Parade of Palms

Today is the culmination of a long journey. The beginning of it is reported in Luke 9: 51: “As the time approached for him to be taken up into heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
At this point in his gospel, Luke is just over one third of the way into his account of Jesus’ life. Already Jesus has His sights set on the cross. There’s no time to waste. He hits the campaign trail, speaking at each gathering as if it’s His last lecture. He has an electric energy that draws followers. So who can be part of the campaign caravan? Not those who prioritize burying their dead parent over hitting the road with Jesus. Not the guy who wants to first go kiss his spouse goodbye before leaving home. No one who needs a soft bed and a shower at the end of each day. Just the folks who have the stamina to complete an arduous trip.
Jesus is hot! He’s red hot. If you have a red-letter Bible, go to Luke 9:51 and check out how much red you see between the beginning of his trek and His arrival in Jerusalem in chapter 18. He is preaching, teaching, healing and exorcising demons. Word is traveling like wildfire and the fan base is exploding. There aren’t a lot of geographical details given about where He is on any given leg of the journey. Nor are names given very often about who is in Jesus’ company. The 12 disciples are regulars, the real insiders, but no one else’s identity seems important to the story. There is an urgency to His message. He breaks Sabbath rules to express compassion to the suffering. He continues to deflect any comments that don’t conform to His core teachings. One woman is so moved by His outreach that she yells out a compliment to Jesus’ mother: “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus could have taken a moment to sing the praises of His blessed mother. Instead He keeps His followers on task by responding: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” With that startling reply, Jesus is off to the next town, urgently drawing people to a life-saving relationship with God. The only hint at geography is in 13:22 when Luke writes, “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” It was a long trip and Jesus poured Himself out for the good of others. By the time Jerusalem was spotted on the horizon, the Nazarene carpenter must have been running on fumes!
On Palm Sunday we stand at the city gates, joining the crowd of witnesses who have gathered for the last week of Jesus’ life. I like the picture painted by the Psalmist in Psalm 118: “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord….The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession…”
Do you remember the start to our Lenten journey? It began with Ash Wednesday on February 26. Our congregation worshiped with three others, our singers combining to form a fantastic 25-voice choir! We had ashes smeared across our foreheads, reminding us of our mortality and of the fleeting nature of our earthly lives. We had no idea how clear that lesson would become during this Lenten season! Like Jesus’ final march to Jerusalem, we have passed through this heavy church season gaining momentum with a mounting sense of dread. We started in a crowd of people from four congregations but have ended up sequestered in our homes with our most trusted companions. Jesus ended up on the cross alone. Only His mother and just a handful of His closest followers kept a vigil until the bitter end. Does it seem like an eternity ago that we walked about freely in crowds and hugged and ate each other’s food and sat next to strangers at concerts? It seems like ages since we set the alarm to take our shower and go into our workplace where we tackled a set of duties to which we were accustomed. We are less than two weeks into a mandatory shelter-in-place decree and it feels like we have fallen into a warp where geography doesn’t matter because, as a country, we are all in this together. Our best hope is to stay at a safe distance from each other. We were a different people as we so blithely walked forward to have the gift of ashes imposed on our foreheads: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return but praised be the name of the Lord.”
Each day as we churn toward Jerusalem with Jesus we lose just a bit more of our innocence. The ashes have long since rubbed off but now we are reminded of our mortality by refrigerated trucks that serve as makeshift morgues in New York City. As we resolved to make certain sacrifices to honor the Lenten season, we could not imagine that a woman would forego a visit to her dying husband’s side so as to not waste one facial mask on herself. She knew it might save the life of one of his faithful caregivers. Somehow giving up chocolate or hours on social media pale in comparison to the price our medical community is making to stay apart from their loved ones for weeks, keeping them safe from this invisible enemy. We didn’t know it on Ash Wednesday but we were babes in the faith who were anointed with gritty ashes to prepare us for one of the greatest battles we have fought as a nation. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because the residents didn’t recognize that God Almighty had sent Him to save them. They were quagmired in their daily routines, fixated on trivial concerns so they missed the Love Letter sent to release them from captivity. We entered Lent with certain priorities and we have had to closely examine whether the foundations we have laid will uphold us. Will those stones support our loved ones, our communities, our nation, our world? Like Jesus on His journey toward Jerusalem, we have witnessed untold suffering, felt powerless over the forces that threaten our very lives and cower before the threat of death that seems only a handshake away.
Luke was known as the social justice advocate so he doesn’t hesitate to name the sin of the religious authorities. In 16:14 Luke offers an aside: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” They were privileged. Their sense of entitlement convinced them that they would never have enough. They were the hoarders whose fiercest instinct was to protect what they assumed was rightfully theirs. So when Jesus came riding into the back door of Jerusalem to the frenzied cries of a growing crowd, their instincts kicked in. Without even thinking they cried out, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” The emotional response of the crowd was an embarrassment to the authorities but, truthfully, they were jealous. Jesus’ body moved with the slow gait of a humble donkey. He called out to them, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” It was a clash between the Way and the Establishment. Jesus never mentions Rome. He lived His life under the oppressive rule of a government whose seat was in Rome. But place didn’t matter. Names weren’t important, one more than another. His fervent message was still the same as what he told the woman who tried to compliment Mother Mary at the beginning of His Jerusalem journey: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The priority is the same for residents of Rome or Nazareth, the same for Judas or John the Baptist: hear God’s word and obey it. Social distinctions are meaningless. No wonder His disciples cried out to Jesus in chapter 17, “Increase our faith!”
This is the first time in our country that we have united in fighting an enemy that is faceless. We seek to defeat an enemy that can only be seen under a microscope. So we have wasted no time stirring up hatred for a human enemy. With our highly scheduled lives put on hold we have waded into choppy waters, unsure if they will overtake us as they have already for thousands. We are mindful of each easy breath we take. We gaze upon our loved ones realizing how precious they are to us. We dig deep to hear God’s word and respond with a willing “Yes!”
Our heroes have changed. The Establishment salutes the highest-ranking commanders. Followers in the Way sing the praises of doctors and nurses who are pouring themselves out in an effort to send patients home to their loved ones in restored health. We offer our profound thanks to emergency responders who enter into circumstances that put their own lives at risk as the invisible enemy infiltrates their bodies. We share our love through closed windows. Our children draw pictures to bring joy to seniors in sequestered quarters. Neighbors make palms available on their mailboxes for all to remember that Jesus the Sovereign rode humbly into Jerusalem, ready to take down the enemy. If the crowd of common folks like us hadn’t sung His praises, there would have been a ruckus from the rocks. Inanimate objects recognized Christ’s authority when the religious bigwigs could not!
The beauty of today is the memory that, in Jesus’ lifetime, for a brief moment, folks could see that Jesus was the Son of David, the Savior and Messiah. They sacrificed their only overcoat to fashion a red carpet reception in the place of an ill-prepared city government. They rejoiced because the stone that the builders rejected had become the cornerstone on which the whole structure of their corporate spiritual life would be established. It didn’t matter that the Establishment rejected Him. For a moment, Rome didn’t control them. Waving their palm branches in that exuberant parade, their voices combined with the rocks and stones. They sang to their hearts’ content: “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna and glory in the highest!” Amen.

By preachinglife

My father was a military chaplain so I moved around quite a bit growing up. I have always gone to church! Even when we traveled we went somewhere to church. I met and married my husband, Garrett, at Chicago Theological Seminary where I earned a Masters of Divinity degree. He and I were ordained together at the First Church of Lombard, United Church of Christ in Lombard, Illinois on June 14, 1987. My first act as an ordained minister at the end of a tremendously hot ordination ceremony was to baptize my daughter, Lisa Marian! We added two sons and a daughter to the mix: James, Joseph and Maria. We have girls on either end and two boys one year apart in the middle. They range in age from 33 to almost 22. I love them!

I have been in the parish ministry for 35 years, serving at three different churches. I have joyfully served the people at the First Congregational Church of Rockford, United Church of Christ in Rockford, Michigan for 24 years.

We live on family land about 3 miles from the church. In random free moments I enjoy cooking good meals, reading, writing, gardening, traveling and spending time with my family. I am blessed!

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