King of Grace and Glory     A Palm Sunday Meditation     Rev. Michelle Denney Grunseich    Aston Presbyterian Church

April 14, 2019

 It was mere weeks ago that we were there, at the beginning of the end of the beginning, and now we are here in the throng, at the end of the beginning of the end. Or is it still the beginning of the end of the beginning? The world is topsy turvy at the gates to Jerusalem.

There were so many things I was going to get done before I got here. Deep, heavy work. And here I am being moved along by the crowd and the I can hear them cheering and smell the excitement in the air! I was going to be ready. This time. I was going to have it all figured out and have lived into the penance of my sins and I was going to be a changed person by the time I got to these gates….but it’s all happening so quickly now. The King is here! He is here already and the shadows and light are already dancing off before me, playing tricks on my eyes even as I hear the clop-clop-clop of the donkey’s feet and lift my palm high in the air.

Zechariah already told us about this…..He told us in the scriptures, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey…” I’ve had plenty of time to prepare….the reflective time of Lent stretching back across eons of biblical history. I’m here crying ‘Hosanna!’—‘Save us!’—along with everyone else in the city, hoping that Jesus will be the savior from the Romans that we are all hoping he will be.

Fast forward over the centuries and we heard even Jesus himself tell us this was going to happen. He told us—“We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” We have no excuse—in our celebration and our burden—we knew this would come. And it’s time to be excited…it truly is!

Who wouldn’t want to be here on this day? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment, one of those days that you tell your children and your grandchildren about, beginning with, “wow, yes, I remember that day well….I remember well the day Jesus came into the city….” You remember what you were wearing and what you were thinking and where you were standing as he came past. It’s a big, real, life-altering important day. It is necessary and appropriate and natural that we should be filled with celebratory praise.

But, there’s still that nagging feeling inside, isn’t there? That unconscious knowing—that this big, real, life-altering, important day is only the start of so many big, real, life-altering, important moments to come. Like the dark clouds on the horizon that lumber around the edges of a bright, sunny day…..big things are coming. As much as we might want to stay here, in the sunny spaces, we would cheat grace and hollow our faith if we did not recognize the passion *and* the palms.

These words perfectly sum up the challenge we face on this day: “When we fail to keep following Jesus the next day and the next and the next, all the way to the cross, we envision a Christianity synonymous with winning, rather than a faith that requires vulnerable love and sacrifice…. Palm Sunday is not about Christians aligning themselves with power and status, adulation and adoration, it is about joyously standing with the One who stands with those on the margins, recognizing that we are the sinners he sought and saved and refusing to be silenced by the Pharisees or any other earthly power attempting to maintain the oppressive status quo.” (Jill Duffield)

The world is, indeed, topsy turvy at the gates to Jerusalem. We are here, people of light and shadow, people of joy and grief. We are here and we must be here. We must live into all of the celebration of this morning, and then the crushing sadness of Calvary, so that Easter morning can bring true joy. We can’t skip any paragraphs in this story. We can’t rush the ending. We just have to live it. As much as we are part of the throng singing praises and waving palms, so, too, are we part of the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” Light and shadow within each one of us….

Remember what Luke 19 tells us, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’… “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Pray with me, if you will, here as we stand on the hill of praise, before we enter the valley of death….pray with me as I recite Psalm 31:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me…. I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak…But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

This is a day full of dichotomy—of celebration and fear; of joy and dread; of festivity and foreshadowing….we need to remember that there is no triumph without suffering; no crown without the cross. We gather as this people of light and shadow.

And just as we bask in the light of the palms, we know that the week is ahead is already casting long shadows upon our joyous day….we would be remiss in forgetting the Passion, for the Palm. Thus, we will close our time of meditation this morning with an interactive reading of the Passion Story. In your bulletin, you will find an insert with the story printed. I will narrate and various readers will speak the parts of Jesus, Pilate, the soldier, the criminals, and the centurion. As a congregation, we will read the part of THE CROWD. Listen now for the Word of our Lord.

Passion Scripture
Luke 23:1-49 (narrator, Jesus, Pilate, the crowd, soldier/criminal 2, criminal 1/centurion)

Narrator: “Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate.  And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

Pilate (asking Jesus), “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus: “You have said so.”

Pilate (to the chief priests and the crowd) “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

Crowd/Congregation: “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

Narrator: On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

Pilate (to the chief priests, elders, and people): “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

Crowd/Congregation: shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”

Narrator: Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder. Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting,

Crowd/Congregation:  “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Pilate: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

Narrator: But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.

Jesus: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Narrator: Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Narrator: And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.

Crowd/Congregation: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

Narrator: The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said,

Soldier: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

Narrator: There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:

Criminal 1: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Criminal 2: “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Narrator: It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Narrator: When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Centurion: “Surely this was a righteous man.”

Narrator: When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Light and shadow dance here at the gates…Amen.