March 28, 2021
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.
As a child, I was convinced that Jesus’ disciples, and the crowd that greeted Jesus on the colt, waved and laid down sword ferns. Growing up in Oregon, our church would harvest ferns from the forests for Palm Sunday. I never really thought about what grew in the fields around Jerusalem, and since this Sunday was called Palm Sunday, I just assumed that palm was another word for fern. It took me a shockingly long time to realize that ancient Jewish Palestinians probably didn’t have an abundance of western sword ferns growing in their fields. It wasn’t until I was in college, and working for another Churches youth group, that I saw a Palm Frond on Palm Sunday.
A couple of years ago though, I was curious about the traditions of Palm Sunday. I learned that this Sunday has been known, in different times and places, by many different names, Yew Sunday, Willow Sunday, all kinds of native plant names. Churches in places where gathering palms wasn’t possible, substituted the branches of native trees, and would change the name. Some just referred to today as “Branch Sunday,” collecting from whatever trees were growing around them the Sunday before Easter.
As we hear about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, it’s not about having the right vegetation. It’s a celebration of using what’s on hand to be a part of what God is doing in the world through Jesus. This story is full of the world being turned upside down, of political theatre that mocks Rome, bringing together of radical politics and religious traditions.
There’s a scrappy nature to this story, that we sometimes lose in our churches. The crowd hasn’t been choreographing this parade. The disciples don’t organize the cheers. But somehow, everyone gets a sense of what is going on, and joins in, with what they have access to. We’ve got a borrowed colt, folks’ cloaks, and whatever branches happen to be growing in the fields nearby.
Sometimes, we find ourselves ready to be a part of what God is up to in our world, with what we have on hand, or borrow from others.
Beloved, what we have is enough. Who you are is enough. You are a beloved child of God. On Friday I was able to volunteer delivering food to our neighbors in Woodbourne-McCabe with Bill and Mary Jo, and then visit with our choir and Tim as they recorded our music for today. I was so glad, to just be with some of you. I was filled with such hope, in a time of such sorrow in our world. When we volunteer, love our kids, join our voices together, when you’re just you; the world turns just a little closer to how it should be. Reimagining life together for over a year has been hard. But every time I’m with you, I am filled with such joy. When I see your faces on the screen, hear your voices, see you sign, I’m reminded that what God needs for the work set aside for us is here. Yes, the world is a mess. The systems of oppression are powerful and tenacious. But I’m reminded that Jesus and his disciples, the crowd that parade’s God incarnate into the city to transform our world in a revolutionary, transgressive act, used what they had on hand.
Our story this morning is one of a revolutionary act of political theatre. When Roman generals and Emperors won a conquering battle, or defended the Empire, they would ride a fearsome white horse into a city, to shouts of praise. As Jesus approaches the city, the symbolism at play is not lost on the people. Here is a different savior, a peaceful revolution. Jesus is mocking the empire, meeting it not with violence, but with an alternative vision. The palm branches and cries of Hosanna come from Jewish traditions of the Festival of Booths, a calling out of Save Us! But also, a calling out of “A Savior.” It’s also a reminder of the fall of Jericho’s walls, a reminder that all barriers between humanity and God will be overcome, be they political or spiritual. This reframing proclaims that nothing in life or death will separate us from the love of God, found in Jesus of Nazareth.
Beloved, when we reimagine our world, and join in with what God is up to, our voices join those ancient calls of praise, and cries for help from Jesus. What we have might not always feel like enough, but through God, it is amazing what can be possible. Together, that’s how liberation breaks out. I have seen so much of that this week. As modern Jim Crow laws try to disenfranchise our Black Siblings in Georgia, folks across our country are beginning to dream creatively of how to resist and overcome. I have been seeing that this year, some of our Jewish siblings are putting bottles of water on their Passover tables, as a reminder of the outlawing of providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote in that State. It’s only one part of that immoral law, but people are beginning to organize Good Trouble as John Lewis would say, to overturn that law, and make sure that everyone can vote. Many of us saw Georgia State Representative Rep. Park Cannon on Thursday, as she was arrested, knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s statehouse office door as he signed the law in a closed-door ceremony. We have seen, and are seeing now, the vengeance of those whose power is threatened. But our traditions are pliable. Deep truths find new life in new times, and resistance to injustice rises.
God is with us in the struggles. You are the ones; we are the ones we have been waiting for. Sometimes we need the inspiration of others to lead us, sometimes we need to borrow from our traditions, or the wisdom of others. But Liberation finds a way. New Life overcomes the violence and oppression of this world, if only we will join the shouts, and the revolution, of God with us.
In the Name of God our Mother, Christ our Revolutionary Savior, and Holy Spirit our Sustainer, Amen.