Today is Palm Sunday, for the Christian this is one of the more important days in the church calendar and in many churches is marked by attendees being given palm fronds and processing into the church singing Alleluia’s and waving the fronds back and forth. It marks the beginning of Holy Week, and while for many it is simply the Sunday before Easter, others know it as the beginning of a week long remembrance of the last days of Jesus’ life and maybe one of the most intense periods of his teachings and a total embodiment of His purpose for coming to earth. Palm Sunday marks the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish tradition and religion at the time. Jesus is greeted by exuberant crowds who lay palms in front of Him and shout Hosanna as he rides on a donkey into the city.
If we enter the scene as a participant, we may have our own reasons for singing praise to this itinerant preacher who is said to have performed miracles and taught the nearness of God’s kingdom. We too sing Hosanna, for many reasons and cheer the coming of the promised Messiah. He was viewed by all as the promised king who would restore Israel to her former glory, and reestablish the rule of God. Within the week though, the cheers have turned to jeers and the Savior is now seen not as the King of Kings, but as a rebel, an agitator, and a common criminal. Within the week, He will hang from a rough wooden cross, nails driven into His wrists and ankles, the wood splinters rubbing against His scourged back. He will have been beaten, spat upon, and condemned to death. All of this occurs because He fails to live up to the expectations of the religious leaders, and civil authorities of the time.
There is a picture we’ve all seen. It is of Christ in His agony on the cross, His arms outstretched and His head beginning to bow, and the caption reads, “I love you This Much.” Jesus knew ahead of time what He was going to go through and yet, once in Jerusalem He continued to turn the expectations of everyone on their head. He angered the keepers of the Levitical Laws by questioning those who upheld only what suited their needs and lined their pockets. It is this week that sees Jesus’ anger as He witnesses the way the money changers and profiteers have taken over the sacred Temple. It is her He overturns their tables and incites even more anger and raises in the minds of His opposition the plot to kill Him. If He won’t toe the line they say, We must get rid of Him. So they do, from the betrayal, and the abandonment, on the trumped up charges an innocent lamb is led to slaughter, and all on behalf of you and me.
The Lamb they hung to die, is the Lamb who came to preach to all, but especially to the outcast, to the sinner, even to the non Jew. No one was to be left out of God’s realm. Perhaps this is the underlying cause for what is to happen Thursday night and Friday morning. Play with a man’s livelihood and you are sure to cause some notice. But a whipping and being shown the door would have sufficed to satisfy the anger. Yet upset the assumptions of a man’s religious belief, call into question all the things that make you closer and the apple of God’s eye, and you have created a firestorm. This is Jesus’, big crime. Without the law, without the specialness of their category and class, if God loves us all equally, then where is my special place. What differentiates me from the rabble? Jesus must die.
Today we look back and often wonder where we would fit into the scheme. As a lesbian, a gay man, a transsexual, or even the guy who likes to put on his wife’s, or mother’s or the youth who puts on his sister’s clothes, we are often made to feel by both the civil and religious leaders that we are outside God’s acceptance and family. But we are not. The man who hung on a cross for our sins hung there for all of our sins. He spread His arms wide to show us how much His love encompasses and to embrace the entirety of God’s Creation.
In small ways, our mere existence challenges the established order and upsets the presumptions about proper relationship with God. But do not doubt for one moment, no matter what the Pharisees and Romans of our day tell us, we are part of the redemption. As part of that we are given an important role to play in God’s Kingdom, not the Kingdom some would wish for, but something new and unique. 2000 years later it seems, we still have not understood the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, and that means in some ways, He still hangs there on that cross. But on one Sunday removed from the entry into Jerusalem, Jesus will prove the Truth of His ministry and the meaning of His death. On Easter we will remember the triumphant victory over sin and death. The light emanating from His face is big enough and strong enough to encompass us all. He Loves US, This Much.
Lord Jesus, Savior of us all, We stand cheering your entry into our hearts and lives. We remember the sacrifice you made for us and the lessons You taught about love and acceptance, no matter the imperfections others see in us and that we see in ourselves. You have freed us from hatred and exclusion. Today we ask that this week serve as a reminder of all you tried to teach and continue trying to teach, but mostly we offer grateful hearts for what You have done to perfect us for God. Help us to overcome the obstacles placed in our way by those who seek to please you by excluding us from your love. But also help us to love them as well. That by Your love reflected on us, we may help them to see Your Truth. You are the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Hosanna in the Highest.
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