NRSV LUKE 19:28-40
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ”
32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
NRSV ISAIAH 50:4-9a
4 The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens–
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
NRSV PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
It’s a day of movement. We see it as the parade takes place or as we identify it liturgically, “the Triumphal Entry.” Jesus and his disciples are on the move, moving into Jerusalem, getting ready for a week that is full of movement.
We know all about this movement, because we have participated in it through the years. We were given palm branches as kids, perhaps, told to wave them and sing or shout out, “Hosanna,” even if we had no idea what that meant. We have participated in the movement of this day down through the years as we have continued the palm branch waving, maybe not as much this year as other years, but we still know the drill and the movement.
We may know the movement of this week. We call this Palm Sunday, but we try to set up everything so that the movement is intentional, from Palms to Passion, even if we do not read the Passion account from Luke until Thursday night. A colleague of mine questioned my doing it this way; why not read the passion account from Luke on Sunday and then follow it up with the passion narrative out of John on Thursday? She’s a liturgical purist but her question was legitimate and well-intended. It brought me up short: Well, I guess I didn’t want to burden the Sunday crowd with that long text out of Luke. But then they don’t get to hear the passion story, was her point. True. We usually don’t have as many people here on Thursday night as we do today. That’s just part of the movement. Going to church on a weeknight is not a regular Presbyterian practice, even if it is Holy Week.
As I reflected on her question, I realized in a moment of self-reflection that I am a lover of historical movement. I love studying history, I love marking time and the movements of events. Last week there was the day the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox. The next day was the 80th anniversary of the performance of Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial. An African-American, she was denied the opportunity to sing at the Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. That performance has been widely hailed as a precursor to the Civil Rights movement which opened up equality for all people regardless of skin color, a movement we are still in need of working on in these days.
I like historical movement, so I like to keep the historical movement of this week; what happened on Sunday – the palms, or in Luke’s case, the cloaks on the road, the hosannas in the voice, the triumphal entry. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, in the temple, the tensions mounting, the opposition increasing. Then on Thursday night we tell the story of Jesus’ passion, as it literally bleeds over into Good Friday.
Like my liturgical purist friend, I get irritated that not everybody likes that movement. Some folks just want to go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, from one triumph to another. None of that messy betrayal-denial-crucifixion stuff in between.
Maybe like me you wish more people would take on that journey, be a part of that movement; to take the steps to worship on Thursday and then into Friday, to remember Jesus’ sufferings. And it is good that we do that. As I have said often and as you have probably heard even more often, you cannot experience the real joy of Easter if you have not plunged into the depths of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
But let’s be fair. Not everybody can make that movement. There are other things going on in people’s lives. And for some, it is too painful to make that journey. They feel the pain of Jesus. They have just experienced a death in their family or among their friends. Maybe there is some hang-up they have with the crucifixion, about why Jesus had to die. Maybe they have had drilled into them the thought that God was so angry at human beings that only the death of a human could placate such a God. It doesn’t work for me, that’s not what I see in the whole witness of Scripture. But some folks teach that, and some folks rebel at that, so they stay away.
Not everyone likes movement. But there is a movement, in the palms, in the passion, and in the other accounts from the Bible, too. There is movement in Isaiah as he writes to people who have been in exile but are getting ready to move out of there. Theirs is a movement that tells of suffering of their own, and we see here so many images of the suffering of Jesus. But in our own historical context some of us cannot hear these words without also thinking of the sufferings of the Jewish people down through the years, especially those images revealed in black and white photos of Nazi storm troopers abusing Jewish people of Europe on their way to the gas chambers. It serves as stark warning to be very careful about which movement you choose.
There is another kind of movement in the Philippians account; movement as Paul is writing to a group of folks who are moving into a deeper belief in The Way of Jesus, people who were not brought up in Jewish homes where they could hear the stories and live out the remembrances of the Exodus and the Exile. They are moving, too, and Paul uses a familiar hymn to aid their movement.
It’s a week of movement. This is a day of movement – in the stories, in the movement of palms to passion, in the ways we live our lives. We are always on the move, so a week of movement fits our lifestyles. It’s where we are. It’s who we are. Or so we think.
But maybe what is called for this time around on Palm/Passion Sunday, at the start of and throughout Holy Week, is not moving, but staying. When we do read from Luke’s passion narrative, we will hear about Jesus taking his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane for his time of deeply intense prayer. We won’t hear the exact words there, but we have heard them in other places: Stay with me. Pray with me. Be with me in this time of all times. Don’t move around. Don’t flit from here to there. Stay with me.
We will hear it as the choir sings the Taize chant, “Stay with Me,” at the conclusion of our worship. It’s in the hymnbook, number 204. We’ve sung it before. I love Taize chants because they use basic, simple language, the same words over and over again. They are words that stay with us. It’s as if we don’t get it the first time but as the words are repeated over and over and over they seep into our souls and they become who we are. Not a people of frantic busyness, but a people who stay with Jesus. People who stay with each other. For in the staying is the loving.
It’s counterintuitive for us, to just be there. “Don’t just stand there, do something,” we’ve been told. Even if those of us who lived through the 60’s remember the Rowan and Martin TV line about, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” We don’t like to be blobs. We want to have a purpose. We want to be important. We want to do something, to accomplish something. Get going already. Be a part of the movement.
There is a time for that. But there is also a time for staying and being. Mystics down through the centuries have taught the importance of just being, of being still long enough that your soul opens itself up to the universal Christ in everything and in everyone. I’m not knocking being busy, or being on the move. But sometimes if we are too busy, we may miss something. And maybe that something is important.
We see that as the Pharisees tell Jesus to quiet down his disciples. Not so loud, they say, lest the Romans, the Empire, the ones in authority and control crack down on us. Jesus tells them that even if these are silent, the very stones will cry out. Even the ultimate in being still will rise up and shout.
Maybe it’s a little better in Isaiah, with its wonderful urge to embrace the call of God to sustain the weary with a word. Longtime biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says that:
“The weary ones are the ones in exile, who have had their life shaped and crushed by the power of the empire, and who daily live close to despair. To ‘sustain’ does not mean simply to speak a gentle word of consolation. It means, so we gather from the context of the poetry, to speak a reality that counters the weariness, to mediate to the exhausted an alternative reality, which creates space, freedom and energy. Thus, the speech that can sustain the weary in exile is the word that Yahweh has defeated the power of the empire, that it is Yahweh who governs and not the debilitating power and ideology of the empire … sustenance to the weary is the bold theological assertion that reshapes the world, that voices new possibilities outside the assumed realities that dominate, and that invites the weary to change their self-perception and therefore their actions.”
Perhaps it is best worded in an old ancient hymn, whose tunes we no longer have. It is the Carmen Christi hymn of Philippians, where Paul tells them not to do anything but to give something up – to take on the attitude of Jesus, the one who did not grasp at equality with God, but emptied himself. We are always hearing about how we need to fill ourselves up with this or that, whether it be a material object or an experience or financial resources. But Paul cites a song that shows the Savior of the world as one who did not grasp but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.
Debi Thomas writes about the paradoxes of these days, the paradox of movement and staying, the paradox that comes from shouts of “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify him” by the time the week is out. She writes:
“…the truth is, I am afraid of what lies ahead. Who knows how many deaths lie waiting around the corner? How many sorrows, disappointments, farewells, and jagged endings I or you must face before resurrection comes home to stay? I can’t imagine most of it, and sometimes I can’t bear any of it. But Jesus can. If anything in this Christian story is true, then this must be true as well: Jesus will not leave us alone. There is no death we will die, small or big, literal or figurative, that Jesus will not hold in his crucified arms.”
Let this week be a movement for you, moving you to where you most need to be – happy or sad, joyous or depressed, broken or unbroken. Move with it. But don’t forget to take the time to stay with Jesus. Stay with the story. Stay with The Word. And stay with each other. A crucified God is in this story; a God who loves us too much to stay away from us, even in the moment and moments of death. We are called to let go of anything that gets in the way of that Holy connection. For in the staying and listening and being, we will discover new lessons of how this week will move us, and make us different. Amen.