At the Gate

The Lion's Gate, Jerusalem

Scripture Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11 (Palm A)

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!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I know…you were expecting palms.  Most of us love this day.  Since my childhood, I have been waving palm branches on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna”, and reenacting that first century parade with Jesus riding on that donkey.  It was Jesus’ grand procession (or something like it) as he entered the city.  And so we wave our palm branches and try to pretend that we are oblivious to all that comes next.  We look at the palm branches and we ignore the heavy gate just up ahead.  You see, Jesus was already setting himself up for accusation.  He was entering through the East gate, the gate through which the prophets had long ago proclaimed the Messiah would enter.  So Jesus was setting himself up for blasphemy charges for claiming that he WAS the Messiah.  The truth is that this is not just a parade.  It is full of overtones of the suffering to come. The rumblings of what would come next were all around them. So, this “celebration” is not merely a parade; it is the beginning of where the journey will now take us.  It is the procession that takes us to the gate.

I think if we see this day as merely a parade, it is too easy to walk away, too easy to just lay our palm branch down, and fall off with the crowd.  The “hosannas” are easy.  The hard part is to stay with Jesus as he walks through the gate.  Because, sadly, the parade would fizzle. As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives. And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate. Jesus is in Jerusalem.

This procession represents transition, a movement from one life to the next, a change in the journey. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing. Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place. The palm branch means nothing by itself.  In a way, it is a parody of our life as we know it, a life that reveres Christ without following and celebrates without speaking out.  This procession of palms is the way to the gate, the way to the threshold of what life holds.  It is scary for us because we know what lies ahead. We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be. It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

So where do we stand?  On this side of the gate, the one with all the palm branches, is celebration and safety and comfort and the way we’ve always been.  Beyond the gate is anointing and questions, betrayal and handing over, last meals together and mock trials, declarations of guilt and death.  But there is another gate beyond that, the one that brings us Life, the one that takes us to who we are called to be.  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our procession from slavery to freedom, from who we are to who we will be, from the life we’ve designed for ourselves to the one that God envisions for us. This is our procession to life. This is our journey to salvation.  This IS the Way. So, keep walking, no matter how treacherous the road may be. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

As this holiest of weeks begins, where are you standing?  The journey has brought you to a gate.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem.  Are you willing to give up what you know for Life?  What will you leave behind?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

At the Gate

 

The Lion's Gate, Jerusalem
The Lion’s Gate, Jerusalem

Scripture Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11 (Palm A)

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!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I know…you were expecting palms.  Most of us love this day.  Since my childhood, I have been waving palm branches on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna”, and reenacting that first century parade with Jesus riding on that donkey.  It was Jesus’ grand procession (or something like it) as he entered the city.  And so we wave our palm branches and try to pretend that we are oblivious to all that comes next.  We look at the palm branches and we ignore the heavy gate just up ahead.  You see, Jesus was already setting himself up for accusation.  He was entering through the East gate, the gate through which the prophets had long ago proclaimed the Messiah would enter.  So Jesus was setting himself up for blasphemy charges for claiming that he WAS the Messiah.  The truth is that this is not just a parade.  It is full of overtones of the suffering to come. The rumblings of what would come next were all around them. So, this “celebration” is not merely a parade; it is the beginning of where the journey will now take us.  It is the procession that takes us to the gate.

I think if we see this day as merely a parade, it is too easy to walk away, too easy to just lay our palm branch down, and fall off with the crowd.  The “hosannas” are easy.  The hard part is to stay with Jesus as he walks through the gate.  Because, sadly, the parade would fizzle. As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives. And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate. Jesus is in Jerusalem.

This procession represents transition, a movement from one life to the next, a change in the journey. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing. Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place. The palm branch means nothing by itself.  In a way, it is a parody of our life as we know it, a life that reveres Christ without following and celebrates without speaking out.  This procession of palms is the way to the gate, the way to the threshold of what life holds.  It is scary for us because we know what lies ahead. We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be. It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)
The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

So where do we stand?  On this side of the gate, the one with all the palm branches, is celebration and safety and comfort and the way we’ve always been.  Beyond the gate is anointing and questions, betrayal and handing over, last meals together and mock trials, declarations of guilt and death.  But there is another gate beyond that, the one that brings us Life, the one that takes us to who we are called to be.  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our procession from slavery to freedom, from who we are to who we will be, from the life we’ve designed for ourselves to the one that God envisions for us. This is our procession to life. This IS the Way. So, keep walking. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

 

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

As this holiest of weeks begins, where are you standing?  The journey has brought you to a gate.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem.  Are you willing to give up what you know for Life?  What will you leave behind?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Who Do You Say That I Am: Messiah

7th Century, Unknown artist

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 16: 13-16
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Who do you say that I am?  The question seemed harmless enough.  But how would you answer it?  Who do YOU say that Jesus is?  We are approaching Holy Week.  The tide has already turned toward Jerusalem.  In just six days, Jesus will enter the city of Jerusalem for the last time.  In just six days, the end will begin.  We are all the same.  As we see the end of something approaching, we begin to scramble a bit.  We try our best to glean everything we can, to absorb all of that person, all of their essence, into our lives.  This is no different.  How do we in this short time get to know the person Jesus?  Realizing, of course, that there was an historical figure known as Jesus who was documented and made a part of history, sketchy as it might have been.  But Jesus was something more.  Jesus represented more.  Who do YOU say that Jesus is?

This interaction between Jesus and the disciples is probably the writer’s way of trying to clarify understandings of Jesus and his work and perhaps clear out some of the “misunderstandings”. Keep in mind that in 1st century Judaism, the name “Mashiah” (Messiah) had several different meanings. It essentially means “anointed”, or “one who is anointed” for a specific purpose and vocation. That could mean a prophet, a king, a warrior, or a savior. From that standpoint, the “Messiah” probably meant to each person whatever it was that would fulfill the needs and fears of that person. Also keep in mind that this version of the Gospel was probably written after the destruction of the temple and the devastation of Jerusalem. There were real fears present. There were real questions. OK, then, who IS the Messiah? Who is going to help us now? And what does that mean? Some people saw Messianic qualities in John the Baptist; others in Elijah; others in Jeremiah or others. They saw in those people the answer to their questions, the answers to their own unique array of issues, problems, and fears. But those people were gone. (And, at the point of this writing, so was Jesus!) And yet Jesus, as Messiah, lives as God’s Spirit moves and works through the community of faith building the kingdom of God. The meaning was not one that could be “nailed down”; instead it has to be lived out in one’s life.

This passage also characterizes an understanding of what the church itself is supposed to be. The word “church” is seldom used in the Gospel accounts. In fact Matthew uses it only here and in the 18th chapter of Matthew. The church is not merely an institution. This is not meant to be the beginning the Christian church as we know it. Rather, church here is referring to the foundation that spawns the continuing work of Jesus Christ in the world. It is a foundation that is so strong that nothing else can overcome it—not even death itself. The work of Christ has begun and nothing can stop it. The “key” image in rabbinic thought primarily refers to authority that is given to Peter (and to the church) to BE the church. This really has nothing to do with apostolic succession or “church authority” as we know it today. (That will come MUCH later!) It has nothing to do with building great big congregations; it has to do with being swept into the Kingdom of God and being a part of ushering it into its fullness.

The passage ends with Jesus’ directive to keep what is called the “Messianic Secret”. Why? One would think that he would want it shouted from the rooftops. And yet, the truth is not revealed until well after the Resurrection. It, again, has to be lived into. This writing is pointing to what is to come. As the story continues, Jesus’ earthly life will come to an abrupt and painful end. And, yet, the story continues, bound in heaven and heard on earth. You just have to live into it to get the full meaning and realize that God’s creative power is always and forever loose in the world. There are lots of understandings of God in this world. (Actually, who are we kidding? There are several understandings among those of us who are reading this!) Some understandings resonate with us; some challenge us; some make us uncomfortable; and, frankly, others probably just get in the way. This is not a God to be explained but one to follow. So, then, who do you say Jesus is? Jesus is not a model of the way we should be; rather, Jesus lives through us. So how does that change the answer to the question?

So, what is your understanding of “Messiah”?  What needs do you envision Jesus filling in your life, in the world?  If we say that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, and we say that we are called to follow, then who are we?  Who do you say that you are as a follower of Christ?  What needs do you envision you filling in the world?

On this twenty-ninth day of Lenten observance, ask yourself the question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?”, and then ask “And who does that call me to be as a follower of the Messiah, the anointed One.”?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli