1) Prayer Take a deep breath, then be still for a moment; then pray, perhaps, Lord Jesus, please be present with me now as I read your word. In these moments, please encourage me and give me fresh confidence in you and your love. Help me be open to whatever you want to teach me. Help me be ready to respond to you with trust and obedience. Amen.
2) Read Mark 11 (below)
Read verses 1-11, Mark’s Palm Sunday “Triumphal Entry” passage. Pause, skim the verses again, and notice what stands out to you. Make a note if you’d like.
Read from verse 12 to the end of the chapter, and take note of whatever caught your attention. again.
Read this section again, slowly, out loud. Again, notice what catches your attention, the thoughts sparked by your reading, images, even memories & snatches of songs. Notice whether what stands out to you in your second reading is similar to what stood out the first time.
Take a few moments to consider how your immediate responses to the passage are relevant to/reflective of what is happening in your life now, and how God might be speaking to you through this reading.
Mark 11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
12On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
15Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.19And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.21Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
27Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 31They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
3) For Reflection Yesterday was Palm Sunday, described by Mark in v. 1-11. I’ve been part of dozens of Palm Sunday services over the years. I’ve led worship at churches that traditionally opened the worship service with a rousing, “Hosanna!” song, maybe while the choir processed and as children wandered onto the chancel for a children’s sermon. Children and adults were given palm fronds as they entered the sanctuary, and they were encouraged to wave them as the crowd in Jerusalem did as Jesus rode by. The tone was celebratory, joyous, full of praise, full of happy anticipation of the Easter Sunday to come. Notwithstanding the mortified, inhibited Presbyterians who barely managed to raise their palm fronds above belt level, everybody liked Palm Sunday.
Those who know that I'm characteristically inclined to be a contrarian won't be surprised to hear that I am a killjoy when it comes to Palm Sunday (and particularly insufferable in this instance because I think I’m right). I’m troubled by most churches’ traditions about Palm Sunday, because the original Palm Sunday was celebratory only on the surface and only for a moment.
I don’t know of any event, literary or historical, that is more laced with irony. The crowd (never portrayed positively in the gospels) shouts “Hosanna!" On Friday the same crowd will shout, “Crucify Him!” The crowd and the disciples shout, “Son of David,” a messianic, royal title; on Friday, Roman soldiers will force a crown of thorns into his head, crucify him, and slap a mocking, sarcastic placard over his head that reads, “King of the Jews.” In the Catholic church, the sung liturgy is all done in a minor key, reflecting an ancient awareness that Palm Sunday functions as the opening act of the Worst Thing That Ever Happened.
Three things were expected of the messiah. He was to be a great king. He was to rebuild, restore, and re-consecrate the temple, to renew Israel’s covenant with God and reestablish faithful adherence to the law. And he was to be a great warrior who would save Israel by winning a great victory over Israel’s enemies and oppressors.
On Sunday Jesus was hailed as the long-awaited conquering king. On Monday, Jesus went to the temple and performed the messianic act of cleansing the temple. The gospels all note the angry, indignant response to Jesus’ outburst; none note the messianic overtones of his actions; all note that the Jewish leaders responded to the cleansing of the temple with intensified resolve to kill him. Jesus speaks with royal authority, but he doesn’t seize the throne. In fact, he refuses to say what the basis of his authority is.
This remarkable collage is in the great tradition of 17th century Dutch vanitas or memento mori (“reminder of death”) still life paintings, which pictured arrangements of everyday objects to present moral lessons. The glorious bouquet of flowers in a profusion of sizes, textures and colors and whose stems are packed into a small clear glass vase appears as if it is about to topple over due to its overwhelming expanse and weight. On the marbled tabletop of an elaborately carved table we see the following three objects carefully positioned for our examination: an alligator head with a gleaming eye and jaws open, a raven with head cocked, and a small watercolor set with a paintbrush laden with red paint precariously situated over an edge that inspires the impulse to push the brush back before it falls. The high vantage point suggests an elevated, divine perspective that requires us to take account of the tension between the bountiful splendor and predation we see.
4) Questions: Put yourself in the story. Put yourself on the street outside Jerusalem on Sunday. Put yourself in the temple on Monday. Which of the available roles do you play as the days unfold? (Let’s agree that none of us are Jesus.) There are a few obvious alternatives:
Are you a member of the crowd, involved in the story only peripherally, and fickle?
Are you a disciple, following enthusiastically but cluelessly, on the brink of being devastated because of how much you’ve invested in your relationship with Jesus? Peter? Judas? James and John? Mary Magdalene?
Are you, at least sometimes, a scribe or a priest or a Pharisee? (let none of us dismiss that possibility prematurely).
for the ability to engage with the drama of Holy Week, to move through the week with an awareness that the narrative tells your story, tells the story of everyone’s relationship with God
for yourself and your loved ones.
for our church, our community, and our world, particularly in light of the pandemic
Thank God for meeting you, for the opportunity to sit, read, and pray, and pray for an awareness of God's presence through the day.
Northminster Presbyterian Church 400 Rancheria Road | Diamond Bar, CA 91765 | PH: (909)861-4715