Scripture: Matthew 21:1–17
Today, Palm Sunday, Pastors Matt Sturtevant and Cristina Adams each shared a reflection.
Also, a note about the worship video: We had audio issues for the first 3 minutes. Please fast-forward to around 00:03:03 to have sound.
Pastor Cristina’s Reflection
What do we expect on Palm Sunday?
Palm branches to wave. Some good “hosanna” music. Some sort of processing around waving palm branches in the air, hopefully with some cute kids. We expect to think about how Jesus entered Jerusalem being cheered but only a few days later would be condemned.
That’s what we expect, but it might not have been what the crowds expected. However, the people in the crowd seem to know Jesus. They know of his miraculous deeds, they have heard him speak with authority that must come from God, many have followed him around to learn from him and see what he would do next. He was always doing things unexpected with hidden meaning, so maybe riding in on a donkey made sense. Maybe they remembered the story of David telling Solomon to ride in on a donkey to be anointed king and saw the parallels. Maybe they remembered the prophecy of Zechariah, saying the king would come humble on a donkey. Or maybe they were just excited to be in Jesus’ presence, hopeful that he would glance their way and smile at them and make them feel known in a way only a glance from Jesus can give. Whatever they might have been expecting, they knew that something special was happening, they felt God’s presence, because soon people started saying “hosanna”—a word meaning “please save us” or “help,” but it had also become a word of praise from knowing that God does save and offer help. In the midst of those hosannas, people also started saying, maybe singing, the words to a familiar Psalm, one read on the way to Jerusalem and at the beginning of Passover: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
I wonder if Jesus was able to be fully present in this moment. Not thinking about what is to come, but able to fully enjoy the moment where people are starting to get it, are starting to see Jesus for who he is…the son of David, the one who has come to save them, someone who has come from God, a prophet. And what is their response to this realization? Praise and creating a makeshift red carpet with branches and coats, but also the crowd blessed Jesus. I think that Jesus, fully God, yet fully human, needed those blessings for what was to come.
Blessings are an idea that I love but have to admit I don’t fully understand. But I do know that we often get blessings wrong. I often cringe when I see the hashtag #blessed on posts that are about prosperity and well-being because Jesus said blessed are those that mourn, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the persecuted. In the Bible, blessing seems to be much less about prosperity and much more about the presence of God. When we talked about Jesus’ list of blessings, the Beatitudes, in children’s church earlier this year, we said blessed can mean “God takes special care of,” that while God takes care of all of us, there are some that need God’s care in special ways at different times of their lives. The human side of Jesus needed God’s special care in the days leading up to his death. Jesus had given so much to the people in the crowd—time, energy, teachings, healings, hugs, smiles, and that day, those people were able to bless Jesus back, praying for his well-being, praying that he will feel the presence of God when he needs it most, praying that God will take special care of him. The crowd didn’t realize what they were doing, but they were helping Jesus prepare for his final days, they were blessing him before he faced the worst.
I don’t know what this week has in store for you. Holy Week is sacred but it is also ordinary because life doesn’t pause for the Holy Week…meals need to be prepared, laundry continues to pile up, dust accumulates, news cycles continue…but my prayer is that you will experience God’s blessings, God’s presence and special care throughout this week.
Kate Bowler, who writes blessings for ordinary days, says, “Blessings put our spiritual house in order, even when our circumstances are entirely out of order.” Blessings remind us “what is true about God and ourselves.” This week, may your spiritual house be in order even if everything else feels askew as you remember what is true about yourself and God.
Here is Kate Bowler’s blessing for Palm Sunday, from her new book, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days:
A BLESSING FOR PALM SUNDAY
They ran eagerly, spreading their cloaks on the road as Jesus came,
waving palm branches and shouting
“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
This surely would signal the beginning of their deliverance,
and the ending of their oppression, sorrow, and shame.
What’s this? No mighty horse or chariot?
Only a man riding a lowly donkey,
His feet almost grazing the ground as He makes His way
and to the mystery
that it would be through suffering that healing comes,
through His shame, that dignity is restored,
and through His cross that powers are disarmed,
and death done away with
Blessed are we, even here in the shadow of our unknowing,
where the light of His glory slants low on our path,
because for now there is hope and beauty and love.
and for this moment anyway, it is enough.
Pastor Matt’s Reflection
On October 15, 2021, we had a fire in our sanctuary which caused significant smoke damage throughout the sanctuary and throughout the building. For the last 18 months, we have taken considerable steps to return the sanctuary and building to its current form. We partnered with a dozen contractors and subcontractors to repair and or replace the roof, the walls, the HVAC ductwork, the chairs, the organ, the worship décor, and very soon, the pulpit Bibles!
So, this may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but this week I am making a recommendation to the Spiritual Leadership Team that we sell our building immediately. I have contacted the staff at Sunset Hills Elementary School to ask if we can begin worshipping in their gymnasium. We will hold Easter services there next week, in preparation for a more permanent move….
No, this is not a belated April Fools joke, but what I have just told you in the last three sentences is absolutely not true. Most of you probably figured that out pretty quickly. But if there was for you a moment of surprise, of panic, or even of slight terror, then perhaps you begin to understand the experience of the faithful in the Temple when Jesus showed up. The Temple was for them an incredibly important space. They had been raised on stories of the violent destruction of the Temple, of the sacrifices made by the Exiles to rebuild and reconstruct the Temple, and of their own need to sacrifice and give financially in order to care for the Temple. Many of those who were standing there that day had just travelled a long and dangerous journey so that they could see the Temple, worship there, and celebrate Passover in this special space. What Jesus did and said there threatened something very valuable to each of them.
Now most of them likely would have understood that the Temple was simply a physical building; God was not magically contained in the Temple alone. But they also knew that it was an incredibly important physical building. They valued the spiritual and worship experiences that they had there, and what it meant to their people and their faith. For Jesus to enter that space and physically overturn tables might have felt like if I took a sledge hammer to our newly reconstructed organ pipes or our beautiful stained glass window. For him to symbolically overturn their model of worship practiced there might have felt like I threw our communion bread and chalice on the hard tile floor. For him to engage in a healing ministry in the face of those tasked with caring for the sick might have felt like a challenge to their authority. For him to deliver a scathing sermon about the coming destruction of the Temple might have felt like I had just sold the building and contracted to begin our worship in an elementary school gym. You could start to imagine the sense of unsettled grief, of deep anger, and very likely a measure of trauma for a people who deeply valued that space.
Over these last weeks, we have been examining the unsettling stories of Jesus during this final week. But in addition to the words he said, his very actions were equally unsettling. Scholar Mary Hinkle Shore suggests that during this last week Jesus, in 3 separate actions, channeled the prophets of old, who used a boiling pot, an unhealthy marriage, and even a loincloth to symbolically demonstrate what God was up to. When he rode in on a donkey, when he overturned the tables, and when he re-symbolized the Passover meal with his disciples, he was overturning and unsettling the ways that they chose to worship and practice their faith. He was continuing his counter-order work of deconstructing the values of Empire in order to replace them with something else. And the “something else” that Jesus espouses here is the same something else that he has been preaching from Day One:
- Humility and meekness and peace, symbolized by a donkey instead of a war horse flanked with soldiers.
- Service and sacrifice, symbolized by the broken bread and the crushed grapes that he invited to his followers to eat and drink.
- And prayer. The same prayer that he taught his disciples to pray: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The same prayer that he would pray in the garden a few days later: nevertheless, your will be done. And the prayer that he preached was missing from the worship center that had instead become a den of thieves, run by the Temple elite who long since stopped caring about the spiritual needs of the people.
- It was about a radical reconstruction of the values of God, and a radical reordering of the faith around those values.
And what Jesus did then, is what Jesus is doing now. Jesus didn’t literally tear down the Temple, or delight in its destruction, but what he was about was a symbolic reconstruction of the faith, based on these values that he had preached from the beginning. In the same way, we don’t have to tear down our physical space, or abandon it. But we must continually be about God’s radical reconstruction of our welcome, our worship, our work, and our wonder. We must always allow Christ to deconstruct the ways that we follow the order of this day, of this Empire, of this world’s Kingdom. And we must continually allow him to reconstruct our practices and our faith in the model of humility, meekness, peace, service, sacrifice, and prayer.
This week, we will symbolically allow Christ to deconstruct our unholy allegiances. The palms are on the ground, the tables are overturned, the bread and the cup will show us the way to sacrifice. They are all sledge hammers to the rule of Empire over our hearts and lives and bodies. May we in its place receive the peace of shalom. May we evermore be a house of prayer. Amen.