University Congregational Church
Apr. 13, 2014
“The Last Week: Palm Sunday”
Read Mark 11: 1-11.
As I looked around this morning, I saw palm waving (some rather reluctantly), singing, and smiling. We do this each year, reminiscent of that original Palm Sunday procession. Can you see the people lined up to see Jesus, waving palms joyously, singing and chanting and swaying rhythmically to and fro: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna,” they called. It looked and sounded like a party – a celebration – a parade. Little children played and ran in and out of their parent’s feet -playing the ancient game of tag – laughing, crying and stumbling about, doing the dance that children do. This was a procession of community – filled with people of all ages, abilities and beliefs – but all moving together with palms and rhythm. And ever since, on Palm Sunday, the church has gathered to reenact the procession of palms.
In Mark’s gospel, the story of Palm Sunday follows on the heels of a spectacular miracle. Jesus heals a blind man who calls out to him, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Whenever Jesus healed someone, he not only cured the body – but brought that person back into the heart of the community. When he restored the sight of a blind man, that man was no longer forced to sit by the roadside and beg, but began living in the community. When lepers or demon-possessed were cured, they could be touched and talked with again.
All of the healing stories in the gospels are like choreography. The touch on the blind eye, the firm hands placed over deaf ears, the massage of lame legs, the drawing out of a dead man from a tomb – you can feel the energy and excitement and movement among the people. On Palm Sunday, everyone else gets to join in on that choreography – swaying, singing, spirit-filled, and soulful.
You may not be aware of it, but there is a similar choreography at UCC, in which all who choose to participate in that swaying, singing, spirit-filled, soulful movement. It’s where we receive strength and inspiration to go into our lives for one more week. When I stand up to preach each Sunday, I see various ones of you interacting –
- by reading the traditional and contemporary word in the insert,
- smiling, or laughing, or even tearing up
- exchanging knowing glances with someone near you
- praying, or singing
- moving to sit with someone who was alone
And together we all sway to that Palm Sunday music.
When we look across the room, we may see someone who recently had surgery and another who just had good test results. We see a person who is worried about eventual unemployment. And another who has just found the right job. We see older adults who are plagued by physical decline and children who move with abandon in front of our eyes. We see someone who is losing faith and another who has just discovered new meaning and purpose in life. One person doesn’t know what to do about an aging parent and another is a parent of young children. When we come to worship, we bring the stories of our lives. We are caught up, like the people of the first Palm Sunday, in a movement beyond our own.
On that first Palm Sunday, the people came to see the healer Jesus, hoping for a healing of their own. Some needed physical healing. Others were seeking something new and hope-filled in their lives. They sang, “Hosanna,” which means “save us now.” the Greek Hosanna (ὡσαννά) derives is actually two words:
1. הוֹשִׁ֨יעָ֥ה (hôšîâ) which means to help, save, rescue.
- נָּ֑א (na) is a particle which indicates urgency or sincerity.
Together, they mean:Deliver us from what we are going through – now, Lord Jesus.
Think about a time in your life when you have cried, “Someone please save me now, deliver me now!” We’ve all been locked into situation where all we wanted was to be saved now, to have everything fixed now. But deliverance can take many forms. In a painful marriage, deliverance might mean working through the issues and saving the marriage. It might mean getting a divorce. For the deathly ill, death itself can be salvation. If you are unemployed, only finding a job can save you – but you may find mercy that you would never have known while you were unemployed.
On Palm Sunday, the people cried out to Jesus, “Hosanna, save us now!” They wanted a Moses –type Messiah to come and take them out of the oppression they faced. But here is an unexpected twist… Jesus came to teach and heal and empower others to teach and heal. Those who swayed together on that first Palm Sunday morning were the first choreographers… and they have taught each generation since to be a part of the movement of God in our world.
In modern terms, we say, “Pay it forward.” Or “random acts of kindness”. We are the ones we need. Seeking strength and inspiration? Pray. And recognize that someone unexpected might offer exactly what you need.
The natural tendency for us when we come to church is to look for strength and inspiration. We often want to be on the receiving end of a blessing. We hunger for some wonderful music, or an inspiring sermon, a hug from a friend, or someone to talk with. But our needs must be balanced by the discipline of serving others. We must be willing to give the very thing we are seeking. We are the very ones we need.
A great way to grow in wonder and amazement is by asking God to turn your life into a blessing. Do this each morning before resuming your daily activities. Offer a short, simple prayer like this one: “Dear God, on this day make my life a blessing to someone, somewhere.” Then pay close attention to every person you encounter during the day, as God will honor your prayer, sometimes in surprising ways.
Palm Sunday reminds us that we are a part of the crowd singing praises for Jesus. We are choreographed into the sway of the parade. We add our voices to those through the centuries – “Hosanna! Save us now!” We can feel the energy and excitement and movement among the people. Everyone else gets to join in on that choreography – swaying, singing, spirit-filled, and soulful.
You may not be aware of it, but there is a similar choreography at UCC, in which all who choose to participate in that swaying, singing, spirit-filled, soulful movement. It’s where we receive strength and inspiration to go into our lives for one more week.