Dave Delaney, Salem, VA
- Who doesn’t love a parade? When was the last time you saw one, or even were in one? Have you ever seen a passing motorcade of an arriving dignitary, either in person or by video? What is going through the minds of those who pause to watch motorcade cars go by? If you knew someone famous was coming to town who was either going to be the featured rider in a parade or arrive by motorcade, what would inspire you to go out of your way to go watch it in person?
- When you cheer for someone – say your school’s or city’s sports team – what kinds of things do you find yourself yelling to generate the most excitement? A lot of professional or even college teams have standard cheers that their fans have developed. What kinds of cheers would we make up and yell if we knew that Jesus was coming to town?
- We are coming toward the end of the Lenten season. Did you take on any special extra faith-forming activities for Lent this year as people often do, such as depriving yourself of a certain food or treat? How has that Lenten discipline gone this year for you?
Put Out the Red Carpet
Even before television got involved, the Academy Awards ceremony, held around the first week in March each year, has been preceded by “the red carpet,” where arriving celebrities are greeted by fans and the press as they enter the theater. This has been going on at the Oscars since roughly 1922, although the tradition of putting out a red carpet as a sign of honoring dignitaries was common in medieval Europe and dates back possibly as far as 5th century BC Greece.
In recent years, the Oscars red carpet has been a place where making political statements has been possible, either by wearing some kind of extra decoration – a ribbon or a badge – or by giving (or denying!) an interview to one of the countless media outlets there. Sometimes wearing a particular color or style has been taken up as representing support for a particular cause. In 2018, with several high-profile concerns still in recent memory, including things like MeToo/Time’s Up and gun control, a number of celebrities took the opportunity to make statements, either aloud or symbolically, to call fans and the larger culture to awareness of some of these concerns.
Some history of the red carpet: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/08/red-carpet-history
- Does anyone watch red carpet coverage any more? If so, is that kind of scrutiny – especially for appearance and style – sound like something you would want for yourself or are you just not cut out to be the celebrity type?
- Some think that entertainers in general have no business using their fame to advocate for any particular political stance, since they normally do not possess any special expertise in the causes they represent. So if someone is that well known, does s/he have a responsibility to speak up for an important matter just because they’re famous, or should celebrities leave political opinions to policy makers and the general public? When would it be okay for someone to use fame as an opportunity to advocate for a social or political position?
- Does it make a difference when the matter of concern is something that really affects the lives of the performers, like the treatment of women or inclusion of under-represented communities in the entertainment industry?
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a few days before he was to be arrested, tried, and executed shows that he was already well-enough known that his presence could attract a red-carpet-like crowd. Do we, then, see him using that notoriety to make statements of any kind? We do, actually, but the messages he sends are subtle and perhaps not obvious to modern readers.
In ancient Israel, animals had some strong cultural associations. In our own time, think of the lion at the beginning of MGM pictures or German Shepherds as police and military dogs. From Israel’s earliest days in their promised land, the average subsistence level farming family living in the hilly center of the country would mostly likely have a donkey as one of their agricultural tools, a simple work animal that was stable on a hilly slope and did not require a lot of the farmer’s grain resources to be healthy, reliable, and effective. Farmers working in flatter areas might use oxen to plow and thresh, but only in the flattest parts of the coastal plain next to the Mediterranean or the flattest valleys in Galilee would horses be present, requiring a lot of grain to be fed and representing military and political power far more than farming.
A king entering either a loyal or a newly-conquered city would almost certainly be seated on a horse. The prophetic passage that is echoed in this story, however – Zechariah 9:9 – envisions the messianic king not on a horse but on a donkey – a humble hill-dweller’s animal – even on a colt of a donkey, so clearly would this king’s identification with common people be. And so this king, Jesus, rides into the city not on a horse but very specifically on a donkey colt.
We don’t know exactly what the original onlookers meant when they were throwing branches and coats on the path, shouting “Hosanna!” and proclaiming the rebirth of great king David’s reign from a thousand years earlier. To be sure it meant that they regarded Jesus as royalty, and “hosanna” basically means “please help (or save),” something that might well be shouted at a king. They could have meant that they were hoping for a revival of those old, glorious days, a rule that would mean the end of the Roman Empire’s occupation and a purification of worship and public life. Or they could have meant that they understood quite well that this king was going to be different, reigning not from a place of superiority, but from a place of humility. In either case, Jesus makes no red-carpet-like speeches, choosing rather to return back to his guest house in Bethany and, perhaps, contemplate the painful week that he knew was ahead of him.
- The long tradition of the Christian faith has often presented the city of Jerusalem as a symbol of our own hearts and lives. How do we welcome Jesus into the places of our lives, both in the world of our inner spirit and thoughts as well as the places where we live and learn and play? As silent as Jesus appeared to be (at least in Mark’s account of this day), those who welcomed him were not! Do we welcome his presence in all areas of our lives or are we more likely to turn away or shut him out or try and turn him back for certain portions of life? Do we hope that he’ll come in as a conqueror, sweeping all sorts of trouble from our lives, or do we see him as a disciple-maker, calling us by his example to a life of humility, service, and love for others?
- In all four gospels, we see crowds cheering Jesus’ at his entry into Jerusalem, but then calling for his crucifixion later in the week. What expectations do you think they had that caused them to turn against him? Have you ever felt let down by God when things you hoped or prayed for did not come to pass? Did you feel let down enough to turn hateful? It is tempting to think that we would never have been part of that Thursday crowd calling for Jesus to die, but at those times when we admit we might have, how then do we return to God, and how does God regard us despite our frustration and anger?
- Jesus showed tremendous courage by appearing in Jerusalem during Passover because of the political tension present during that time. Strong feelings of desire for Jewish independence, stemming from the memory of Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery 1200 years earlier, could easily spark unrest, and someone like Jesus who could serve as a rallying point was exactly the kind of person the Roman rulers would hate to see appear. What kind of courage do we need to show in representing God’s presence, promise, and call to stand firm for justice and merciful treatment of those who are often not treated fairly? Does the Palm Sunday story help us do that?
- If you have a group that loves to dig through their Bibles, have them compare Mark’s very sparse account of Palm Sunday with the accounts in Matthew 21:1-9, Luke 19:28-38, and John 12:12-19. What details does each gospel writer bring out?
- Invite your group to imagine what this event would look like in our own day and setting, say if it were made into a movie or short video and the place of entry was our own city or town. How would Hollywood portray this story? What elements (like the donkey or the palm branches) would have to be translated into modern equivalents and what would they become in our modern version?
- This is the beginning of what we call “Holy Week.” What opportunities for extra worship, study, or devotion are available in your congregation or your community? How do students plan to observe this week? What will be different about it from an ordinary week? Are there things we can do as a group to help each other take this week seriously and let it enhance our faith and understanding of being Christ’s followers?
Gracious Father, as your Son Jesus prayed to you at all times, but with special urgency during the last week of his life, we ask you to draw us into diligent and attentive prayer this week. Let this Holy Week become for us a deep root from which a strong tree may grow and flourish. We pray for all of God’s people in every place, that even if we find ourselves sometimes full of disappointment and hurt, you would turn our voices to Christ in praise and adoration, for he is our king, and we offer our worship, with you and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.