Lenten Reflection for Palm Sunday

palm leafI think it is natural to imagine that our holy spaces will be quiet, private. Places where we can be still and alone.  Or maybe with a few intimate friends.

Yet if we define a holy space as a space inhabited by God, then the Gospels affirm crowded places as distinctly holy.  Jesus was often with crowds–more often than he would have liked. He was with friendly crowds, pleading crowds, confused crowds, hopeful crowds, hostile crowds.  And each crowd was made holy by his presence.

It is interesting to think about this crowd of people gathered just outside Jerusalem as Jesus comes riding up on a donkey.  It must have been an incredibly diverse group.  The twelve were there of course, and other committed followers like Joanna and Susanna. In addition, there were probably fans–people who Jesus had healed, people who had found wisdom in his teachings. Some of these fans might have even been Pharisees and Sadducees, skulking around, trying not to be seen. Many in the crowd were simply pilgrims coming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration; people who didn’t know who Jesus was and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

This motley collection of people, this crowd, is holy.  Because there sits Jesus in the midst of it, riding along on a loping donkey.

This crowd is holy, because it is not just any crowd. This is a crowd under the sway of Jesus. And this procession, this celebration, is also a protest. A satirical protest that pits the Kingdom of God against the kingdom of Caesar; the donkey of Jewish prophecy against the warhorses ridden by the Roman officials; the rag-tag disciples of Jesus against the stately entourage of Empire.This display of religious fervor must have seemed ridiculous to the Roman citizens. Yet it struck a chord of fear as well.

In explaining the process of nonviolent protest, Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

This rejoicing, protesting crowd outside the city of Jerusalem is a bit hard to ignore. And so there was likely some derisive laughter going on. The fighting is yet to come.  And also the victory.

[Here is a sermon on Mark 11:1-11; also a prayer of confession and an offertory prayer for Palm Sunday.]

Weekly Worship Piece: Call to Worship–Power

One of the beautiful aspects of our congregation is that people besides me preach on a fairly regular basis. This coming Sunday the intelligent and thoughtful Joe Casad will continue our worship series on Jesus’ disciples by focusing on the crowd.  Have you ever noticed how much “the crowd” shows up as a character in the Gospels?

I haven’t heard Joe’s sermon yet, but I do know that he will be exploring issues of power–who has it, how they have it, and what they do with it. The crowd seems to control the “powerful” (Pilate, high priests) in ways that it does not control Jesus. (This is interesting stuff!  You should definitely make the trip to Peace Mennonite for Joe’s sermon🙂

So, in light of the sermon topic and feeling overwhelmed by the political climate right now, I have written this call to worship:

Leader: We need a break from the power-obsessed crowds.
Side 1: Who can speak the loudest?
Side 2: Who can debate the smartest?
Side 1: Who gets the most tweets?
Side 2: Who gets the most hits?
Side 1: Who has the most money?
Side 2: Who has the most weapons?
Leader: These crowds that push and pull and chant and yell.
Side 1: These crowds that cause fear.
Side 2: These crowds that are afraid.
Leader: We are part of these crowds
All: And we need to step away.
Side 1: To rest here, with God, the One who is truly powerful.
Side 2: To listen here, to Jesus, who will teach us the power of the cross.
Leader: We need to rest. To listen. To breathe.
All: May it be so. Today. Amen