March 20, 2016 / HEALING / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 11:1-10 / Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-10 (NIV)
As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Picture it – what we have just read from Mark’s gospel. In Jerusalem. It is almost the Passover, the greatest of all the Jewish feasts. People from the entire known world are making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. Passover is the annual holiday that commemorates the first Passover, when God freed the Jews from Egyptian bondage during the days of Moses. Think: the 10 plagues of Egypt, blood on the doorposts, Moses splitting the water of the Red Sea in half. That’s what they’re remembering. …Hundreds of thousands of people were commuting to Jerusalem as they did every year – this is crazy holiday traffic here.
But this year, as the crowds grew in the city, they had more than the Passover on their minds.... There was a lot of murmuring about Jesus. Word of his miracles had spread, so many had heard him teach and witnessed his healing and people were looking for him, curious, were these stories true?
In Matthew’s gospel—I find this so interesting—Matthew describes this scene by saying that the whole city of Jerusalem was stirred. The Greek word Matthew uses here is "seismos", which means “shock, quaking, trembling.” From there we derive our word seismic – like the seismic activity of earthquakes. This city, was quaking.
As Jesus approaches the city, crowds begin to take off their coats and lay them on the ground, they climb tress and cut off palm branches to wave them and throw them down for the donkey to walk upon. Then, the crowd goes wild. …And the people are shouting King!, but Jesus does not look like a king – no fancy robes, his "mighty steed" is just a donkey. And the guys he’s with are not royal officials. They are his disciples, fishermen and hated tax collectors. There could be nothing more ordinary and plain than what this “King’s” parade looked like.
Yet. No parade, no procession that ever passed through the streets of any city has so set its mark on history as this one. Not even the Seahawk’s parade in 2014 through the streets of Seattle as Superbowl champions, not even that parade has left such a mark – were you there? But only Jesus’ plain parade, this one, is known and retold year after year, century after century.
Maybe you are like me and you have heard this Palm Sunday story before. Maybe as a kid. Maybe most years as you have been in church. Or maybe you’re new to it. Regardless I know for me, there are a few puzzling things about what is actually happening here, and maybe you feel that way too. And each year it is good to unpack the curious things that actually give this text a lot of meaning for us today. And the three things I wonder about in this are the donkey, and yes, the palm branches, and the Hosannas.
First, let’s talk about the donkey. Because Jesus could have just walked into Jerusalem on that morning nearly 2,000 years ago. Did you notice the very specific details about this donkey, how Jesus sends his disciples to find it. What’s up with the donkey? As you might imagine, this is hugely significant. Details in the Bible usually have incredible meaning. Even a donkey.
Israel, God’s people had been waiting to be freed from slavery and domination and abuse from those in power, most recently the Romans. And throughout the centuries, there had been these words and signs and promises that God would come in a final, conclusive kind of way, God would send a Messiah who would throw down the oppressive powers, who would rule as King, and free them once and for all. We hear this woven through the Old Testament. And it says: a donkey would carry this king. As named by the prophet Zechariah 9:9: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Zechariah 9:9
That’s like giving the make and model number of someone that you should be watching for. So when they see this donkey, they know this description, they know who this is: the Messiah. That’s why there’s such donkey detail – two of the disciples going into a village and finding the colt for Jesus to ride upon – seems like Jesus and his disciples are really high maintenance, but really there’s this historic, prophetic significance. There’s a larger story being told. Jesus is the guy. He fulfills this prophecy as the foretold King. …So that’s the donkey.
Second, what’s up with the palm branches. Because you’re holding one too right now and why is that?
You see, palm branches are an emblem of victory and restoration. Think about that: victory and restoration. And that comes from Revelation 7:9 there’s a scene of what God longs for us to be – remember, Revelation is the last book of the Bible and one of the things it does is describes this poetic, powerful vision of where our world is headed, what God’s Kingdom will look like one day – it’s rich with symbolism and metaphor. And John who pens Revelation, says this of that vision: “…I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Rev 7:9This is a beautiful vision, this hope for people of every kind to be together in one place. I figured there had to be some good images on the interwebs of what this looks like. And I was not disappointed.
There’s this one. And this one. It looks a little but like a giant high school choir concert – but you get the idea – if this inclusive, powerful vision God has for the world. The fact that the crowds in Jerusalem use these branches for Jesus is to say that he’s the guy to do the job. That’s why we wave palm branches year after year. Victory, and restoration of this world and all its people.
And then, finally what’s up with the word: Hosanna! Why are they shouting this word at Jesus? For me, I grew up attending church and Hosanna, to me, was one of those churchy words like Halleluiah! A word of exclamation and something we sang a lot. I didn’t think it actually meant anything except maybe a kind of Yay, God! But it actually means something in Hebrew (who knew?). Do you know what it means? Save. Save us. So we know that the crowd is shouting SAVE US because, yes, they see Jesus as this King who has finally come to save them from high taxes, people taken advantage of, abusive leadership. Help us! Do something! Because they have waited for so long for someone to do something, for freedom to come. And here, here, surely he will do something.
So these three things – a donkey, palm branches, Hosanna – we see how there is rich significance in why these strange pieces are part of the story – part of the larger story that is happening here. Now, whenever we look at Scripture we put ourselves there in what’s going on – and look around and ask questions. Because we believe that God continues to speak to us, nudge us through the things we find in scripture.
And for us, with what we see going on in this text, if we stand in that crowd, one of the questions we are compelled to ask, really, every year when we come back to Palm Sunday is this: For what do we cry out: hosanna? Save us.
What do we cry out for? What I mean by this question is this: we’ve all got stuff we’d like fixed or taken care of or changed – in ourselves, in our circumstances and relationships, and absolutely in the wider world. We all are carrying something, facing something, living with something that we don’t want to carry anymore. And we each can admit that honestly and transparently and not with layers of guilt or shame piled on – we are all a work in progress. And we all need help with something. So for you, where do your deepest hopes lie? What do you long for Jesus to save you from?
And let’s just name that there are some unhelpful layers of Christian lingo piled on when we use the words, “Save us.” We’re not talking about a God who saves us to follow a bunch of rules and pretend to be something we’re not. That’s not the kind of saving we’re talking about. Instead. If Jesus is who he claims to be – the Messiah, the one who is God come to us in flesh and blood, showing us a way into life and love, then what hopes do you dare to place in him? What is it for you?
I wonder how Ed would answer this question. If you’ve been around the last few weeks, then you know this Lenten season we have been living through Ed’s Story. A video each week of Ed, a pastor who was diagnosed with ALS, and given 2-3 years to live. We entered his story after he’s still around for 10 years. And we’ve seen Ed distilling down what matters most in life, listening for God and wrestling with how to live the best life possible, especially when you know you’re dying – all the way sin which Ed was not done living. And so we, too, have wrestled with the big, beautiful questions.
And tonight, now, we see our final video with Ed. This is it. Video #7, called Healing. Healing. What does healing look like when you are dying from ALS? What are you really praying and hoping and asking for? Which is interesting, because in the New Testament, the Greek word used to say “to heal” is the word = sozo. Sozo also means = “to save.” Notice: in the life of God, healing and saving are interchangeable. To cry out, Save us! Is really to also ask, Heal us! Isn’t that fascinating? To heal is the same as being saved. And we watch Ed this final time as we hold these Palm Sunday words, together: “Save us, heal us.”
ED’S STORY 7: Healing
Ed Dobson lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his ALS diagnosis in the year 2000 at Christmastime. If you watched the first video from Ash Wednesday then you remember he talked about how much he loved Christmas, and how he thought that as he received that diagnosis, that it would be his last Christmas. Ed lived for fifteen years, and Ed just died, on December 26th, 2015, 12 weeks ago. At the age of 65. Ed said he loved Christmas – he died on December 26th which means he got to have 16 more of them before he died.
In those 15 years, Ed could have relentlessly prayed and prayed and prayed for healing. And he DID pray for healing – but he could have done it in a way that kept him so focused on the specific physical healing of his body of ALS – to have been so myopic on that one form of what healing could be, that he would have missed so much. He would have missed a 15-year journey that led him into a truer reality of wholeness.
Which is why Ed’s final words for us were these: “Healing is more than a cure. It is wholeness – with God, others, and self. THAT is healing to me.” - Ed
Wholeness. Friends, as we place ourselves in the crowd in Jerusalem, as we try to name for ourselves what it is that we long to be saved from, I wonder if there are ways in which we, too, could be too myopic, to focused on what healing and saving could look like in our lives and world that we’re missing a truer reality of wholeness. Are we looking for and hoping for the wrong thing?
An example – Jason and I have dear friends in California, Tami and Phil. And they were trying to get pregnant for a few years. And a year ago at Easter time, they adopted Bella. And then two months later, Alondra was placed in their home, at 6 months old. And Alondra will be fully theirs in a few months. (Pic of Tami and Phil) Two daughters, only one year apart in age. A kind of wholeness that they weren’t quite looking for, and yet here it is. What might be the broader vision of wholeness in your life?
This is the question we hold this week. This week. Holy Week. A week where God changes the course of human history. In many ways, this week is "history's hinge," the most pivotal week in the life of Christians every year. In this week we journey through the final events of Jesus’ life, his death, and yes, his resurrection. And these events – cause us to stop and wonder and listen, and catch our breath once again at the beauty and complexity and sacrificial nature of the life of God. Here, in death on a cross we will be confronted with an upside-down way of seeing the world. Where power comes in weakness. Where the king is the one who serves. Where death actually leads to life.
And this crowd who we stand with in Jerusalem today, the ones who think Jesus is so entirely, off-the-hook fabulous that they’re taking off their shirts so that Jesus’ donkey doesn’t have to walk on the dirt – these same folks will in a few short days, change their tune, as their cries for salvation, for healing, for wholeness, become brutal, merciless cries, of “Crucify! Crucify him!” Even when given the chance to pardon Jesus, they say to kill him.
I wonder: could it be that the crowd, their view of salvation, healing, wholeness, had grown so myopic, so focused on the political rescue they longed for – and don’t get me wrong, Israel was waiting for centuries for God to save them in a final way – I would be right with them – looking for a true King to crush the brutal Romans. But had their view of salvation, grown so focused that they could not see the truer reality of wholeness and freedom and salvation that was right before them? Did they miss what healing could look like?
Friends, Holy Week, like no other week opens us up to pay attention. To look at our motives and motivations. To name what it is we long to be saved from. And to ruthlessly ask if we’re missing what might be right in front of us. Ed’s Story makes is beautifully clear that wholeness – the kind that Jesus offers us – is not limited to what we might think wholeness could be.
Friends, you don’t want to miss it as we gather this Friday at 9pm. As we make space together to hear Jesus’ story as our story once again, and to live into these questions of wholeness more fully. And then you won’t want to miss it on Easter Sunday. Resurrection. Surprise! You didn’t see that one coming! It is a journey we begin today. We begin it as we hold what these past 6 weeks have been for us, a journey about life and death, about being honest about who we are and who we are becoming. Let’s pray…
Let’s pray…God, we stand with the crowd in Jerusalem, with our palm branches in hand, with our hope placed in you for wholeness. And we call to mind all the places where we long for wholeness – in ourselves, our relationships, our loved ones, our world. Let the meaning of this holy week seep into our bones. Let us choose the time and intention to get caught up in the story of Jesus. And may these moments now and the week to come, be a time of getting lost in the wonder of God – for there, we never know what you might do for us or for the world. Let it be so. Amen.