The Rev. Eric Elley is the Digital Minister for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)
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,
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.
Reflection: Save Us
Palm Sunday is a day of emotional contradiction in the church. First, of course, it is a day of joy. We echo the words of the 118th Psalm. Just as the royal Jesus processed into Jerusalem, so also this day we are invited to ponder how Jesus might come into our lives.
To celebrate this happy day, many, many churches across the world Children and adults carry banners, balloons, palm branches, and who knows what else in order to have a parade. In some countries the procession is long – very long. Sometimes filling entire city blocks.
But the joyful mood of the procession quickly takes on the tumultuous excitement of a brewing uprising. Israel was an occupied country. It was a revolutionary act for anyone to suggest that they would have any king but Caesar. So it is no surprise that in our story the crowd directly connects Jesus to King David, the greatest of all Jewish kings and the one who expanded the borders of the nation of Israel to its furthest reaches. The royal processional into Jerusalem as related by Mark is the next thing to a demonstration or even a riot. After all, the Romans crucified upstart kings, as we shall soon see. The Palm Sunday story is in part about folks making serious decisions that could cost them their lives.
A close reading of the Palm Sunday story also suggests that the anxious fervor of a budding popular uprising was tinged with a bit of desperation, too. We tend to think of the shouts of “hosanna” as being something akin to shouting “hurray!” or “you go, Jesus!” One of the popular hymns sung on Palm Sunday says that children made “sweet hosannas ring,” or something like that. I don’t think you can ever shout hosanna! sweetly. Hosanna, after all, doesn’t mean “HURRAY!” It means “SAVE US!” “SAVE US NOW!” Hosanna is a cry for help. It is a plea so desperate that life and death hangs in the balance based on the response.
So on Palm Sunday we experience joy and expectant hope, then upheaval and tumult, then anxious fervor, then outright desperation. Let’s also add impending gloom and terrible injustice somewhere into that mix of responses, too. As readers of Mark, we know that Jesus has just told us not once, not twice, but three times that he is going into Jerusalem in order to die.
When Jesus enters into Jerusalem, his conflict with religious authorities along with the people’s political agitation with Rome steps up a notch. The leaders of the house of God, the Jerusalem Temple, are gearing themselves up for final and open battle with Jesus. Initially, these leaders are wary of the crowd gathered around Jesus desperately shouting out “save us!” to him. But the chief priests, scribes and teachers of the law know the mob can be manipulated into changing their tune, and before you know it they will be shouting something like “Release Barabbas!” and “Crucify Jesus” if the religious leaders just play their cards right. And, as we know, they do play their cards right.
We are hopeful people. In that sense we are like the mob that gathered around Jesus on Palm Sunday. Some of us are joyful, some of us are eager to use what we have, even if it is our only colt, our only animal that we have, to help usher in the reign of God. Some of us are acutely aware that things aren’t right in our lives and in society, and have looked for, and for many of us, have found that new ruler who can set things right. Some of us are looking for a little social revolution of some sort, or maybe even a big revolution. Some of us are growing increasingly desperate in our job, finances, emotional state, relationships, spirituality or something else and all we want to do is have someone hear our desperate cry of “Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us!” And like the crowds, we also may be susceptible to the wiles of those who work against the will of God. I know that I get anxious in ways large and small, when I check my news feed and witness the violence and the pageantry of fear perpetrated by some.
So this week, regardless of what part of the Palm Sunday story you can relate to, regardless of what emotion you have carried with you, no matter what is happening to you in life, I think we can all pray together, “Hosanna, Jesus.” “Save us, Jesus.” For in the end, even if we are not feeling desperate, and even if we are joyful, hopeful, and expectant like a child, we are all utterly dependent on the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ both for what we have, for what we long to have, and for what we may yet become.
Save Us, Jesus. Save us in order to use us for the transformation of the earth so that it becomes the just and righteous place you call it to be.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 539,000 dead due to the Covid-19 disease (the lowest increase since early last spring)
- For the victims and their families of the 101 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For those grieving or suffering after a shooting spreed near Atlanta, GA left 8 dead and another injured last week
- For the family and friends of Rev. Mark Strickland, Pastor Emeritus at Centre Church, in Lynnfield, MA, who died on March 10
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the season of Lent and the anticipation that comes with Holy Week's approach
- For the spring season and all the "new" that comes with it
This Week in History:
March 22, 1972 (49 years ago) The U.S. Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment, stating that rights shall be denied or abridged on the basis of sex. This Amendment failed to achieve ratification because it was not ratified by 3/4 of the states.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”