Weekly Seeds: Shout Out

Sunday, April 10, 2022
Palm or Passion Sunday
Sixth Sunday in Lent | Year C

Focus Theme:
Shout Out

Focus Prayer:
Sovereign God, equip us with what you need of us. Be seated in our worship and praise of you. Bless your Holy Name! Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 19:28–40
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.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Psalm 118:1–2, 19–29
Luke 19:28–40

Isaiah 50:4–9a
Psalm 31:9–16
Philippians 2:5–11
Luke 22:14–23:56 or Luke 23:1–49

Focus Questions:
1. What does the Holy One need that you can provide?
2. How do you respond to the presence of God?
3. Think of a time when you rejoiced fully in the movement of God in your midst. Describe the experience.
4. How do you prepare the way for the Glorious God?
5. In what ways are you silent before and about God? What is the impact of that silence on you and those influenced by you?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Growing up, my faith community celebrated Passion Sunday even as it was known to me as Palm Sunday. I loved it. I loved going through the entire passion narrative. I appreciated the range of emotions the journey evoked and that scripture was treated as a story to be retold rather than a lesson to be learned.

Of course, there’s a lesson found in virtually every story, but that lesson arises out of an exploration of being human in the midst of particular circumstances. That’s different from extracting rules devoid of relationship and context and rooted more in theory than being. In most situations, we know what we should do. The Still Speaking Voice whispers in our spirit the direction we ought to take. Much of our conflict comes when we attempt to justify taking actions that we wish were right but know are not beneficial or righteous.

Telling the Passion as a whole shows us more cause and effect than isolating the events of that week. Connections make sense and we experience the growing tension, uncertainty, and despair alongside the disciples who first walked with Jesus before fleeing for a perceived safety. But, there are also perils in not giving each moment its due. Something does get lost when we compress the progression of a week into a few more minutes. There are always tradeoffs and compromises. We assume a continuity in the narration of events that may not have existed. We assume the crowd that waved palms and cried out, “Save us!” was the same crowd that stood unflinching as they observed Jesus tortured and brutalized and cried out, “We want Barabbas!” and “Crucify him!”

One consistency we can identify is that there was a lot of crying out that week. Beyond the entry into Jerusalem, I’m sure words were exchanged as Jesus drove out the moneychangers in the temple. We can only imagine what did not make it into the biblical narrative. In the same way, I imagine the disciples raised their voices when Jesus was arrested and taken into custody. The gospel writers capture the cries of Jesus uttered from the cross, and certainly, he involuntarily yelled out in response to the lashing, beating, and mutilating his prosecutors and executioners inflicted on his body.

Do we doubt that those who remained with him until his last breath did not also cry out in profound anguish, rage, and grief? Is there any question that those who did not complete his journey did the same from their distant position of safety when the news reached them. If Peter “wept bitterly” upon realizing he had denied Jesus three times (as predicted), how much more vocal would his sobs have been upon confirmation that Jesus had died? As noted in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. These cries, all of them, were appropriate responses to the various events that create the timeline of Holy Week.

But…those are not the shouts of Palm Sunday. These were cheers. All seemed to be well. Jesus and the disciples arrive in Jerusalem. The preparations Jesus specified have been carried out without delay or deviation. Jesus enters the city and is received by a welcome often characterized as the “Triumphal Entry” as if Jesus and his circle of leaders have secured a military and political victory over the territory centered in Jerusalem.

Our images and understanding of this day betray limited knowledge of the welcome customarily received by a ruler asserting their sovereignty over a region or even a neighboring monarch:

To sum up: several features of these were normal or typical. First, the welcome was commonly bestowed on kings or other ruling figures. Second, the welcome was normally extended as the dignitary approached his city, that is, before the city was entered. Third, the religious and political elite from the city, along with other bands of “welcomers” would meet the guest and escort him back into the city. Fourth, the large body of citizens in attendance would mark the occasion by wearing ornamental clothing such as white robes and wreaths. Finally, the dignitary would be lauded in speeches presented on behalf of the city, expressing its sense of privilege at the visitation. The magnitude of the greeting could indicate the gratitude of the city for past benefactions as well as lay the groundwork for favors the city might hope to receive from its guest in the future; a failure to provide a customary welcome could have grave consequences.(Brent Kinman)

It’s tempting to lose the cosmic perspective of both the incarnation and the passion. Jesus comes for the kindom. It is the brokenness of creation as a whole that prompts the Holy One to dwell among us. In Christ, the created ones are invited again to participate in care and responsibility for creation. The new adam calls us not descendants or subjects (as a ruler might) but friends and siblings. Even in this text, they are addressed as Rabbi (Teacher). Christ’s embodied life instructs us how to embody the kindom that it may come, not by miracle or degree, but by the acts and lives of those created in the divine image. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Teacher isn’t greeted as a Sovereign.

Set against the background of celebratory greeting in the ancient world, Jerusalem’s response to Jesus must be regarded as an appalling insult. Why? As noted earlier, the παρουσία of emperors, Hellenistic kings, and other distinguished figures featured a splendid welcome in which virtually all segments of society participated: boys and girls, young men and women, citizens and their spouses, merchants and traders, the religious, political, and social elite. Compared with that, Jesus’ entry is not triumphal. In three ways Jesus’ reception is seen to be small and insulting. First, more than in Mark, the failure of Jerusalem is stressed by Luke, who seems to narrow the scope of the multitude who met Jesus….Second, the comments of certain Pharisees in Luke 19:39-40, who were apparently bystanders to the event, were intended to suppress the acclamation of the disciples. They demand, “Teacher! Rebuke your disciples”….Finally, although the crowds of Jerusalem have not met Jesus in the customary way, and at least some Pharisees have tried to suppress those disciples who do welcome him, for Luke it is another set of characters—a set not mentioned until later in chap. 19—whose absence constitutes a major insult to Jesus and failure on the part of Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s religious and social elite, whom Luke mentions later in the chapter, are absent at Jesus’ entry. (Brent Kinman)

Jesus does not, in fact, receive a “king’s welcome.” But then, he never did. At his birth, his first visitors, although bearing gifts, were not part of a royal welcome. Even the wise persons came in an impromptu act significantly after the fact.

Palm Sunday is often portrayed as a crowd on the same order as the thousands that were fed from the meager offering of fish and loaves. The image is an entire city transfixed by a new conquering hero bound to save the day. If that were the case, why was Rome, and the ruling elite, entirely unconcerned about the Jesus movement. Why did the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell his followers, while significant in number but not enough to overthrow a government, to be quiet? Why do we have to make it bigger (in numbers) than it likely was? And why does our amplification of one aspect of Palm Sunday somehow diminish its greater significance?

Palm Sunday is actually more festive, in terms of the biblical narrative, than the Sunday that follows it. On the other side of the cross, there is still uncertainty and doubt, confusion and betrayal, broken relationships and tattered trust. Those things need to be repaired in the days to follow.

Palm Sunday is a moment to be savored. Everything goes according to plan. It doesn’t take a multitude to mark a movement. It reminds me of those moments of transcendent worship in the book of Revelation that break through the coded and at times troubling narrative. It’s a moment of the glory of God on display. This season, I have taken to calling it the Glorious Entry. Jesus has no need to claim victory over territory that has always been part of the Creator’s creation. Jesus doesn’t declare victory, he pronounces identity. Departing from all those instances of deflecting away from his identity as the Chosen One, the Messiah, Son of God, now the hour is coming and has begun.

Nothing will stop the events of the Holy Week. It will be horrendous. Those disciples Jesus refused to quell will disperse. Despair, gloom, and desperation as well as disbelief, shock, and debilitation will overwhelm the burgeoning community. But, they will have a glimpse of something greater. Just as Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the mountain to give them a glimpse of him glorified, the Glorious Entry gives all the disciples a glimpse of Jesus seated in glory even in the midst of humble circumstances. That is where the passion begins, not in defeat or even in victory. In fact, it doesn’t begin in battle at all. It begins with the declaration that the Sovereign One lives, breathes, and moves among us. That those they claim cannot be silenced. Even the rocks, those building blocks to mend broken walls and restore livable streets, remain ready to fulfill their part.

And that is cause to shout out.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

Dr. Bernice A. King talks about people misusing her father’s quotes hyperlink: https://berniceking.com/2020/06/dr-bernice-a-king-talks-about-people-misusing-her-fathers-quotes/

For further reflection:
“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Have you ever cannonballed into a cold lake? The shock of an old memory is kind of like that; every neuron singing a bright hosanna: here we are. You forgot about us, but we didn’t forget about you.” — Cassandra Khaw
“And yet Christians celebrate Palm Sunday year after year. Don’t we believe that something monumental happened when the King of Kings eschewed the warhorse to ride a peace donkey? Don’t we at least believe Jesus offers us an alternative to all those dudes with their horses, tanks and ICBMs? We must believe it! The Palm Sunday shout is hosanna! It means “save now.” In a world married to war, now more than ever, we need to acclaim Christ as King and shout hosanna. But our hosanna must not be a plea for Jesus to join our side, bless our troops, and help us win our war—it must be a plea to save us from our addiction to war.”— Brian Zahnd

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.