of Homepage and enter Matthew 21:1-11 or even Matthew 21, and you will see many articles and sermons.
Things that Shake Us
2008-03-12 by Stephen Schuette
First, I want you to know how much I enjoy and appreciate all you write…both David, and this week, Jule. It’s good stuff!
Second, doing home communions, reading the Matthew Easter Story (a bit early, but necessary for the task), and then reading this Palm Story, I uncovered a little word in common…seismos…or the verb form of it in 21:10. See also, 27:54 and 28:2.
This shakenness or earthquake that reappears seems to speak of powers at work. Surely the earth must have shaken when the Centurion marched with his legion. That would certainly have set Jerusalem in quakes of fear after the Jewish wars, approximately when Matthew was writing. Jule already noted that Matthew gives the witness of the Centurion such prominence.
And yet the Gospel writer is convinced that the true King, the true bringer of a new Reign, the one whom stars follow and who commands wind and wave is this one…who comes humbly.It’s true that there is great irony in this story, and not just in the way that the story turns from praise to rejection – the irony of our possible responses, but also in the images of power and meekness that coalesce together in the person of Jesus. Jule is right… “It is as if Matthew’s writer seeks to say: ‘Look! Here is the king over all the earth who comes to alter the terrain of our lives.’”….seismically!
Sparkling Jule and Holy Week
2008-03-12 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Jule Nyhuis for such an extensive, creative and thoughtful blog entry. She provides intelligent reflections on the fickleness of the crowd from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, as well as provides evocative imagery useful for preaching. Please scroll down to read her entry. The hot tub's a bubblin'.
Here's a question: Many of us tend not just to hear about the events of Holy Week. We actually relive them. On Good Friday at three, we are not merely commemorating Jesus' death. We actually, on some level, are re-experiencing that death. What is good and bad about this mentality?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Mt. 21:1-11; Some Kind of Victory March
2008-03-10 by Jule Nyhuis
This entry was submitted by Jule M. Nyhuis, an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She currently serves as Minister to Children and their Families for a United Methodist Church in Tennessee. She has been preaching and teaching the scriptures in the church for nearly 15 years. All biblical citations are New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
This Sunday the gospel text of the lectionary takes us to the first step of the Passion Story. According to this story’s traditional title, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem. But what sort of victory march is this after all? When I read it, it sounds so much like the Oscar-nominated actor whose name is all the buzz. In the weeks leading up to the big night, everyone wants to catch if even one quick quote from him. The paparazzi swarm. The red carpet awaits. Will he show up in Armani? Which glamorous gal will be on his arm? Finally his limo pulls up. The door opens. “Ooh!” the crowd swoons while flashes pop. His smile dazzles as the entertainment anchors all tug at his elbow. How does he feel about the nomination? How long did he take to get ready for the night? Who will he thank if he wins? It’s all the pre-show hype. Only . . . his name is not called. Again. Home he will go another year with no glittering statue gripped tightly in his hand. The victory eludes his grasp. And he’s left to exit the building empty. Alone; for the crowd’s gaze has turned elsewhere. It’s such a crushing defeat.
Everyone knows they can’t all win and I cannot help but wonder how Jesus might have been feeling about his red-carpet attention. Those of us who know the story, find today’s text so ironic. After all, Jesus (along with us readers) knew the destination of his palm parade; for he knew how fickle the crowd can be. Sometimes I wonder if he was thoroughly frustrated. As the writer of Matthew points out, Jesus gave them all sorts of clues. Some were even as subtle as a fry pan upside their heads. Already there had been three passion predictions (see Mt. 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). His disciples should not have been surprised by the events about to take place because Jesus, like a broken record, had told them the fate that await in Jerusalem. However, the very large crowd that came to spread their cloaks and cut-branches most probably missed that detail. We have to presume that some of these groupies are of the same crowds from earlier encounters. Why else would they add their own acclamations as Jesus came riding down that road on his way into the city? Matthew’s writer puts ancient words of worship (taken from Psalm 118:26) on the lips of this crowd. It is interesting to note that Psalm 118 is one of the Jewish “’Egyptian Hallel’ (‘praise’) psalms, sung before and after the Passover meal” (The HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers. 1993:908). Might the author have been emphasizing the Jewish ancestry of this crowd who were so obviously steeped in their faith tradition? They knew Son of David language and perhaps believed this donkey and colt rider the fulfillment of ancient hopes for the restoration of David’s dynasty. (Note that the Son of David title in Mt.21:9 is unique to the gospel of Matthew.) When pressed by unknowing Jerusalemites about the nature of who this is, they name Jesus a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee (Mt. 21:11). The unfortunate twist of this crowd is that they soon will cry: “Crucify!” (Mt. 27:22-23). A Roman centurion and a death squad (others are with the centurion and join in the proclamation according to Matthew alone) at the foot of the cross will be the first that week to sincerely profess Jesus the Son of God (Mt. 27:54).
One caution to us all when preaching these texts of Holy Week. We must be careful not to fall into the abyss of anti-Semitic statements. Even if the text tends to wander towards such conclusions, we must keep in mind that the gospel of Matthew was written at a time when Jewish-Christian relations were sorting themselves out. Pressure to define who was part of which group must have been at a high, if not for both groups, then certainly for this newly emerging religion. As preachers of Holy Week, Year A; we must be careful not to lay blame where a potentially over-anxious author might have been seeking to justify a community’s believed “rightness” of their own commitments.
One final word on Matthew’s Palm Sunday story. Here we have Jesus descending from the Mount of Olives. I encourage you to see Zechariah 14:1-9 to know more about the ancient prophecy about the Day of the LORD when the LORD would stand on the Mount of Olives and fight the foes of Jerusalem. “And the LORD will become king over all the earth” Zechariah 14:9 goes. If the author of Matthew indeed seeks to link Jesus’ Jerusalem entry with the prophet’s prediction, then what might we make of this act taking place as Jesus rides not one but two pack animals according to Matthew’s telling of the tale? Further, if you spend some time investigating a map of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, such as the one found in The HarperCollins Study Bible (Map 16), your imagination surrounding Jesus’ entry east from the Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem might soar. Did he hang a left at Gethsemane and come down the winding road directly into the Temple’s Golden Gate? (Matthew and others put Jesus in the Temple at the close of his Jerusalem entry.) Was it straight into Solomon’s Portico he went? Was this the same, but reverse, route ancient tradition said the “temple-departing glory of God” took (The HarperCollins Study Bible:1902, note on Mt.24:3)? (Also see Ezekiel 11:23 for more information.) I encourage you to play with the path in your mind’s eye this week and see what insight might come.
At last, I love the way the note on Zechariah 14:4 in The HarperCollins Study Bible puts it: “the divine feet (standing on the Mount of Olives) are sufficient to alter the landscape of Jerusalem” (1426). Wow! From the start, the gospel of Matthew has been intent on emphasizing the clash of kingdoms between that of this world’s and that of God’s. Remember that Matthew’s gospel alone includes the wise seekers heading to Jerusalem in search of the newborn king (Mt. 2:1-12). Matthew alone holds King Herod’s response to such news: he orders all nearby babies two years old and under killed, just in case these wise ones have it right and a new king is about to begin his ascent (Mt. 2:16-18). If we recall Jesus’ first sermon according to the gospel of Matthew: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 4:17), then what attention might we pay to the gospel’s explanation in Matthew 21:5 of this branch-cloaked parade? “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt. 21:5). It is as if Matthew’s writer seeks to say: “Look! Here is the king over all the earth who comes to alter the terrain of our lives.” For in this humble king, the ways of the world will be turned upside-down and inside-right. He will not descend into the city to exercise the strength of his muscle, but the strength of his heart. His will is turned not towards self-satisfaction, but towards God (Mt. 26:39). Even if he must suffer the humiliation and unspeakable pain of death at others’ cruel hands, he will endure it all in the hope of resurrected life. Indeed the divine feet are sufficient to transform the landscape of the world, even if it will take one altered life at a time until the ways of God’s kingdom at last overtake any other.
Our gospel text is rich with possibilities this week. Happy preaching to you all!
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