March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  Mark 11: 1-11

 

This is a reading with huge liturgical significance for Christians because we reenact it on Palm Sunday as our entrance into worship and into Holy Week. We shout the verse beginning “Hosanna!” and wave our palms. Taken literally, hosanna expresses a cry for help from the divine like “Save us, now”. Yet, when we proclaim it on Palm Sunday, we intend a joyful greeting like “Savior!”

One preacher, whose sermon I read while preparing to preach a Palm Sunday service years ago, Scott B. Johnston, insisted on the former reading. He asked the listeners to identify their own deepest fear: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from crushing debt and unemployment. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three AM wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears.”

By encouraging me to make myself vulnerable with the crowd crying out to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, my engagement with the liturgy of Palm Sunday became visceral. I could greet Jesus with a heart full of expectant joy at receiving deliverance from suffering. I joined many other hopeful, expectant people, each reaching out for deliverance, all hurrying to see and greet Jesus. I was ready to process with them into the service and could proclaim God’s love even in the midst of the haunting Gospel narrative to follow.

 

The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore

 

NOTE: The word hosanna (Latin osanna, Greek ὡσαννά, hōsanná) is from Hebrew הושיעה־נא, הושיעה נא hôshia-nā’ which is short for hôšî‘â-nā’ and related to Aramaic אושענא (‘ōsha‘nā) meaning “save, rescue, savior”. In the Hebrew Bible it is used only in verses such as “help” or “save, I pray” (Psalms 118:25). However, the old interpretation “Save, now!”, based on Psalm 118:25, does not fully explain the occurrence of the word in the Gospels as a shout of jubilation, and this has given rise to complex discussions.

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March 11, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.   John 3:17-19

 

God became a human being, the man Jesus, so that the world might be saved—through him. Those who do not believe, those who cling to the ways of this world, have chosen; they have chosen to condemn themselves. But that’s not the end of the story. The Good News is that God continues to reconcile the world to God’s self. God is not finished. Yes, at the resurrection and ascension God broke the power of death once and for all, and yet we humans still cling to the darkness. For whatever reason, our sins too often get the best of us. The story would end here were it not for Jesus’ work on the cross. But as God crushed the power of death represented in the cross, the light broke out into the world and all of humanity was given the opportunity to bask in the Glory of God’s light.

Sure, it’s a struggle. But is there a more appropriate time than Lent to trudge through our own desert searching for freedom from the darkness to which we so tightly cling? Is there a better time than Lent to take inventory of the things that pull us away from the light; the way of Christ? Is there a more fitting time than right now to make a decision to repent, change the direction of our lives while groping, the best we can, for the light so freely offered? Even if we do nothing else this Lent, why not begin on this day, two weeks before Holy Week, the work of repentance and amendment of life? Why not let go of the darkness that this world offers and grab ahold of Christ’s light? Why not?

 


Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we , worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 

The Rev. Joseph K. Smith
Saint Mary’s, Wayne