With All Your Heart Worship Series: PREPARING
Palm/Passion Sunday — April 14, 2019
We emerge this week from our wilderness wanderings and find ourselves caught up in a parade, a party, a procession of palms! It has been a long journey to arrive at the gates of Jerusalem where Jesus will make his grand entry into the heart of political power and religious authority. We have not arrived here by chance. We have spent a considerable time remembering who we are and whose we are. We have spent weeks returning our hearts to the Heart of All Hearts.
As pilgrims on this Lenten journey, we have devoted the last five weeks to intentionally imitating Christ, repenting, coming together, and embracing the new thing that God is already doing within us and among us. It has been a season of turning our hearts to the One whose promises are bigger than the stars; a season of fasting from the things that harm, while feasting on grace. If we have walked the pathway in purposeful prayer and self-reflection, we discover that the very landscape of our hearts has been turned and cultivated. What was once a rocky desert is beginning to blossom with new and tender shoots. This season has hopefully reshaped our aching and broken hearts. The entire journey up until this point is what has prepared us—and our hearts—to enter these final days of Lent, to walk with Jesus, to remember his final days on earth, to endure the heartache and horror of death.
Jesus determinedly “set his face” toward Jerusalem in Luke 9:51, and the time has now come to enter the city. We remember that Luke’s Gospel opened in Jerusalem with Zechariah ministering in the temple and with the infant Jesus blessed there by Simeon and Anna. Luke has already put on their lips that Jesus is the one who will bring salvation, and it’s Anna who added that he will redeem Jerusalem (2:31, 38). The drama of the Passion is a bookend in this gospel that, at long last, brings Jesus and the Holy City together again.
As the Jewish people filled the city to remember God’s liberative act of delivering the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, tension and anticipation would have been thick in the air. As Roman imperialism crushed and oppressed God’s people, Pilate made the trip into town to uphold law and order. Pilate must have entered the city in a procession of pomp complete with war horses and an armored army.
In stark contrast to this display of military might, Jesus arrives just before Passover feast and curiously instructs two disciples to borrow a colt for him to ride. When its owners ask the two what they are doing, they answer as Jesus told them to: “The Lord needs it.” As preachers, we could easily point out that Jesus has need of each one seated in our pews, just as he had need of the colt. The questions for each of us on this Palm Sunday are: “Are we ready to carry the weight of the gospel beyond the parade into the rough places where darkness and death overwhelm? Will we carry the good news to the oppressed and those whose hearts are in need of binding up, even if it means putting ourselves in danger?”
After a cloak is spread over the colt and more are laid on the road, the simple parade begins. It’s a procession of humility and gentleness. It’s a demonstration of meekness and vulnerability. Instead of a big show of military might, Jesus defies expectations and comes in a different way. He doesn’t rally the crowds to incite revolt. His coming invites in them the response of, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven” (Luke 19:29). As we hear an echo of the song of both the angels and Simeon from Luke 2, we have to rethink what kind of king is being blessed here: one who comes ultimately to bring about God’s peace.
By now you and your congregation have probably noted that there’s something missing from this parade as Luke tells it . . . palms. Instead of waving signs of victory, of paradise, of the fertile ground of new life, Luke emphasizes instead the act of spreading cloaks on the ground. Here we have an act of deep reverence and subservience. As we in our sanctuaries are lifting up and waving our palm branches, perhaps there is a complementary action of laying down that needs to occur.
As we lift up our shouts of praise on this Palm Sunday, might we also lay down ways of living that do not honor God, our neighbor, and all life around us? As we lift up our voices crying out for an end to injustice and suffering, might we also lay down our lives, allowing Christ to fill them with humility and the new beginnings of hope? As we lift up our palms with songs to bless the One who comes in peace, might we also lay down the superficial cries of victory and triumph? As we lift up our eyes to see a vision of earth and heaven made one, might we also lay down our expectations of how God will change us and our world; of how God will come into our lives to accomplish this? As we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, might we also lay down our hearts until they burn with the desires of God’s heart? And in our lifting up and laying down, God might just weave us into a tapestry of resurrection.
The triumphant parade with shouts of joy and blessing will cause our hearts to rise and swell to the highest of highs. The excitement of the boisterous parade where Jesus is accepted by the crowds will fade, and our hearts will slip to the depths of despair, and Jesus is rejected. Holy Week brings us to a space and a time for lament, for struggle, for sorrow. Time slows, and we will walk through betrayal and unanswered prayer into darkness and death. We have done the work to prepare our hearts to walk from the procession to the table, from the cross to the stone-cold tomb.
Today, as we celebrate Love Incarnate who came to live, and work, and dance among us, perhaps we are the borrowed colt. Perhaps we need to lay down our coats to line the way. The story continues, and we have prepared our feet to follow its path with a hope that is stronger than despair, a light that is stronger than darkness, and a love that is stronger than death.
Rev. Todd Pick is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, serving in the Central Texas Conference. He is a pastor, poet, and painter. He has contributed many articles on worship, creativity, and beauty to Worship Arts Magazine. In addition, his art and poetry were featured in the December 2018 issue of Magnet Magazine, a Christian publication in the UK. Todd is an accomplished artist who has created stage visuals for many United Methodist conferences, including the 2012 and 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a featured worship expert on Dr. Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio. Holding a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School, he was artist-in-residence there from 2007 to 2009 and was twice awarded the Hoyt L. Hickman Award for Liturgical Studies. Todd and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy a partnership in life and ministry. Together, they enjoy writing, planning worship and leading workshops and retreats across the country on multi-sensory worship.
Rev. Jennifer Pick is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving in the Central Texas Conference. She is a pastor, worship planner, biblical scholar, and writer. She has a Master of Literature in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She has studied biblical archeology in Greece and Turkey through Cambridge University. Rev. Pick graduated with a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School with an emphasis in Early Christianities. She is a recipient of the Lawrence E. Toombs Prize for Old Testament History, the George R. Crooks Prize for excellence in Homiletics and the Warren Memorial Prize for excellence in Greek New Testament Studies. Rev. Pick was a Ministry Fellow through the Fund for Theological Education, where she studied holy space and Christian pilgrimage throughout Europe. With a particular passion for incarnational preaching and worship, Rev. Pick has found creative ways to engage facets of emergent worship within large and small congregational settings. She draws upon all the senses in liturgical movement and ritual to create worship experiences that involve whole-bodied devotion.