We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Voices – Palm Sunday

1. David Lose – Key to Palm Sunday

The key to the story – “Jesus suffers, that is, so that when we are suffering we know God understands and cares for us. Jesus is utterly alone by the end of the story so that when we feel alone we know God understands and is with us. Jesus cries out in despair so that when we become convinced the whole world has conspired against us and feel ready to give up, we know that God understands and holds onto us. Jesus dies because so that we know God understands death and the fear of death and reminds us that death does not have the last word. “All that we see and hear, all that we read and sing, all of this is for us. And so the fourth century theologian Athanasius, speaking of the Incarnation that reaches its climax in the crucifixion, said that God becomes like us in Jesus so that we may become like God. And twelve hundred years later, Martin Luther described the cross as the divine exchange where Jesus takes our life and lot that we may enjoy his righteousness and victory.

2. David Lose – Misunderstood meanings – being half right

…we might recall for our folks that Jesus’ triumphal entry wasn’t a first-century version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a meant as a statement. Matthew is clear: Jesus rode into town as a returning king. Moreover, the crowds greeted him as such. The hosannas the people cry have both religious and political overtones. They greet him as the Lord’s Messiah and expect him to overthrow the Romans. And the Romans take note. This helps to explain why, in fact, he was crucified. It wasn’t just an accident. It wasn’t because he simply offended the religious authorities of the day. It was because he proclaimed another kingdom – the kingdom of God – and called people to give their allegiance to this kingdom first. He was, in other words, a threat. And even the briefest of readings from the Passion narrative reminds us of the consequences of Jesus challenge to the powers that be.

The tragedy of the day is that the people are half right. He did come as God’s Messiah. But they misunderstood what that meant – not “regime change” by violence, but rather the love of God poured out upon the world in a way that dissolved all the things we use to differentiate ourselves from others and the formation of a single humanity that knows itself – and all those around them! – as God’s beloved people.

The other tragedy of the day is that the religious and political authorities are also half right. Jesus was a threat. For that matter, he still is. He threatens our penchant to define ourselves over and against others. He threatens the way in which we seek to establish our future by hording wealth and power. He threatens our habit of drawing lines and making rules about who is acceptable and who is not. He threatens all of these things and more. But they are so wrong in thinking that they can eliminate this threat by violence. Jesus’ resurrection – which in Matthew is accompanied by the shaking of the very foundations of the earth – affirms that God’s love is stronger than hate and God’s love is stronger than death. And eventually all will yield to the mercy and majesty of God.

3. Lawrence – “Street Theatre”

This is the denouement – the unleashing of the storm that has been building with startling intensity and pace ever since the outset of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum (1:21ff). Those earlier conflicts were played out against the backdrop of Jerusalem and the Temple, and we saw the fierce opposition Jesus provoked. The city extended its threatening hand deep into the margins of the Galilee. Now Jesus is bringing the fight to Jerusalem. It’s showdown time, and Mark signals its beginning with a suitably high-octane piece of street theatre: Jesus, a donkey, palm-waving crowds and a fevered outbreak of messianic political expectation. 

Mark is drawing our attention yet again to the contrast between the reception that Jesus receives on the margins, among the ordinary rural people, and the reception he receives from Jerusalem as the centre of political and religious power. Those on the periphery hear his message of the kingdom and receive his ministry as Good News; those in the centre perceive it as threatening and maybe even demonic in origin. The crowds who shout “Hosanna!” (which comes from Psalm 118: 25 and is a cry to God meaning “Save now!”) are the rural peasants, rather than the urban elite of Jerusalem.

Mark casts Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem as a march upon the city – the climax of Jesus’ “campaign” of confrontation. Jerusalem was occupied by a hated foreign power. The cry, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor, David!” is the cry of hope for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy, and therefore the overthrow of the Romans. This is political dynamite in the climate of the time. It would entail not only the overthrow of Imperial Rome, but the ousting of the collaborators – the Jewish ruling classes. Moreover, Mark wants us to understand that, if Jesus is indeed the leader of an imminent revolt, this revolution is not going to be one in a long list of failed popular uprisings that have ended in crucifixions. This one is the real thing!

He does this by placing the origin of the march “near the Mount of Olives”, a place associated in the early apocalyptic tradition with the final battle against the enemies of Israel in defence of Jerusalem: “I will gather the nations against Jerusalem to do battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered … Then Yahweh will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day, his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14: 2-4). 

Moreover, the procession itself recalls the military entry of the triumphant rebel Simon Maccabaeus into Jerusalem “with praise and palm branches … and with hymns and songs” (1 Mc 13:51). An additional factor that may have shaped Mark’s telling of the story is the striking parallels between Mark’s narrative and Menahem, who, during the Sicarii uprising, had led a revolt in the wake of the liberation of Jerusalem from Rome in 66, just a few years before Mark’s gospel was written. Menahem (according to the historian Josephus) “entered Jerusalem in the state of a king”. He went to the temple as a “messiah”.

Two contrasting images from Zechariah, echoes of rebel liberators – and a counter-image quite explicitly distancing Jesus from them

That Jesus is a messianic claimant is clear throughout the gospel. That his “march on Jerusalem” is a provocative act, heralding a final showdown with the authorities is equally clear. Throughout the gospel, the question that has been raised is what sort of Messiah Jesus is. Mark, in his narrative of the approach to Jerusalem, faces us with another, related question: what sort of king is Jesus? This is the question that will obsess Pilate at Jesus’ trial. While the Council want to know whether Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One”, the only question that interests Pilate concerns kingship, and he cuts directly to the chase: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (15:2) 

With the “Hosanna” cry of the crowds, Mark brings together two dominant traditions in contemporary messianic politics. The first is the messiah-liberator tradition, rife in Galilee and which Jesus has resisted. Now he brings restorationism to the fore: the restoration of the Davidic monarchy under a Davidic king.

4. Scott Hoezee – “A Little Confused”

 It’s too easy to picture the disciples as moving through all this with heads-held-high confidence and swagger, to treat Palm Sunday as a big bright spot in the midst of the Lenten darkness and ahead of the darkness of Holy Week, which this Sunday kicks off each year, of course. But think about it: the world—indeed, the cosmos, it is not too grand a thing to allege—was teetering on the brink of the most momentous event since the Big Bang. The very Son of God was about to be handed over, betrayed, abused, murdered. There was, in a sense, going to be a death in God within days. The universe was about to turn the corner from endless darkness back toward the Light that just is God (into that Light that the darkness cannot overcome). What all was at stake cannot even be overstated or overestimated. The very hosts of heaven—and maybe of hell for all we know—were quite literally holding their breath to see this play out. So would we come to a fresher appreciation of this story if we could picture the disciples as being a little confused, too, as maybe biting their fingernails now and then in wonderment as to what all was going on (and in pondering why the whole world just seemed to be so tense)? 

Think of a time when you were anticipating something big. And think of a time when just how that big thing was going to go was by no means 100% clear to you or certain. Maybe you were planning to pop the question and ask someone to marry you. Maybe you were facing a major interview, a big exam, or were slated to give a speech that could change your life (if it went well). And now remember the knot in the pit of your stomach that you endured for many days in advance of that event. Remember how tense you felt, how jumpy you were, how now and then someone would catch you staring off into space with a couple fingers held up over your lips as you got totally lost in thought.

You know the feeling. And now transfer all of that onto the canvas of this story. See that kind of nervous anxiety and wondering in Jesus, in the disciples, in the whole cosmos, for heaven’s sake. What Palm/Passion Sunday celebrates and observes is not simple, it is not neat, tidy, or straightforward. The air fairly crackles with electricity as the characters in his grand drama sense that something big is up. Maybe if we can pick up on those aspects of this story, we will also pick up on what makes Holy Week so momentous, so amazing, so jaw-droppingly splendid. 

5. Debbie Thomas – “The Clown King”

In their compelling book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Last Days in Jerusalem, Borg and Crossan argue that two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; Jesus’ was not the only Triumphal Entry

As Pilate clanged and crashed his imperial way into Jerusalem from the west, Jesus approached from the east, looking (by contrast) ragtag and absurd. His was the procession of the ridiculous, the powerless, the explicitly vulnerable. As Borg and Crossan remark, “What we often call the triumphal entry was actually an anti-imperial, anti-triumphal one, a deliberate lampoon of the conquering emperor entering a city on horseback through gates opened in abject submission.” 

Elsewhere, Crossan notes that Jesus rode “the most unthreatening, most un-military mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.”

I have no idea — and the Gospel writers don’t tell us — whether anyone in the crowd that day understood what Jesus was doing. Did they get the joke? Did they catch the subversive nature of their king’s donkey ride? Jesus chose an animal that had never been ridden before. Was he telling them that his kingship, his Way, was a new and uncharted one? A risky one? Did they hear him? 

I suspect they did not. After all, they were not interested in theater; they were ripe for revolution. They wanted — and expected — something world-altering. An ending-to-the-story worthy of their worship, their fervor, their dusty cloaks-on-the-road.

What they got instead was a parade of misfits. A comic donkey-ride. A dangerous joke. As New Testament scholar N.T Wright puts it, what they got was a mismatch between their outsized expectations and God’s small answer.

Two processions. Two kingdoms. Two parades into Jerusalem. Stallion or donkey? Armor or humor? Emperor or clown? Which will I choose?

6. Suzanne Guthrie – A Bridge Over Death

“I will go into deepest sorrow that I may find my God,” writes Gertrude von le Fort (meditation two). Indeed, men and women of faith from all generations, bear witness to encountering God in deepest sorrow.

The church teaches her people year after year to find the holy in the observances of Passiontide. Go to your deepest sorrow. And there, find the One hidden but for the open wound of grief. Thus, having embraced God in our sorrow, we’re equipped to extend our own loving arms into a sorrowful world, “for sorrow is great in the world, mighty and without end.”

May the blessings of this season fill you with wonder.

Glory be to You, who laid your Cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over it from the dwelling of the dead to the dwelling of life! -Ephraem the Syrian (ca306-373).  

7. Penny Nash, St. Stephens, Richmond

“Palm Sunday is a peculiar day in the life of the church. We start off shouting our Hosannas, waving palms and parading around. And in less than an hour, we hear shouts of “Crucify him!” Jesus is betrayed, arrested, denied, and deserted. He is derided and spit upon. He is mocked and stripped and flogged.

“And somewhere in there, between the Hosannas and the flogging, Jesus is anointed by a woman with costly nard and gathers his disciples together for a last meal, during which he teaches them to take and eat in remembrance, and begs them to stay awake with him in the garden.

“All of this is presented to us today. But it is too much to take in all at once. Too many events, too much emotion, too little time to process this great mystery. And so during the week to come, we slow down and go back over these events one by one.

“Today we get the overall story, the events of Jesus’ last days in rapid succession. On Thursday, we attend the Last Supper and hear Jesus teach that we are to love and serve one another. We eat with him one last time and some will wait with him in the garden overnight. On Friday we will attend the trial and crucifixion and be invited to ponder the difference between God’s ways and our ways.

“And so Palm Sunday is the gateway into Holy Week, the most intense time in the Christian year, a time when we do not simply remember the story but we enter into the story through our liturgies. Let us, then, all set aside the time to truly make it holy-to participate in Holy Week together as we journey together to the cross.”