Saturday, April 23, 2011

It gets personal

Thursday night, I once again had the privledge of preaching and assisting in Maundy Thursday worship.  This particular congregation has the practice of individual absolution after the confessions.  For those of you who are unfamilar with the practice, after the coporate confession and proclamation of forgiveness, the congregation is invited to come to the front, where they can receive an individual announcement of forgiveness.  The pastor (and assistant - in this case, me) make the sign of the cross on an individual's forehead and say, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven."

My husband and daughter were in the congregation.  They were on the side where the pastor stood, and I fully expected them to stay in that line.  I figured it might be a bit more meaningful for them to hear those words of forgiveness from someone other than "Mom."  So I was a bit surprised when they switched to my side.  So I looked into my 18 year old daughter's eyes, and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven."  Then I looked into my husband's eyes, and said again, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven."

I didn't realized the full impact of that declaration until this morning. 

This morning, I was thinking over the last two day's worship.  About the beautiful, mournful music of the choir and the Passion readings last night.  About how there is just something extra special about communion on Maundy Thursday.  About how, although we know our sins are forgiven, it is so reassuring to occasionally hear some tell your personally, you are forgiven.  I realized that Pastor Tim and I neglected to declare each other's sins forgiven (oops!).  I thought about seeing my daughter standing in front of me as I pronounced absolution.  And then it hit me.

I had declared ALL her sins forgiven - including those things I secretly held on to.  You know how it is.  There are those things that the people closest to you do that annoy you, that anger you.  The usual friction between people who live closely together, and the big blowups that families sometimes have.  Those things that, although verbally forgiven, still silently lurk in the back of your mind - that you cannot or will not let go.  All those times you know you were the wronged party, but for the sake of family unity you try to bury but just can't quite let go of.

Ok, now I have a problem  If I am going to stand in the front of the sancturary and declare to my daughter all her sins are forgiven, then I also have to follow Jesus' example and forgive - truly forgive and let go - all those things past hurts and dissapointments, all the snarky comments, all the frustrating and exasperating acts that a teenage daughter comes up with in the coming-of-age battle with her mother.

Oops.  Did I mean to do that? 

It's certainly one thing to tell someone that Jesus forgives them.  That's the easy part.  But then it gets personal.  Because if you tell someone that Jesus forgives them, you are also telling them that you forgive them.  Suddenly Matthew 5: 23-24 has a more immediate meaning: “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

So now I have no excuse, no justification to hold on to any of those past things.  But you know, as hard as it is for us to let go of all those times we were wronged, it's also healthy for us to do so. 

And it makes me wonder what would happen if instead of having the pastor-types announce absolution, the people in the pews turned to each other and said, "In the name of Jesus, all your sins are forgiven?"  Spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend.  What if the person standing next to you that evening was someone with whom you were arguing about some church matter?  Could you say those words, and not hear Jesus whisper forgiveness to your heart?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: Do this in remembrance of Me.

Maundy Thursday readings: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:35
This is a night of remembering.

Actually, the next three days are days of remembering.  Tonight’s service contains no blessing and dismissal, neither will tomorrow night’s service.  We leave in silence, to ponder the events of the day.  Thursday blends into Friday, blends into Saturday, and bursts into Sunday as we remember Jesus’ last few pre-resurrection days on earth.

It is fitting that this is a night of remembering.  The events of these holy days are firmly placed in the time of Passover - and if there is one thing Passover is about, it’s remembering. 

Once again, we read in Exodus how God rescued the Hebrew children from slavery. We heard God describe to Moses the final, definitive plague, the closing salvo in the battle between God and Pharaoh and his gods.  We listened as God directs Moses to have the whole of Israel put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to keep the angel of death from their homes.  And we heard God institute the Passover feast so that all of Israel will remember this night forever.

Passover is all about remembering.  The foods eaten, the prayers said, the stories told all remind the children of Israel of how God reached out with a mighty arm and rescued them from slavery in Egypt, from oppression under Pharaoh. 

How God sent plagues, and divided the sea to bring the Hebrews safely out of Egypt. 

How God made them a people and provided for them in the wilderness.

How God brought them to a land of their own. 

That night, that first Passover evening, certainly was a night to remember. 

But Passover is about more than remembering – at least more than what we, speakers of English, mean when we say “we remember.” As so often happens, something got lost in translation.  That part where God says, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord;” – we don’t get that part quite right. We think we know what “remember” means: to think of, to recall, to reminisce, to keep in mind.   The Hebrew verb “zakar,” which we translate as remember, actually means something more.  It means to call something to mind and to actively participate in it.

When our Jewish cousins celebrate the Passover feast, they are not simply re-telling a story that happened to their ancestors long ago.  When they tell the Passover story, they are telling a story in which they have participated and are participating in.  They celebrate how God has liberated and is liberating them from their own version of Pharaoh’s oppression. 

Passover is not a celebration of events that occurred long ago. 

Passover is a celebration of God breaking in to the brokenness and oppression that each one experiences today,
     a celebration of God’s saving actions here and now,
         a celebration of God’s provision and care today,
            a celebration of God bringing them together as a community and claiming them as God’s own.

It’s a night of remembering, but it’s so much more.  It’s a present memory; it’s a living history; it’s sacred participation in and with God.

Jesus’ disciples understood Passover. They were good Jews, taught from infancy that each Passover, they themselves were the slaves, that Passover was God acting for them here and now. 

So, when the disciples at the table in the upper room, heard Jesus say,
“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,”
they knew what Jesus meant by “remember.”  They may not have understood what Jesus meant by the bread being his body and the cup being a new covenant in his blood, but when Jesus said “remember,” they knew exactly what he meant.  They understood that remembering included participation.

This active remembering is what Paul has in mind when he “passed on what he had received” to the Corinthians.  The Corinthians understood “remember” in much the same way Paul did.  The word Paul uses for ‘remembrance’ is based on the Greek verb “anamnesis.”  We translate it as “remember.”  But it means so much more:  to call something to mind and to actively participate in it. It was used as a religious term in Greek – to call to mind the covenant made when offering a sacrifice to the gods and act to fill it.

Paul was telling the Corinthians that each and every time they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, they were affirming and renewing the new covenant God had made with them through Jesus.  They were participating in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Dying and rising with Christ, empowered them to live as Jesus lived, and love as Jesus loved.

This is indeed a night of remembering – of “zakar,” of “anamnesis.” 

If we simply “remember” Jesus, we miss out. 

If we just remember, the morsel of bread and sip of wine are just that – bread and wine. 

If we just remember, we can go through the motions and miss out on the gift.

If we just remember, we may have a nice experience here tonight, but leave without encountering God.

If we just remember, we can leave here and go back to our daily life unchanged by the touch of God.

We need to move beyond “remember” to
“experience here and now, fresh and new, God’s grace.” 

We need to move beyond “remember” to
“call to mind and actively participate in Jesus’ death,
to participate in Jesus’ resurrection,
to participate in Jesus’ life.”

Tonight is not simply a celebration of events that occurred long ago.
Tonight, these three days, and every single time we gather at the Lord’s Table is a celebration of God breaking in to the brokenness and oppression that each of us experiences today,
a celebration of God’s saving actions here and now,
   a celebration of God’s provision and care today,
      a celebration of God bringing us together as a community and claiming us as God’s own.

It’s a night of remembering, but it’s so much more.  It’s a present memory, living history, sacred participation in and with and under and through God in God’s creative, redeeming actions in the world.

Tonight is a night of “zakar,” of “anamnesis.”  We sit at the table with Jesus.  Jesus washes our feet.  Jesus shares his meal with us.  Jesus commands us to love as he as loved. Jesus suffers for us and God works through Jesus to liberate us once and for all from our brokenness and chains, so that we can love as he loves us. 

“This is my body that is given for you.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.

Do this, in remembrance of me.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holy Week Journey with Jesus: a daily devotional

Holy Week Journey with Jesus: a daily devotional
Monday: Matthew 26:1-16
 1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
 3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
 6 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. 7 While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. 8 The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. 9 “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
 10 But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? 11 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. 12 She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
 14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Q: Where do we see hostility and betrayal in our world? Is there anything that would be worth it to you to betray a friend? What small betrayals have we been ensnared by, and how can we make amends for them?

Prayer: Lord God, prevent us from allowing our bitterness or disappointment to lead us to harm others whether in thought or deed. Amen.

Tuesday: Matthew 26:17-46
 17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
 18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.
 20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
 22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”
 23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
 25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
   And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
 26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
 27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
 30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
 31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike[f] the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”
 33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
 35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
 36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”
 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away[g] unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.
 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Q: What difference does the Lord's Supper make in our lives? Does the meal we share on Sunday nourish our lives in the world? If so, how? If not, how might it? When have you last seen someone who needed a tangible expression of God's love? How can you help that person realize how precious they are to God?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of your own body and blood. Let that gift strengthen us in the knowledge that you love us more than anything. Amen.

Wednesday: Matthew 26: 47-75
 47 And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. 48 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” 49 So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.
 50 Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”
   Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.
 52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”
 55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 57 Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. 58 Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.
 59 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council[i] were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. 60 But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward 61 who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
 62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
 64 Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
 65 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?”
   “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”
 67 Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”
 69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”
 70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
 71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
 72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.
 73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
 74 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.
 75 Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.

Q: What strengthens us to keep faith with those we care about? What tempts us to abandon them? Where have you felt abandoned? Where do you need the support of good friends? Who needs you?

Prayer: Lord God, protect and preserve us in this world that we might keep faith with the promises and responsibilities we have undertaken, and when we feel alone remind us that you understand and are with us. Amen.

Thursday: Matthew 27:1-31
 1 Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. 2 Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
   “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”
 5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
 6 The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” 7 After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. 8 That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. 9 This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says, “They took the thirty pieces of silver— the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel, 10 and purchased the potter’s field, as the Lord directed.”
 11 Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.
   Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
 12 But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13 “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14 But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.
 15 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. 16 This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. 17 As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)
 19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
 20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”
   The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”
 22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
   They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
 23 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”
   But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
 24 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
 25 And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”
 26 So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
 27 Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Q: Where do you see the struggle for power and the easy resort to defamation and violence in our world today? In what ways does fear poison our relationships at home and at work as well as in the larger world? What one thing would you ask God to change about your life or the world? How can you contribute to making that happen?

Prayer: Use us, Lord God, as instruments of peace in world too often broken by violence and a thirst for power. Amen.

Friday: Matthew 27:32-56
32 Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. 33 And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 34 The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.
 35 After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37 A sign was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
 39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
 41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
 45 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
 47 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 48 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. 49 But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”
 50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 53 They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
 54 The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
 55 And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

Q: How does Jesus' death tell the truth about our lives and world? How does it give us hope? Where do you see God still at work to redeem and preserve creation? Where do you long to see God?

Prayer: Lord God, on the cross you suffered the very depths of our human life, even to the point of death. When we see the cross, let us remember that you become one of us and endured all elements of life to show us your great love and to give us hope. Amen.

Saturday: Matthew 27:57-66
57 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, 58 went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. 59 Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. 60 He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. 61 Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.
 62 The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. 63 They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ 64 So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”
 65 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66 So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

What needs resurrecting in your life? What makes it hard to turn this over to God and trust that God will bring you, too, through death to new life?

Prayer: Lord God, remind us of your presence with us when we stumble, suffer, or are afraid in any way. Give us strength, courage, and peace, and help us to be an encouragement and sign of life to others. Amen.

Study Guide courtesy of David Lose,, used by permission
All scripture quoted is from the New Living Translation (NLT).

Palm Sunday: From "Hosanna" to "Crucify Him!"

Scripture readings for the day:  Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Matthew 26:14-27:66 
It was an ordinary day of shopping.  Suddenly two people start singing and dancing.  Unexpected for the middle of the mall food court. 
But look – now there’s five more.  Now there’s fifteen, twenty.  People stop shopping, food service workers ignore customers, but it doesn’t matter because their customers are also staring at the dancing group.  More people join in the dance.  Faces stare down from the banisters of the upper level.  What is going on?
Suddenly, there’s an opening in the group of dancers. Applause and cheers follow the bride as she dances down the aisle of the flash mob to her husband and the minister, standing at the far end of the aisle.  It’s a wedding and everyone is invited!  Everyone at the mall celebrates with the happy couple.

It was an ordinary day in Jerusalem, just before Passover.  Pilgrims were celebrating their journey’s end as they caught sight of the city gates.  Groups along the road were singing and chanting Psalms of ascent.  A festive mood was in the air.
Suddenly, there’s a man on a donkey, disciples walking along side, followers shouting “Hosanna” and waving palm fronds.  They are loud and joyous and the nearby groups grab some palm branches and join in.  The groups continue to merge until a huge mob – a multitude – is shouting praise, celebrating Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. 
The whole city notices them.  In the weeks just before Passover, groups of celebrating pilgrims are nothing new.  Every day, songs and laughter fill the air as the city swells with people coming to celebrate Passover.  But today, the singing and shouts hold a different note.  The people in the city, used to noisy Passover pilgrims, look up from their daily activities.  What in the world is going on?  People stop alongside the road and stare.  The merchants look away from their wares, but it doesn’t matter because their customers have also stopped their bargaining to gape at the procession.  Women drop their chores and children leave their games to dash to housetop roofs for a better view.
Who is this man, entering the city on a donkey?  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  They’ve heard of Jesus. Some of them have even seen him preach in the temple, have watched him heal.  Now he’s coming to Jerusalem once again, entering the city in the same way as kings did in times of peace.  What could it mean?  Speculation and hope mingle with the growing shouts of Hosanna.
Over the next few days, Jesus is everywhere, preaching and teaching.  He’s outspoken, daring. He turns over the merchant tables in the temple. He takes on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, easily defeating their attempts to trick him with questions.  Jesus denounces these teachers of the law as hypocrites. He makes outrageous statements about messiah and the temple.  He openly teaches about the kingdom of heaven even as the Pharisees plot to get rid of him.

The crowds are delighted! 
“You go Jesus!”
“Take on the powers of Rome!  Show us that you are Messiah!”
“Bring liberation for God’s people, just as Moses freed us from Pharaoh!”

For a few dizzying days, it seemed the long-awaited king HAD come.

But then Jesus starts saying some very un-kingly things.  He cries openly as he predicts the future destruction of Jerusalem.  Comments about the majesty of the temple lead him to predict his death and resurrection.  When a woman anoints his feet, Jesus says that she is anointing him for his burial. 

Wait, this doesn’t sound like Messiah.  This doesn’t sound like the conquering hero God sent to save us.

Then it all comes crashing down. Judas makes arrangements to betray him as the others make arrangements for the Passover.  There’s agonizing prayer in a dark garden, the betrayer’s kiss, Peter’s denial.  The disciples flee as Jesus is arrested. 

The crowd in Pilate’s courtyard becomes a very different flash mob – building energy from the high priests and Pharisees fanning the flames of hatred – “Crucify him.”

But wait.  Listen. 

Listen again to the shouts of “crucify him?” Can you hear the “hosanna?”

The crowd couldn’t hear it. 

They could hear the “Hosanna” that morning on the road to Jerusalem. 
“Hosanna!”  - which means: “Save us!” 
“Hosanna, God is with us.”
“Hosanna, God’s salvation is brought near, salvation here and now.”

They had no way of knowing that the path to “Hosanna” led straight through the shouts of “Crucify Him!”  They could not see that what looked like defeat on a cross would become triumph of resurrection.  God would indeed bring salvation near – just not in the way the crowd had imagined.

Jesus could hear it.

Jesus heard the undertones of “crucify” when the crowds shouted “hosanna.”  He knew he had to walk the whole journey – from birth to death, from triumphal entry to the cross.  Jesus knew God was doing a new thing, a thing beyond hope and fear and imagination.  He knew that underneath “crucify him” was the hope of “hosanna.”

The crowds that gathered to sing and dance and wave palms that morning expected victory on their terms.  They wanted to go directly from triumphal entry to triumph over everything that oppressed them. 

Sometimes we do the very same thing.  We skip from palm fronds to the empty tomb, from triumphal entry to ultimate triumph over sin, death, and the devil. 

We love to shout, “Hosanna!”  We don’t want to hear, “Crucify him!”

I frequent a sermon discussion blog.  Yesterday, there was a lot of discussion on whether to focus on just Palm Sunday or to include Jesus’ passion.  A blogger friend said, “If the Passion is not at least a distant drumbeat, then Palm Sunday is just a happy little parade.”[1] 

So, I ask, which are we – members of a happy little parade, or do we hear the echoes of “Crucify” that are undertones of “Hosanna”?  Are we members of a carefully choreographed flash mob, or are we disciples on the journey with Jesus?  Do we flit from party to party, or are we able to walk in the garden, stand at the foot of the cross and acknowledge the fear and despair of the three days that our Master is in the tomb?

I would invite each of you to take time this Holy week to walk the path with Jesus.  On a table in the back of the worship space is a devotional handout with readings for each of the six days between Palm Sunday and Easter {blog readers can find this handout in the next post}.  Join us as we spend Maundy Thursday in the upper room and the garden of Gethsemane.  On that Friday which is called “Good”, stand at the foot of the cross and walk with the funeral procession to the tomb.

Listen for the undertone of ‘crucify him’ in the lingering hosannas of today.  This week, listen for the hope of ‘hosanna’ in the shouts of ‘crucify him.’  And let those hosannas of hope lead you to Easter morning. 

[1] Thanks, Sharon, for this pearl of wisdom! (, 11th hour preacher party.)