Palm Sunday 2021
Scripture: Matthew 5:11; Matthew 21:1-11
- Prelude: “Worthy of Worship,” by Mark Blankenship; Pauline Olsen, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Welcome: Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 278: “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” by Jeanette Threlfall; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer Time: Ken Lillagore
- Special Music: “The Palms (Les Rameaux),” by Jean-Baptiste Faure; Dr. Jerome Wright, vocalist; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Scripture reading: Matthew 5:11; Matthew 21:1-11; Becky Morgan
- Sermon: “Palm Sunday,” Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 159: “Lift High the Cross,” by George William Kitchin and Michael Robert Newbolt; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude: “Beneath the Cross of Jesus (St. Christopher),” Arr. Elaine Schram; Pauline Olsen, organ
Holy week begins on Palm Sunday, when we recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our opening hymn, “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” looks at this event through the eyes of children. It provides the image of “the victor palm branch waving.” For the people living in the time of Christ, the palm branch symbolized victory and triumph over enemies. When the Jews called out “Hosanna,” they were saying “save us.” Hosanna literally means “Save (us) now.” It is a reference to God’s deliverance over enemies.
At this triumphal entry, the Jews were acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah. The common people thought Jesus was there to begin a rebellion against Rome. The salvation that the people of Jerusalem wanted that day was political, not spiritual. When Jesus did not act the way that they thought he should, people turned against him. They wanted worldly fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.
For us, the palm branch is meant to serve as a reminder of Christ’s victory over death. We see God providing a spiritual salvation from the bondage of sin. It seems so easy to say, looking back, those people simply did not understand. They were blind to the meaning of the prophecies. Since we have the benefit of seeing the rest of the story, we would not make the same mistake.
However, I think I have experienced some of the blindness that the crowd welcoming Jesus had. We both had sight, in that we could see the world in terms of what we wanted. We simply did not have a vision for spiritual awareness.
When I was in college, my boyfriend and I had very little money. We both enjoyed music, but we had never gone to a live concert because that was an expensive luxury. When the Australian-American singer Helen Reddy came to perform a concert in an arena 90-miles away, I was determined that we would see her perform. We sacrificed to save up enough money to buy tickets. Then we saved money so we could pay for the gas it would take to get to the concert venue and back. As a college student, I did not have money for fancy clothing, so I bought some nice material and sewed an outfit worthy of going to a concert by the favorite pop/rock female artist of that time. By the time we got to the concert I was so excited, I had butterflies in my stomach. That was good, because we did not have enough money to buy food. We had spent everything we painstakingly saved just to go to the concert.
As we watched the warm-up acts, anticipation grew. Finally, the curtain raised for the main attraction. I was stunned. The singer I thought so highly of was dressed – in jeans, a causal tank top, and cowboy boots. Tears of anger welled up in my eyes. I did not scrimp and save to watch a dress rehearsal. I fumed the entire concert. I was so busy being offended; I did not listen to her singing. My boyfriend suggested I close my eyes and ignore the clothes. After all, we came for the music. I was so rude and cold to him, he told me he wished we had not come. I did not say one word on the 90-mile trip back home.
It was not until years later when I looked back on the incident that I realized how foolish I was. I lost focus on what was important. I let my anger rob me of what could have been an amazing experience. Not only that, but my self-centered bad behavior ruined the experience for someone else. Someone who had also gone without to save up money so we could go. Someone who just wanted to listen to the songs. Someone who was not bothered by the way the singer dressed, because that was not important.
I acknowledge that people longing to be saved from an oppressive government is not the same as a temper-tantrum over what a performer is wearing. But I see similarities in how we can be angry when what we expected of a person did not happen the way we thought it should. That sense of betrayal gives rise to anger. That anger makes you want to lash out. I can understand how the crowd went from “hosanna in the highest” to “crucify him.” That does not mean I excuse the backlash. It was wrong. I admit, I was wrong in the way I behaved.
So, what would have made my painful concert experience different? I wish I had studied the beatitudes before I had gone to the concert. I have spent years learning to live the mindset of being blessed. I am still in awe of the image of kneeling before God, and God kneeling before me so that we can be in a relationship. Jesus taught people then and Jesus is still teaching people to be poor in spirit (which means humble); to mourn (which means to fully experience sorrow that comes from loss); to be meek (which means to control your power); to hunger and thirst for righteousness (which means to desire it continuously); to be merciful, to be pure in heart (which means to hold fast to integrity); to be peacemakers; to endure the persecution that comes from acting in a righteous way, and to hold fast to the way of Jesus even when others try to harm you for doing so.
Cultivating these character traits takes persistence. It is a life-long endeavor to be blessed. Learning to let go of self-centeredness and become Christ-centered. Learning how to be part of something bigger than yourself. Learning to obey God.
Spiritual pursuits are what allow us to share in Palm Sunday with a different perspective than that crowd 2,000 years ago. We recognize that God provided a spiritual salvation from the bondage of sin, bought at great cost to the Lord Jesus. Pastor Brad points out, “there is a cost for living into the kingdom of God. There is a cost to seeking to bring [the kingdom of God] to everything we see and do. The cost of Jesus was his life.”
Jesus knew that the Palm Sunday adoration of the crowd would be short-lived. From Palm Sunday we move on to Maundy Thursday, when Jesus reveals a new commandment to the disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The day Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. The day of the last supper. The day of betrayal by Judas.
Then we move on to Good Friday, when we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. Holy Week culminates in Easter. The day of the resurrection. The blessed results of that salvation extended into eternity.
I invite you to participate, in-person or on-line, in the events of Holy Week. Your understanding will become deeper as this story builds to an amazing climax. Thanks be to God.