March 20- Palm Sunday
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Psalm 118:1-2 n& 19-29
by Lydia Schon
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 118 is clearly a song of thanksgiving. The entire song praises God for God’s goodness, works and faithfulness. Because of this, the Psalm was read regularly as a part of ancient Passover celebrations recalling the oppression, liberation and exodus from Egypt. Verses 22 through 26 were believed to be about their future messiah who would continue to release them all forms of captivity including the Babylonians and later, Rome. It is not a coincidence then that Jesus processes into Jerusalem at the start of passover and the people proclaim these exact words from Psalm 118—they believed Jesus to be the promised messiah of the Jewish people. But many people were in disbelief that Jesus could be the promised messiah because he was the reverse of what they expected for centuries. Read the gospel commentary below for more elaboration on this.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of the season of Lent that prepares us for Jesus’ crucifixion.
This Lukan version of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem or a version from one of the other gospels is read during Palm Sunday. Most likely, if you have grown up in a church or have been to a church during this season, you will remember waving palm fronds in the service to symbolize ushering in our savior. This act would usually be accompanied by the same words of this Lukan passage, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” The objective of the Palm Sunday service is to re-create this triumphant and celebratory processional from the gospels, as the people usher in their new King.
As a child, I certainly remember waving palm fronds in church and feeling like I was indeed participating in a procession for royalty. But it was not until recently, when reading this passage as an adult that I realized how ridiculous the original scene 2000 years might have actually looked, particularly to the people of the ancient Near East. While this scene has all of the trappings of a royal procession, the reality of it based on the Lukan description is more akin to poor people imitating a royal procession. The passage has multiple allusions to Hebrew Bible passages that prophecy the coming of a savior (Zechariah 14:4 and 9:9-10, Genesis 49:10-11, 1 Kings 1:33-37, 2 Kings 9:13 the Psalm reading for today and Habakkuk 2:11) but in the Lukan account of the procession, one thing is always slightly off from its Hebrew Bible reference. Instead of a savior riding on a war horse, Jesus rides on a donkey. Instead of a King dressed in regal clothing, it is a carpenter dressed in humble garb. Instead of a military leader coming in to conquer Rome, the people are praising Jesus for bringing peace. And instead of expensive cloaks laid on the ground for Jesus, they are threadbare cloaks of the poor, working class and the outcast.
And this is how God decided to change the course of history. Not by sending what the Jews expected, a powerful political revolutionary who would come and lift Israel from their lowly state and exalt them above the other nations. But through a humble carpenter who taught about love and spent most of his time with those the pharisees disdained.
It has often perplexed me that some Christians bespeak of a second coming in opulent apocalyptic ways. They talk of and even make movies about an instant when those who are saved will immediately be taken up into heaven and that the rest will continue to suffer on this wretched earth and be subject to the hand of Satan. God could certainly come like that in the future but that is not how God has done it so far—not through earthquakes but through whispers. Not through a king but through a servant. This is the God we celebrate and usher in this Palm Sunday. A God we can only recognize by looking closely and carefully because he will not dazzle us with his mighty power. But he will indeed dazzle us with his mighty love…if only we have the eyes to see him in the least of these.