Scripture Reading - Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40
Philippians 2:5-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Luke 19:28-40 (New Revised Standard Version)
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
*Hymn - Mantos y Palmas (UMH 279)
Palm Sunday often feels to me like the little party before the big party on Easter - after all, it’s been a long journey to get to this point! We’ve been together over 5 long weeks of Lent, delving deep into the broken places in our lives and in our world, inviting God’s healing and wholeness into our own hearts and desiring that gift for others. We’ve been fasting from the things that harm us and our relationship with God, we’ve been more intentional in our prayer practices or the things that draw us further into God’s grace, and perhaps we’ve even begun to notice those small shoots of new life blooming in our hearts - signs of God’s redeeming power and love.
The excitement is in the air, and so we - along with the crowd ushering Jesus into Jerusalem - shout Hosanna! Praise be to God! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Salvation is at hand! We can almost taste the victory to come.
And yet….there is still one more week of Lent...the week that we remember what happened after Jesus entered into the city...Jesus’s final days here on earth.
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem amid the preparations for the Passover - one of the biggest festivals when the Jews remembered God rescuing them - saving them - from slavery in Egypt. The Passover was a time for them to remember how God overthrew their oppressors and fashioned them as a people - that God had selected Moses to defy Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to freedom.
This story was very much in the air as Jesus arrived - and the people had placed similar hopes of salvation and deliverance onto him - that Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppressors, make them a sovereign people again, that they would once more be free and be restored to the glory days of King David. There was so much potential for unrest that Pilate, the Roman governor of the area, had to come to make sure order was maintained - a procession full of military glory, pomp and circumstance, power and might.
Jesus’s own entry into the city was quite the opposite - he instructs two disciples to borrow a colt for him to ride - and only if someone asks about it, to say “The Lord needs it.” A coat is spread over the back of the colt and Jesus and his disciples make their way into the city. It’s clearly not the display of power and wealth and glory one might expect from a conquering hero or from someone on whom all these expectations and hopes of deliverance have been placed.
Luke’s retelling of this parade into the city actually lacks one of the key things we’ve come to associate with this processional - anyone pick up on what that might be during our scripture reading?....Palms. Luke’s version doesn’t emphasize the waving of palm branches in praise and adoration as Jesus enters Jerusalem...what Luke highlights is the spreading of cloaks on the ground before him - an act of reverence and humility and submission. The crowd is laying down what they have in front of Jesus...perhaps this was one of the only things that each person owned - laid down before him.
As we lift our palm branches high and give God thanks and praise...what might God be inviting us to lay down before Christ as we continue the journey toward the cross?
I love how the reading from the book of Philippians pairs with our Gospel reading for this morning, because it highlights how Jesus - who had every right to claim that power and majesty of being equal with God, who could have come down in militaristic might to vanquish the oppressors, who could have demanded every honor and status due him as the Son of God - instead emptied himself in love and humility, coming as one of us in service...coming as one who lived our life, who died our death...who laid down every power and privilege for the sake of humankind. Jesus as God poured himself out in love for each one us….and at the very beginning of that passage, we have that exhortation from Paul to “Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus…” -- that same emptying of self...that same pouring out for others...that same laying down of power and privilege in preference for humility and love and service.
Even as we celebrate the coming of the reign of God, as we wave our palm branches high in praise for Jesus and laud him as savior and king...what do we need to lay down before him? What do we need to empty ourselves of so that God’s love and life can bloom even more fully in our hearts?
As a few of my colleagues have shared, “As we lift up our shouts of praise on this Palm Sunday, might we also lay down ways of living that do not honor God, our neighbor, and all life around us? As we lift up our voices crying out for an end to injustice and suffering, might we also lay down our lives, allowing Christ to fill them with humility and the new beginnings of hope? As we lift up our palms with songs to bless the One who comes in peace, might we also lay down the superficial cries of victory and triumph? As we lift up our eyes to see a vision of earth and heaven made one, might we also lay down our expectations of how God will change us and our world; of how God will come into our lives to accomplish this? As we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, might we also lay down our hearts until they burn with the desires of God’s heart? And in our lifting up and laying down, God might just weave us into a tapestry of resurrection.”
What Palm Sunday -- and the story of this week to come remind us -- is that the pathway to resurrection and exaltation is never a steady upward climb or a sequence of brilliant successes and triumphs. It doesn’t come through the pompous parades or displays of might. Resurrection and redemption - healing and wholeness - come through the mess and the struggle, the hurt and betrayal, the putting aside of self, denying our egos, laying down our own expectations so that we can be open to the transforming power of the God who has conquered the powers of death, who fashions us into new creations, and who will make all things new. Redemption came on a borrowed colt, accompanied by the shouts and accolades of peasants...and who was ultimately executed by the state because of the message of life, love, and hope he shared and exemplified.
And so this coming week, are we willing to lay aside our lives - our time, our energy, our thoughts - to walk this journey with Jesus? What does God call us to lay down - to empty ourselves of - so that God’s resurrection power can come forth in our hearts….in our lives...or in this church?
May each of us continue to examine our hearts and our lives so that we - just as the crowd laid down their cloaks before Jesus two thousand years ago - may lay ourselves down so that God’s love and hope can be made manifest in our lives...in our community...and in our world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.