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Sunday, April 14, 2019
Today’s 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)
Palm Sunday at Fourth Presbyterian Church is one of my favorite services of the year. The children processing, the palms waving, the congregation singing praises. It’s almost like Easter.
And yet I can never separate Palm Sunday from the week that lies ahead. To get to the joy of Easter from the celebration of Palm Sunday requires going through an abyss. The happiness of the crowds and the waving palms mask the pain and suffering that is to come. As is often the case in the Gospels, things are not what they seem.
The contrast between the light and the dark is woven throughout the story. Jesus is riding in triumph into Jerusalem, knowing he is going to his death. He is coming into town in splendor but riding on a borrowed donkey. The crowds are praising his name, but within days they will either disappear or join the hordes calling for his death. This processional fulfills yet another prophecy about the Messiah, but he is not the worldly king the excited crowds expect.
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant¾,” wrote Emily Dickinson, and the Palm Sunday processional offers another opportunity to see the world through a different perspective, to see it through Jesus’ eyes. Just as he overthrew the moneylenders’ tables and rode in ceremony on a donkey, Jesus’ approach to the world is aslant of what we expect. Yet his power is in confounding the status quo. We don’t need a warrior savior; we need a baby born in a stable. We don’t need a political leader; we need God willing to humble himself and die so that we may receive grace. So this Palm Sunday, as I wave my palm branch, I will remember once again that what seems to be the truth is very often not the real story.
Holy God, open our eyes to see your unexpected truth in the world. And in this Holy Week to come, help us never lose sight of the true story of the gift of your grace; in your name. Amen.
Written by Lisa Stracks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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