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Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1–9
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. “ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

     “Tell the daughter of Zion,
     Look, your king is coming to you,
          humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
     “Hosanna to the Son of David!
          Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (NRSV)

Friends, today is Palm Sunday—one of the most joyous days and memorable scenes of the liturgical year. As with many other churches across the country, we celebrate Palm Sunday by having children process down the center aisle of worship while waving palm branches high in the air. Watching that sea of waving green brings back vivid memories from my home church’s Palm Sunday processional—and perhaps it does for you as well. But before I romanticize this processional any further, however, I am embarrassed to say that one of my other vivid memories from Palm Sundays past was covertly using my palm branch to hit my friend Jeff as we processed in. (Note: If there are any kids reading this out there, please do not do this.) Not my finest hour.

But while weaponized palms sound wildly out of touch with the spirit of Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem just less than 2,000 years ago, there was a similar tension between celebration and hostility in the air. This text from Matthew clearly recounts the excitement of the crowds, but the description also mirrors how a king would enter a conquered city in those times—not to mention that palms were a sign of victory and triumph as well as peace. Viewed through the eyes of a people who had lived under a harsh Roman rule, this could be seen as a declaration by the Messiah—the son of David—that he had come to take Jerusalem back from the Romans.

Palm Sunday, for all its celebration, is a day that challenges us about who we want the Messiah to be in our lives: do we want a conqueror or a servant? The characters of this story will wrestle with this question in the days to come—and you are invited to do the same.

Dear God, challenge me in all the ways I shape you to fit my vision rather than allowing you to shape mine. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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