Palm Sunday 2014



Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration


The text in the Missal (p. 123: ‘Dear friends in Christ …‘) cannot be bettered. However, care should be taken to read it as if it were one’s own notes so as to stress the notion that we are entering into the Great Week, accompanying Christ in the Paschal Mystery. 

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Michel DeVerteuil
General comments


The gospel reading for this Sunday is the passion of Jesus, St Matthew’s version. The story of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which is read during the ceremony of palms, is not merely a highly significant event in the life of Jesus, it gives us the key to interpreting all that subsequently happened to him. Meditating on this story is therefore an excellent start to Holy Week.
To understand this event it is essential to read two passages from the Old Testament:
- Psalm 118, a song of thanksgiving as a victorious pilgrim enters Jerusalem and the temple;
 - Zechariah 9:9, 10, where the prophet paints a picture of God’s chosen one coming to save his people. 

Textual comments

       Verses 1 to 3 of Matthew’s text show us that Jesus made a deliberate choice to enter Jerusalem according to his own value system, and he was conscious that he was in line with Zechariah’s vision.
       You can meditate on the story from the point of view of Jesus: when have you experienced someone – perhaps yourself – making the choice that Jesus made? You can focus on the crowds instead: how does it feel to welcome someone (an experience or a reading) that clearly comes “in the name of the Lord”?
       The climax to the story in verses 10 and 11 is significant too: this is the kind of thing that happens when God’s messenger enters a city. 
 

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Homily notes

The Missal (p. 132) says that’ a brief homily may be given: There is definitely a case today for taking up this permission to omit the homily altogether; not because such an omission might shorten an already long liturgy, but since we have just come through one of the longest verbal elements in the whole of the liturgy (the passion), another verbal event (a homily) does not bring contrast or help the gospel reading to sink. in. A better way to highlight what has been read would be. a couple of moments of structured silence (e.g. ‘Let us now reflect in silence on the passion of our Saviour’) before standing for the Creed. On the subject of the length of today’s liturgy we should remember that length of time is one of the key non-verbal ritual cues that hu­mans use to indicate special importance: a crucial symbolic event that is over in a moment, or takes just the same length of time as an ordinary event is an anti-climax – do not forget that Christmas dinner must take longer than an everyday meal. Because this is a special day opening a special week, it should and must take a noticeably longer time than an ordinary Sunday.

If one does preach, then the brief comments should be directed to introducing the week as a whole rather than particular com­ments on the readings. This could take its starting point from the gospel outside – that Christ has arrived at, and entered Jerusalem, and that ‘his hour’ has arrived. As Christians we are sharers in this event.

If the situation calls for a meditation rather than a homily, then a suitable meditation is provided in the Christ-hymn (the second reading) as a way of interpreting the events narrated. However, rather than re-reading it directly from the lectionary it can be broken up into its verses and read with pauses. The ver­sion used in the Office is better for such use than either the RSV or JB. Better still, have it sung by a soloist and simply introduce it as the earliest Christian meditation we possess on what we have just recalled about the death of Jesus.

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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection


The long gospel reading (including the gospel preceding the entrance procession) in the Palm Sunday liturgy provides us with an introduction to the scandalous events of Holy Week. These events range from the people’s adulation of Jesus to their demands that he suffer a humiliating and shameful death at the hands of the Romans. Palm Sunday and Holy Week present us with bewildering contradictions in how the people treated Jesus.

At first, the people treated him like a king. There was tremendous joy and excitement among them when he entered Jerusalem — triumphantly in their estimation. They greeted him as the Messiah. In John’s Gospel, the crowd is portrayed as having heard Jesus refer to himself as the ‘Resurrection and the Life’ and they knew that he was ‘the one who is to come’.

Less than one week later, however, the crowd, according to Matthew’s Gospel, insisted that Jesus be crucified. Their attitude towards him had changed fundamentally and irrevocably. We might well ask: Why? The reason was that he had challenged them to change their lifestyles in imitation of his example, although some scholars suggest that the basis for Jesus’ death was his actions in the Temple which had infuriated them. In any event, what a fickle and unreliable people!

Many of us today would not admit to being fickle or to having a superficial faith. We claim to be very different from those people who demanded Jesus’ death because we think that we would have behaved differently towards him. However, we forget that it was our sins and the sins of all people that Jesus took on himself when he was crucified.

Lord have mercy.
We have all sinned

Therefore, each one of us is partially culpable for Jesus’ betrayal and death. We cannot blame his Jewish contemporaries for the scandal of his death. We too are God’s beloved people. Yet we have betrayed God’s love when we have sinned.

In contrast to us, God is loyal, steadfast and completely dependable. Fortunately God’s love for us is not dependant on our positive response to him. God’s love for us in Christ is unfaltering. Jesus died ‘for our sins’ (1 Cor 15:3). In doing so, he emptied himself totally for our sake, and for the sake of all people of every time and place — although his self-emptying also includes the Incarnation (see Phil 2). Thus he brought us life on the cross even though he lost his own life there. In the face of human betrayal he proved that God’s love for us is endless.

The crucial questions for us during Holy Week are: How do we treat Jesus? In what ways do we praise him and welcome him when we meet him in our churches and as we celebrate the sacraments? Sometimes we betray him as we quickly return to our sinful ways. As we accompany him on his final journey to Jerusalem, will we stay with him or will we abandon him like many other people? Can we accept the challenge to become repentant or will we avoid the discomfort of God’s will leading us where God wants us to be instead of where we want to be?

There are so many questions. But, then, Holy Week is the week for questions in the lives of Christians everywhere

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Scripture reflection   

“We must develop absolute patience and understand the fears of others.”    Nelson Mandela 

Lord, we thank you for the great public figures of our time
       who have chosen the way of nonviolence,
       – Gandhi and his successors in India,
       – Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement,
       – Nelson Mandela,
       – Caribbean people who resisted slavery and colonialism by peaceful means.
       They have been for the modern world Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey.
       Like him they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah,
       coming to the children of Zion with humility,
       banishing chariots and horses and all the bows of war
       and proclaiming peace to all.
       It is through people like these that your empire will stretch from sea to sea,
       from the River to the ends of the earth.

       “Forgive us, Lord, that we speak more of your death and ours,  instead of the life and victory you have won for us all.”     Archbishop of Khartoum, 1994
      
       Lord, we thank you for the times that you sent us someone who transformed our lives:
       – a great leader emerged in our nation or church community;
       – our family life was disintegrating and a counselor brought us all together;
       – we read a great book;
       – a friend gave us back our courage.
       We felt a great joy, like the people when they saw Jesus entering their city,
       we welcomed this messenger who came in the name of the Lord,
       and cried out “Hosanna in the highest heavens!”

       Lord, give us the gift of final perseverance,
       that like Jesus we may come to the end of our lives
       faithful to what you have called us to be,
       and enter Jerusalem as he did,
       knowing that we come in your name and welcomed by all the saints.

       Lord, we pray for nations that are suffering from civil war.
       Send them leaders who will come to them humbly as Jesus did,
       banishing chariots and horses and the bows of war
       and proclaiming peace for their nations,
       so that their people may come out in great crowds
       to celebrate and shout with all their hearts,
       “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
       Hosanna in the highest heavens!”

       “God does not want to be an idol in whose name one person kills other people.”   Closing message of the African Synod, 1994
      
Lord, we pray for the Church. Often we are tempted to enter the modern world with the methods that prevail there,
       putting our trust in money or advertising or threats.
       Help us, like Jesus, to deliberately choose our way,
       concerned only that we are fulfilling the prophecies
       and that we seek the blessings of those who come in your name.

       Lord, we thank you that in many countries today the Church is taking a radical stand,
       rejecting horses and chariots and all the apparatus of earthly power
       and identifying rather with the lowly.
       Naturally the whole nation is in turmoil,
       but when people ask, “Who is this?”
       the crowds can answer truthfully,

                                                   “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
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The iron stove glows red with fire,
Restrains the heat that I desire.
When I approach to warm my hands,
Respect is what the fire demands.
Too close, my skin begins to smart.
Too far, the cold creeps round my heart.

The paradox is clear to me.
The risk lies in proximity.
Permit me, Lord, to come so near
that your warm love will melt my fear. 

Loving Father, let me walk in the footsteps of your Son during these holiest of days. May I never fear the demands of his love or the risks of his sacrifice.     Amen.

(Rev. Roger Swenson)

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RELFECTIONS: 

1.     Fr. John Speekman:

What we have just heard is a sad tale; the saddest story ever told. It is the story of what happens when sheep turn on their shepherd. 

They decide to ‘take him down’ and they do so in the usual way the innocent are taken down, they ‘set him up’. 

One of them, the one of whom the shepherd once said it would have been better ‘if he had never been born’, seeks out the wolves in their den. He offers to betray the shepherd to them. They pay him a measly thirty pieces of silver – and the stage is set for the awful saga to begin. 

The shepherd himself is a ‘pushover’; a ‘kiss’ and a few clubs will do the trick. He makes no fuss, no defence. He is like a lamb led to the slaughter – he doesn’t make a sound – he offers no resistance. 

Though he knows exactly what is going to happen, how it is going to happen, when it is going to happen and who it is that will make it happen; though he could foil their plans with a single sigh; though he has legions of angels at his disposal who could annihilate his enemies with a single blow, he does nothing. He knows that his time has come, that the hour is at hand. 

But why so passive? Why do nothing? Why let it all happen? The answer is simple – it is his Father’s will. 

My Father ... let it be as you, not I, would have it ... your will be done! 

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him because he knew Judas. He knew that Peter would deny him because he knew Peter. He knew that his disciples would all desert him because he knew his disciples. We who know Jesus, who have watched him and have grown to know him, understand that he would never, could never, disobey his Father. Even as a young boy of twelve he told his mother and father: Did you not know I must be busy with my Father’s affairs (Lk 2:49)? 

Throughout the whole course of his life it was his Father he sought to please, to love, to obey. His relationship with the Father who had sent him among us was everything for Jesus: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me (Jn 4:34). 

It was the Father’s will that Jesus should offer himself as a sacrifice of love in reparation for the sins of mankind and Jesus, the loving Son of the Father, had no intention of allowing anything to interfere with those plans. Remember his terse reply to Peter who thought he knew better than the Father: Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s (Mt 16:23). 

And so Jesus did nothing. He let himself be taken and whipped and crowned and crucified while we stand by, helpless, dumbfounded, awed, bewildered. The disciples fall asleep during his agony, Judas betrays him with a kiss, Peter denies him three times, the council looks for false testimony, two come forward and give it, the crowd says, ‘He deserves death.’ 

Jesus is brought before Pilate, Judas hangs himself, Barabbas is released. The whole cohort make sport with Jesus, spitting on him, crowning him with thorns, stripping him naked, striking him with a reed. Jesus says nothing. He just lets it happen. 

At the sixth hour the light hides itself and there is darkness. At the ninth hour Jesus dies. The veil of the Temple is split from top to bottom, the dead rise from their tombs, and even nature protests the crime with an earthquake which splits the rocks. 

It is accomplished. The Father’s will has been done. Jesus has repaired the disobedience of Adam and brought salvation. 

Let us pray the Collect of today’s Mass again:

Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Saviour to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection. 

2.     The Connections: 

THE WORD:

Blessing and Procession of Palms:  Matthew 28: 1-11

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem is framed by the prophecy of Zechariah (9: 9).  The Messiah will come, not as a conquering warrior astride a noble steed, but in lowliness and peace, riding on an ass.  The Messiah-king is one with God’s just -- the poor and lowly of the world.  Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in such a public and deeply symbolic way (which is followed immediately in Matthew's text by the routing of the money changers from the temple) sets up the final confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and scribes. 

The Passion:  Matthew 26: 14 - 27: 66           

While the Blessing and Procession of Palms commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Liturgy of the Word focuses on the passion and death of the Messiah.  In his Passion narrative, Matthew frames his account in the context of the First Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah.  Matthew portrays a Jesus who is totally alone, abandoned by everyone, but who is finally vindicated by God (the portrait of the Messiah depicted in Isaiah and Psalm 22).

Scripture scholars believe that Matthew (and Luke) adapted their material from the evangelist Mark, whose Gospel is generally believed to be the first to be written.  Almost 80 percent of Matthew’s Passion account is identical in vocabulary and content with Mark.  Matthew, however, adds several details not found in Mark’s Gospel, including the death of Judas, Pilate’s washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death, Pilate’s wife’s dream (in Matthew’s Gospel, divine guidance is often revealed in dreams – Joseph’s dream to take the child and his mother to Egypt, the magi’s dream to flee Bethlehem), the posting of guards at the tomb after Jesus’ burial.

Matthew is writing his Gospel for Jewish Christians who themselves have suffered at the hands of the Jewish establishment.  Many have been expelled from their synagogues and the temple for their insistent belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (the most controversial aspect of the Passion narratives historically) is pivotal in Matthew.  Matthew alone names Caiaphas as high priest during the proceedings and describes in great detail the chief priests’ manipulation of Pilate and the crowds.  Matthew presents to his Jewish Christian community Jesus as a model of suffering at the hands of the Jews (it is Matthew’s Passion account that includes the troubling line spoken by the crowds, “Let his blood be upon us and our children”).  The tearing of the sanctuary veil symbolizes for Matthew's community a break with their Jewish past.

As is the case throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Gentiles and not the people of Israel first recognize the truth about Jesus: only Pilate and his wife recognize the innocence of the condemned Jesus. 

HOMILY POINTS:

There is a certain incongruity about today’s Palm Sunday liturgy.  We begin with a sense of celebration -- we carry palm branches and echo the Hosannas (from the Hebrew “God save [us]”) shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  But Matthew’s account of the Passion confronts us with the cruelty, injustice and selfishness that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We welcome the Christ of victory, the Christ of Palm Sunday -- but we turn away from the Christ of suffering and of the poor, the Christ of Good Friday.  These branches of palm are symbols of that incongruity that often exists between the faith we profess on our lips and the faith we profess in our lives.

The Gospel calls us to take on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Reading 1) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others; to realize how our actions affect them and how our moral and ethical decisions impact the common good; to reach out to heal the hurt and comfort the despairing around us despite our own betrayal; to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. 

Matthew portrays a Jesus who has been totally abandoned by his disciples and friends.  There is no one to defend him, to support him, to speak for him.  He endures such a cruel and unjust death alone.  Yet, amid the darkness, a light glimmers:  The prophecy of a new temple “not made by human hands” is fulfilled in the shreds of the temple curtain; a pagan centurion confesses his new-found realization that this crucified Jesus is indeed the “son of God”; and a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, is embolden to break with his fellow councilors and request of Pilate the body of Jesus.  The Passion of Jesus should be a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives -- however lonely and painful our search may be. 

To Jerusalem

She didn’t sleep all night.  She got up early and pressed her uniform for the fourth time.  She showered, dressed and reviewed her orientation packet again and again — and again.  It would be her first morning of in-hospital clinical training.  Two years of intense classroom study had prepared her for this morning.  The nursing career she dreamed of now seemed real and possible.  She dashed out the door when she heard her classmate’s car.  With excitement and not a little fear, she made her way up to her Jerusalem.

They stood together in the lobby waiting for the elevator.  They said nothing.  It was their first session with the therapist.  Their nine-year marriage had hit a dry patch — it wasn’t a matter of anger or dissatisfaction, but a distance had begun to separate them.  So they decided to seek help.  As the floor numbers of the elevator dinged, his fingers slowly reached over and took her little finger.  She clutched his fingers one by one, until she was cradling his entire hand in hers.  They did not look at one another but continued to stare straight ahead.  But they smiled.  They were ready to go up to their Jerusalem.

The day had come for him to present himself to the county sheriff.  Sixty days, the judge ordered.  He was thankful that no one was hurt in the accident, but his alcohol level was well above the legal limit.  He had had a few other close calls, but this one scared even him. The prospect of 60 days in jail terrified him, but he accepted what he had done and managed to find reason to be grateful that it wasn’t worse.  With humility and resolve, he made his way to his Jerusalem.

On this Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem to begin the climactic work of his life.  The resolution and faith in which Christ enters Jerusalem should inspire and reassure us as we enter our own Jerusalems: those experiences that, despite our reasonable doubts and fears, can lead us to new hope and fulfillment.  In the events that take place in Jerusalem this Holy Week, God takes on our humanity in all its brokenness in order to heal us of that brokenness: to open our eyes to realize our need for one another, to open our ears to hear the cries for compassion, forgiveness and justice around us, to open our spirits to embrace one another in the midst of hurt and despair.  God takes on the hopelessness of the cross in order to win for us the triumph of the empty tomb.  In his Jerusalem, Christ transforms death from the final humiliation into the beginning of something much greater and sacred.  In the Christ of Holy Week, we meet a God of such great love for us that he makes us whole in his compassion and enables us to bring that same reconciliation and healing to our own Jerusalems.  

3. Fr. Munachi

What different story would we be telling today if the unnamed owners of the donkey had refused to give it up? Maybe we would have no the story of the triumphal entry, at least not in the way Jesus wanted it. No matter how unknown a person is, he or she can still play a crucial role in the unfolding of God's plan. The Lord needs each one of us as he needed the unnamed owners of the donkey in the reading. We are not told who these owners of the donkey are but the fact that they understood that "the Lord" refers to Jesus and voluntarily gave up the donkey shows that they could be his secret disciples or admirers. Otherwise one would have expected them to answer, "But who is this Lord who needs my donkey?"

A donkey was a very big thing in those day. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. It was a car because people used it to move around and do their shopping, a truck because it was used to carry load, and a tractor because it was used in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that the donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. You can see that giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was a very big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith.

Now, compare the faith response of the owners of the donkey to that of many of the faithful in our churches today.

A visiting preacher was really getting the congregation moving. Near the end of his sermon he said, "This church has really got to walk," to which someone in the back yelled, "Let her walk preacher." The preacher then said, "If this church is going to go it's got to get up and run," to which someone again yelled with gusto, "Let her run preacher." Feeling the surge of the church, the preacher then said with even louder gusto, "If this church is going to go it's got to really fly," and once again with ever greater gusto, someone yelled, "Let her fly preacher, let her fly." The preacher then seized the moment and stated with even greater gusto, "If this church is really going to fly it's going to need money." There was silence. Then someone in the back seat cried, "Let her walk preacher, let her walk."

Max Lucado reminds us that each of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs. Here is his reflection on using our donkey for the service of the Lord:

Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don't give it because I don't know for sure, and then I feel bad because I've missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don't give it because I'm too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference in the long haul.
Maybe you have those questions, too. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or hug or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check.
Whichever, that's your donkey.
Whichever, your donkey belongs to him. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the donkey was his. The original wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: "If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, you are to say, 'Its Lord is in need.'" [Max Lucado, And the Angels were Silent, p. 54]

So, what is the name of your donkey? The Lord has need of it.

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

A.    From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection 

We need to answer 5 questions today:

1) Does Jesus weep over my sinful soul as He wept over Jerusalem at the beginning of His Palm Sunday procession?

2) Am I a barren fig tree?  God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness.  Am I a barren fig tree?   Or do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness?

3) Will Jesus have to cleanse my heart with His whip?  Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of his Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my business mentality or calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God, my heavenly Father.  

4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart?  Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior? Let the palms remind us that Christ is our King and the true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in life.

5) Are we like the humble donkey that carried Jesus,   carrying Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service to our families, places of work and communities by the way we live our lives?

1.     “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.”  

Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in 305 A.D. was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court.  So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: "If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to his teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm leaves to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the king and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by his suffering and death, through active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and reconciliation with God and His Church, repenting of our sins and receiving God's pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church.    

2.     Passion Sunday and the shadow of the cross:  

The bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century was a great evangelizer who tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics.  He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship.  He would call them fools and other insulting names.  The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners.  The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him.  Finally, the priest addressed the young scoffer, saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all.  I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.”  And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!” “Fine,” said the priest.  “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me.  I want you to stare at the figure of Christ on His cross, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can. ‘Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” So the young man went into the sanctuary, and looking at the figure, screamed as loudly as he could, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.”  The priest said, “Very good.  Now do it again.”  And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.”  “You’re almost done now,” said the priest.  “One more time.” The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the crucifix, but the words wouldn’t come.  He just could not look at the face of Christ and say those words any more. The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man.  That young man, that defiant young man was I.  I thought I didn’t need God but found out that I did.”  

3.     The six-year-old came home from Palm Sunday  

services proudly carrying his palm. Mom and Dad quizzed him on his Sunday school lesson for the day. He responded enthusiastically, "Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And the happy people waved their palm branches and sang, “O Susanna..." 

4.     "Why do you have that palm branch, dad?"  

Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother.  His father returned from church holding a palm branch.  The little boy was curious and asked why. His father explained, "You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him; so we got palm branches today."  "Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny.  "The one Sunday I can't go to church, and Jesus shows up!"

        5. "What did the Christian's God do then?

On Marco Polo's celebrated trip to the Orient, he was taken before the great and fearsome ruler, Genghis Khan. Now what was Marco Polo supposed to do before this mighty pagan conqueror? One false move could cost him his life. He decided to tell the story of Jesus as it is recorded in the Gospels. It is said that when Marco Polo related the events of Holy Week, describing Jesus' betrayal, His trial, scourging and crucifixion, Genghis Khan became more and more agitated, more engrossed in the story, and more tense. When Marco Polo pronounced the words, "Then Jesus bowed his head and yielded up His spirit," Genghis Khan could no longer contain himself. He interrupted, bellowing, "What did the Christian's God do then? Did He send thousands of angels from Heaven to smite and destroy those who killed his Son?" What did the Christian's God do then? He watched His beloved Son die, that's what the Christian's God did then. For that was the way God chose for Jesus to ascend the throne of His Kingdom and to establish His Lordship for all time. Not at all the way we would expect God to demonstrate His might and power, but that's the way it was, and that is how we know what our God is like. In practical terms, that means that this suffering King who rules in love comes to lay His claim on our life. Our entire life is subject to His Lordship, not just a portion of it. To have Christ be our King means that we rely on Him for everything, most of all the forgiveness of sins.

           6. Reminder of Maccabaean victory celebration:
 
It has been estimated that some 2.5 million people were in or around Jerusalem for the Passover observance.  Jesus was mounted on a donkey -- the beast that the prophet Zechariah of old predicted would bear the Messiah. The people were shouting "Hosanna" -- "save us!"-- the traditional cry of the Jewish people to their King. A crowd estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 lined the roadsides to cheer an itinerant preacher from Nazareth named Jesus.  The palm branches and the shouts harkened back a century-and-a-half to the triumph of the Maccabees and the overthrow of the brutal Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 167 B.C. Antiochus had precipitated a full-scale revolt when, having already forbidden the practice of Judaism on pain of death, he set up  in the middle of the Jewish Temple, an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig on it. Stinging from this outrage, an old man of priestly stock named Mattathias rounded up his five sons, all the weapons he could find, and launched a guerrilla war. Old Mattathias soon died, but his son Judas, called Maccabaeus (which means "hammer"), kept on and within three years was able to cleanse and to rededicate the desecrated Temple. "Mission Accomplished"? Well, it would be after a full 20 years more of fighting, when Judas and a successor, his brother, Jonathan, had died in battle, that a third brother, Simon, would take over and, through his diplomacy, achieve Judean independence. That would begin a century of Jewish sovereignty. Of course, there was great celebration. "On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel"(I Maccabees 13:51). So says the account in I Maccabees - a story well known by the crowd in Jerusalem that day.  
                    7. Are you a donkey with a Christian name or one carrying Christ?
 
An interesting as well as challenging old fable tells of the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday.  The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him.  “I am a unique donkey,” this excited animal might have thought.   When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you."  Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street.  It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary.  The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception.  Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him.  Thus the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus to ride on him.  As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to Him through our living or whether we are Christians in name only. 
 
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B.    From Sermons.com 

Some years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was "When The Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.

On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.

It happened that way to Jesus...
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 "Everyone else is doing it."

Do you remember those words? Do you remember begging your Mom or Dad for permission to do something they would ordinarily not permit by insisting, "But Ma, everyone else is getting to do it!"

The typical parental response to such childish logic usually went something along the lines of, "Well, if everyone else jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" (Of course now that grown men and women actually PAY to go bungee jumping off of bridges, that argument might not have as much clout as it used to!)

Still, Mom and Dad's point holds water: Just because everyone else seems to being doing something, or just because everyone else seems to be saying something, doesn't mean it is the right thing to do, or say. In fact, it very often means that a lot of those people have no idea why they are acting as they are acting, or saying what they are saying.

Too often "everyone else is doing it" is a "mob mentality," a "crowd consciousness," that spurs on our most worst actions.

In 2003 yet another new techno-inspired word was coined - "flash mob." A "flash mob" was a wholly e-mailed inspired random group of people who agreed to "show up" and participate in some unified, yet uninformed, communal act. The first successful "flash mob" was in a Macy's department store in the rug department. There a crowd of 200 strangers claimed to be shopping for a carpet for their "group home," and everyone had to agree on the design. Since then "flash mobs" have showed up - by definition randomly - all over. Impromptu gatherings of people with open umbrellas, doing jumping jacks, or having pillow fights. Acting together yet being basically uniformed about the "what" and the "why" is the core of a "flash mob" gathering.

But wait a minute. The first "flash mobs" were not inspired by anonymous e-mails... 
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There Is Still Hope

The reality is that, if we figure to survive in this world, we had better have hope. The ancients knew that. Do you remember Pandora? Mythology has her as a lady endowed with every charm...the gift of all the gods. She was sent to earth with a little box which she had been forbidden to open, but curiosity finally got the better of her...she lifted the lid and out from that box escaped every conceivable kind of terror. Pandora made haste to close the box up again, but it was too late. There was only one thing left...HOPE. That was the ancients' way of saying how important hope is. Even when all else is lost, there is still hope.

This was what had sustained the Israelite faithful from generation to generation. This was what energized the crowd along Jesus' parade route that day.

David E. Leininger, Sunday's Coming!
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Creating Turmoil

In his book, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches, Robert Spike recalls an incident from the early years of the turbulent civil rights movement. Flying out of Jackson, Mississippi, Spike overhears the conversation of a Catholic sister, sitting across the aisle from him, with her seat companion. The sister is lamenting all the unrest in Mississippi, and she complains about the "outside agitators," the students and church leaders who have come to her state in support of civil rights, certain that their presence is provoking violence on the part of white racists. "I do not question their dedication, nor even the rightness of their position," said the sister. "But surely it is a bad thing to create turmoil by stirring up people who feel differently." As the sister talks, all the while she is nervously fingering a cross hanging around her neck.

There's a tragic irony in the sister's words and actions, not unlike that of the first Holy Week. For the one whose cross the sister holds most dear, Jesus, would never have taken the risk of going to Jerusalem and proclaiming a new way of living, would never have confronted comfortable patterns and ultimately endured the cross, had he followed the sister's philosophy.

Joel D. Kline, What Did We See in Jesus?
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Life Is Difficult

I remind you of the famous first words in Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled. His first words are, "Life is difficult." Then he goes on to say,

This is a great truth, but most of us can't see it. Instead we moan more or less incessantly, noisily, or subtly, about the enormity of our problem. As if life is supposed to be easy for us, and therefore what has happened to us has never happened to anybody else before, at least not in this excruciatingly painful or insoluble way that it has burdened us.

Peck says that he wrote that not because as a therapist he hears his patients say that, but because he has been tempted to say that himself. You could call it the "Law of Exceptionalism," the idea that this has never happened before, at least not to the degree that it has happened to me. "Exceptionalism."

I like that cartoon I saw a long time ago showing a huge desk, a huge CEO sitting behind the desk, in a huge leather chair. Standing meekly in front of the desk is a man in work clothes, obviously a lowly employee in that corporation. The worker says to the boss, "If it's any comfort, it's lonely at the bottom too."

Life is difficult for everyone. Someone explained to me once why they don't like Lent. They said, "I'm not into suffering." I like that. Like it's optional. Like it's an adopted lifestyle.

Well Jesus was not into suffering either. You remember he prayed, "Let this cup pass from me." But when the time came for him to go on "The Hero's Quest," the text says, "He set his face steadfastly for Jerusalem."

Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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The Tomb Is Easier than the Cross

In just a matter of days Holy Week takes us from the mountain of festive palms to the mountain of Golgatha's despair. And that is why we resist it so. I mean, do we really need the emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week? What's so wrong with just jumping from one parade to the next and skipping all the sacrifice and death stuff? What's wrong with simply moving on to the joy of Easter, with its white bonnets, Easter eggs, family, friends, big ham dinner, and of course the empty tomb.

Well, I think we know the answer to that. For starters, an empty tomb, at face value, is a lot easier to deal with than a dying, bleeding Savior on a cross. Add to that all the pain and suffering that comes with Holy Week, is it any wonder that the human tendency is to try and ignore the events of the week and simply move on to the Easter celebration? But as much as we'd like to skip Holy Week we know that the only way to Easter is through the cross. We know where the parade of Palm Sunday leads and we also know that we're part of that parade. That is to say, we know this intellectually. Our hearts are another story. Our hearts may be more in sync with the disciples and the fear and disbelief that led them to run away. It would seem that 2000 years later Jesus' disciples are still running away.

Jeffrey K. London, And When You Think It's All Over
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You Brought Pavement?
I love the story about a rich man who wanted to take his money with him beyond the grave. When he was nearing death, he prayed fervently about this matter. An angel appeared to him and said, "Sorry, you can't take all your wealth with you after death, but the Lord will allow you to take one suitcase. Fill it with whatever you wish." Overjoyed the man got the largest suitcase he could find and filled it with pure gold bars. Soon afterward he died and showed up at the gates of heaven. St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here with you." The man explained how God had given him special permission." St. Peter checked it out with the angel Gabriel and the story was verified. "Okay," said St. Peter, "You can bring the suitcase in with you, but first I must check its contents." He opened the suitcase to see what worldly items this man had considered too precious to leave behind. "I don't believe it!" said St. Peter. "You brought pavement??"

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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He Expected Fruit

The disciples come upon a fig tree which is showing a burst of new leaves. But Jesus looks among them, and says that there is no fruit. He expected fruit. It is the condemnation of promise without fulfillment. Charles Lamb told of a certain man in whose life, he said, there were three stages. When he was young, people said of him, "He will do something." As he grew older and did nothing, they said of him, "He could do something if he tried." Towards the end of his life they said of him, "He might have done something, if he had tried." That could be the epitaph of too many Christians...and too many churches.

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words, www.Sermons.com
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What Is Good For Us Is Hidden

Martin Luther often spoke of this aspect of the theology of the cross, concerning how God works in a hidden way through contrasts. In a series of lectures that Luther gave in 1515 and 1516 on the Book of Romans, he wrote: "For what is good for us is hidden, and that so deeply that it is hidden under its opposite. Thus our life is hidden under death, love for ourselves under hate for ourselves ... salvation under damnation, heaven under hell ... And universally our every assertion of anything good is hidden under the denial of it, so that faith may have its place in God, who is a negative essence and goodness and wisdom and righteousness, who cannot be touched except by the negation of all our affirmations."

Martin Luther had one more observation about why God operates this way - under contrasts and opposites. In another of his sermons, he put it this way: "He thrusts us into death and permits the devil to pounce on us. But it is not his purpose to devour us; he wants to test us, to purify us, and to manifest himself ever more to us, that we may recognize his love. Such trials and strife are to let us experience something that preaching alone is not able to do, namely, how powerful Christ is and how sincerely the Father loves us. So our trust in God and our knowledge of God will increase more and more, together with our praise and thanks for his mercy and blessing.

Otherwise we would bumble along with our early, incipient faith. We would become indolent, unfruitful and inexperienced Christians, and would soon grow rusty."

Mark Ellingsen, Preparation and Manifestation, CSS Publishing
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Lose Yourself

What does a Christ-like mind look like as we live in the world? We can see it clearly in the great saints and martyrs, such as Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer. I'm drawn as well to the idea William Placher suggests in his book "Narratives of a Vulnerable God" as he uses an illustration from the world of basketball. Professor Placher writes, "In basketball the players who are always asking, 'How am I doing? Am I getting my share of the shots?' Those are the ones who never reach their full potential. It is the players who lose themselves who find themselves. And it's that kind of self-forgetfulness that makes the best players." And isn't that the case with all of us in whatever we do?

I read about one of the fastest growing churches in the world, with branches in 32 countries already. It is called the Winners Church, and according to its leaders, it lives by a motto that comes from America's religious culture. Here's the motto: "Be happy. Be successful. Join the winners." People flock to that kind of church, I guess. But it all depends, doesn't it, on how we define winning? I wonder what kind of church you would have if your motto were "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." Or about this one for a motto, "Those who want to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for my sake, will find them."
Joanna Adams, A Beautiful Mind
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Passion Sunday: Surprising and Inevitable

At a pre-concert lecture, the conductor of a symphony orchestra was telling the audience about the major work that the orchestra would be performing at that evening's concert. The conductor told the people that if they listened carefully to the music, they would discover that it was both surprising and inevitable. On the one hand, the musical score would take a fair number of rather jarring and unexpected twists. There would be points in the concert when the blare of the trumpet or the sudden rolling of the timpani would seem to come from out of nowhere in a surprising fashion. On the other hand, however, the conductor noted that in the long run, these surprises would themselves become part of a larger coherence. Once listeners heard the entire piece from start to finish, they would find in the music an air of inevitability--how could it ever have been written any differently?

Surprising and inevitable. Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week are both surprising and inevitable. The truth is that we are not completely sure what to make of Palm Sunday...