Reading Ramblings – Palm Sunday

Date: Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-28; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Context: Palm Sunday is one of the great Sundays of the Church year, with a long history in both Eastern and Western Christendom, and processions are an ancient part of this day’s celebrations. Palms are a sign of victory in many cultures, as they are used in the reading to denote Jesus’ victorious entry to Jerusalem. But victory over what becomes the question. His opposers feared his victory was an ill-advised attempt to overthrow Roman rule, something that would inevitably end not with only Jesus’ own death but the death of hundreds and perhaps thousands of others. Did those who waved the palms that morning have such a victory in mind? Perhaps. Perhaps they were caught up in the excitement of God at work, doing something He had told his people to watch and wait for, and were much shorter on actual specifics of what that would look like. Perhaps it was enough to welcome Jesus as a prophet, as the speaker of God’s Word after a long period of divine silence. What is it we welcome Jesus for today, and how do we imagine his presence will and should change our lives here and now rather than simply in eternity?

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah is a post-exilic prophet, one who returns with God’s people to Jerusalem and helps in the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 5:1, 6:14; Nehemiah 12:16). Nehemiah indicates Zechariah is the head of a priestly house, confirming that the roles of priest and prophet sometimes overlapped. Chapter 9 of Zechariah begins a curious prophetic progression dealing more with end of times prophesy than short-term prophetic material and history as dealt with in Chapters 1-8. The emphasis of our verses today is not so much the ending of the old way, but the start of a new day. There is no emphasis on the struggle which achieved this victorious, kingly entry, beyond the cryptic language in verse 11 regarding the blood of my covenant with you. Zechariah and his hearers may have interpreted this as referring to the blood bonds at Mt. Sinai in Exodus, but now we know this is only a foreshadowing of the blood that forms the new covenant, the blood of the Son of God poured out in sacrifice for creation.

Psalm 118:19-28 – Many scholars divide the psalms into five sections or books, and Psalm 118 falls into the fifth such grouping. This particular psalm has two main sections, vs. 5-18 and 19-28. Verses 5-18 are an individual’s praises to God in testimony to the gathered community of the faithful. The second section is more a song of thanksgiving after being rescued from some dangerous situation. There is a dialogue, in which someone speaks, is responded to, and is spoken about. The particulars of the situation are vague, so the psalm is appropriate under a variety of conditions and situations. However vs. 17-18 indicate the seriousness of the situation, literally life and death. But within the liturgical context of Palm Sunday, these words take on another aspect, an aspect completely unique to the completely unique person and work of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, who gives himself into death on our behalf, but lives in spite of his death and burial. He has suffered for our transgressions, but now lives to attest to the Father’s grace and mercy through his blood and death.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ’s attitude is to be our own. These are not poetic words, these are not artistic exageration but a call to suffering and sacrifice, to a constant attitude of humility rather than pride and self-exaltation. This is not our own work or will. It is only possible in Christ Jesus (v.5), and therefore is the exclusive expectation and domain of the follower of Christ. Only in Christ does such an intentional rejection of self-seeking make sense. Only knowing what we have received in and through Christ can we find the strength and joy to forego other forms of personal glory. Paul reiterates the humility and suffering of Jesus not just as a history lesson but as instructive to us. What should we not be willing to suffer, so that we may be like our Lord? And if such is the intention and effort of every believer, what lengths shouldn’t fellow-believers go to to ensure the care and love of each member, rather than seeking to take advantage of them as the world will? There will be no shortage of non-believers who seek to benefit themselves at a Christian’s expense, but in the body of Christ, where each is seeking to live out this humility and knows full well the costs that can sometimes require, how much love and care and charity there should be, that the body itself might never be the source of pain or damage to any part!

Mark 14:1-15:47The longest continual reading of the liturgical year, the Palm Sunday gospel leads us from the day or so before Jesus’ betrayal to his death and burial. We traverse the dizzying heights of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through the growing tension of the days until He celebrates his last Passover with his disciples and is arrested, executed and buried. Palm Sunday isas though we look out over the expanse of Holy Week from a high place and see it all – all except Easter, of course. Easter is so bright and dazzling it would blind us to everything else if it were included. And so it waits for the proper time in order to receive the proper glory. Only in a journey into the Valley of the Shadow of Death with our Lord can we truly appreciate the relief of his Easter morning victory!

This panoramic reading leads us through Maundy Thursday to the end of Good Friday. It should whet our appetites to consider all this week will bring, and all our Lord has done on our behalf. Vigil on Holy Saturday evening will herald our Lord’s victory over sin, death and Satan, a victory we will proclaim together in joy on Easter morning! It may be preferable by many people to skip Thursday and Friday and Saturday as too depressing, but they are every bit as real as Easter morning. More real, in some ways, because we can so easily relate to themes of betrayal, suffering, death and burial. These are our realities, and all the more so as we grow older. Easter is the contrast to our empathy, the counter-intuitive assertion that these realities we know so well and our Lord experienced as well are not the final word in our lives and identities. That final Word belongs to our Lord alone,who will call us from our graves with a command of power when He returns, and welcome his faithful into eternal glory.

2 Responses to “Reading Ramblings – Palm Sunday”

  1. dunganm Says:

    Dear Pastor,Good to have you back! Did you send an email to Geri or me re- Geri’s baptism? We didn’t receive anything. Anyway, sounds like the new date is Saturday, April 3, very much looking forward to it.Yours in Christ,MikeSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  2. dunganm Says:

    G’day Pastor,I might be the only one who received this, so we read the Ramblings off my phone at Men’s Bible Study today. No one seems to have paper copies, although the Ramblings are right there on Livingapologetics.  For Sunday, it might be good to have some copies printed and available, to stimulate understanding and discussion at Bible Study after the sermon(?).Yours in Christ,MikeSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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