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Palm Sunday - March 28, 2021

John 12: 12-16Often on Palm Sunday, we use the story from the Gospel of Mark. It’s meaty and full of details. When we read that story, we see the pomp and circumstance. It’s easy to imagine the parade. We first see the disciples go to town and take a donkey and when asked, surprisingly, they just get to take it. Then we see Jesus riding in from the mount of olives on this young colt and hear about the people surrounding him. It’s a big deal. He’s a big deal. Palm branches. Cloaks are

thrown on the ground. The full red-carpet treatment as Jenny shared during children’s time.  

John doesn’t give it that same kind of attention. There’s not the same fullness of the story here. It could just be because John is focused on other things. Or, it could be that maybe we’ve imagined the story a little too full.

I know, suggesting that we have the story wrong somehow—the story we’ve told and retold for decades, the story that sparks our palm parades feels a bit heretical. It’s risky business messing with any common understanding we have of the scriptural accounts. I know that. And you know me well enough to know that ruffling a few feathers isn’t cause for alarm.

The truth is, I read a pretty compelling commentary that suggested it probably wasn’t the parade we’ve always imagined. It probably wasn’t throngs of people gathered together. That would have been dangerous—not just for Jesus, but for the people, too. Remember, the Jews were living under Roman rule. And while they couldtravel to Jerusalem for their festivals and holy days, they would have been watched. They would have been policed. And if anyone got too rowdy, for whatever reason, it could have caused real problems.

And if Rome got wind of someone, like, say, a Messiah, being powerful and lauded, he likely would have been arrested. (I know, Jesus was arrested, but he would have been arrested earlier in the week…before he taught in the temple, before the Passover meal in the upper room, before he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane). The last thing Rome wanted was a Jewish uprising and with a whole lot of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, regulations would have been heightened. Security would have been tight.

So, it’s possible, likely even, that when Jesus rode into town on the donkey it wasn’t a big parade. I do imagine the people praised him. I do imagine they put branches and jackets on his path. I don’t think the biblical account is a lie….it was probably just a lot smaller deal than we’ve ever imagined it. A person or two here, or there. People who maybe heard his sermon on the mount in Galilee early in his ministry and then traveled to be with family for the holy days these 3 years later. Or someone who was there when he shared the loaves and fishes in Tagbah, some from Bethsaida, some from Bethany….right? People who had witnessed his ministry here and there. Maybe the man born blind who could see him now, after all this time. Maybe Jairus and his daughter, or the bleeding woman who was made whole.   I imagine the people who were blessed by Jesus, healed by Jesus, redeemed by Jesus in his three years of ministry were anxious to see him again. I imagine that they hoped for another chance to say hello, or a chance to say thank you—that he really had made a difference in their lives, or maybe the chance to ask for someone they knew and loved to be healed like they had been.

I imagine those people praised him. I imagine those people hailed him as Lord or Messiah. I imagine those people would have been more than ready to lay down their cloaks to honor him. After all, they had seen his greatness in action. They had been blessed by his miracles. They had been healed by his love. They were restored to community.

I do think that Palm Sunday was full of celebration, but not the big gathering we conjure in our minds. But maybe much simpler offerings and acts of thanksgiving. And while it feels a bit deflating to think that the story I’ve known and loved for 4 decades isn’t what I thought it was, and I might get an earful for daring to ruin this beloved Bible story. I have to say, this year, I find some solace in the simplicity.

After all, our gathering isn’t what we’ve known and loved. Our celebration isn’t big and full of people. It’s simple. Modified. Just one or two people here and one or two people there.

The Messiah is coming!

God is doing something!

And…you might not know it by looking around.

I mean, sure, as Christians, we’re called to always have hope to always believe that God is doing something. But what exactly that something is, and how this crazy mess of humanity and inhumanity, of ignorance and hate, of violence and injustice, is going to be transformed by God’s chosen one, kind of remains to be seen. So, there might be someone here or there praising God. There might be someone out in the street looking for the work of Jesus in the world. But everyone in town? All at once? All full of hope and anticipation? Probably not. Not yet. Definitely not while the pandemic persists.

And so instead of a big parade, big pomp and circumstance, even a big worship service. It’s more likely that we’ll have simple stories of how Jesus has been at work…where we found hope, or peace, or comfort. Where God spoke life into our lives. Where God offered healing. Where God gave a word of wisdom or discernment. One or two here and one or two there, ready to give God praise for what God has done, anxious for God to do it again. Hey God, what you did for me all those years ago, could you do it for my friend now?

And the good news is, Jesus is already making his way among us. He’s coming, not as we expected. His entry into our daily lives will likely be simple, modified. After all, that’s likely how it was all those years ago and likely how it’ll be even today.

Thanks be to God. 

Holy Week invitation

Holy Week is a special time in the life of the Church. We start by celebrating Palm Sunday, then move through the events of Jesus’ life in that powerful week of the 1st Century. On Thursday night, April 1st, we will gather for worship via zoom--sharing in a Maundy Thursday service, remembering Jesus’ act of service for his disciples as he washed their feet and his reappropriation of the Passover meal as he claimed that he was the body and blood that would save God’s people. We’ll begin at 6:30 and invite all of you to join us.

Then on Friday, we remember the events of Jesus’ trial, abuse, and crucifixion. We’ve collaborated with 3 sister churches to offer a dramatic enactment of people and possibilities surrounding the cross. That service will be available starting at 7 am Friday morning for you to watch and worship at any time during the day.

Then on Easter Sunday, we will gather as we normally do for worship on Facebook Live. We have one service with two separate watch parties--one at 9 am and one at 10:30 and invite you to join us at the time that is best for you.

In the meantime, may you reflect on the life and work of Jesus and the ways he continues to be the light and hope of our lives.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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