A Holy Week Like No Other

Palm/Passion Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

Palm Sunday breaks the monotony of the season of Lent. And what a Lenten season it has been. One for the books, with social distancing, enforced quarantine, empty churches, no, I mean EMPTY churches, toilet paper fasts, all underlaid with a gnawing sense of unease, and in many parts of our neighborhood and world, fear of disease and death. The title of a recent blog post echoed my sentiments exactly: “This is the Lentiest Lent I Ever Lented!”

 And now we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, knowing that this year there will be no gatherings at the church door, no procession of palm-wavers singing their way down the center aisle, no “Hosanna in the highest!” will be heard on the streets of Jerusalem or any other city street, no sudden hinge that leads the church into Holy Week.

The skeleton crew that gathered last Sunday in our church to livestream the service talked over plan for Palm Sunday. “Maybe four of us waving palm branches could circle the camera twelve times and no one would notice all the people were missing.” What will Palm Sunday be like without our annual dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ? What will Holy Week be like without our gatherings with other churches, without foot washing, bathrobe dramas, shadows and candles, stations of the cross, without real flesh and blood people? Sometimes it seems like we’re living in an Avengers movie and a quarter of the world’s population has just disappeared.

In another sense aren’t we living what we always wished for? We have definitely experienced a break from the busyness of life, from the diversions that pulled us in a hundred directions. Things have simplified; our needs have been clarified; even as our fears have been amplified. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but this Palm Sunday doesn’t feel like any other. It feels like we’re perched on the edge of a precipice. It feels like those few seconds when the roller coaster comes to the highest point of its ride and stops, just before it plunges over the crest of the hill.

In a way, the strange silence on our streets today reminds me of the silence of Jesus on that last day of his life. Jesus had a lot to say in a three year ministry. We read his words and teachings each week. We have pieces of his sermons, transcripts of his public protests, remembrances of the fights in which he participated.  He spun stories for huge crowds; he whispered the secrets of the kingdom to his disciples.  He talked to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to—untouchables, women, foreigners, sick people, sinners. 

Jesus was still talking when he came to Jerusalem, even though his mouth had placed a target on his back.  He taught large crowds in the Temple by day, and spoke privately with his disciples at night.  Time was running out, and he wasn’t quite finished. “I have much to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” Jesus told them.   He spoke with urgency through that last supper and we even have a record of the last prayer he prayed for the disciples and the private words of agony he poured out to God on his own behalf in the garden of Gethsemane.  But when the hour of darkness finally caught up with him… when he was handed over to those who sought his life, Jesus quit talking.  He went utterly silent, letting his actions speak rather than his words.

This Holy Week will be like no other. For one thing, it’s going to be a lot quieter. But the story is still there. Jesus’ actions still speak as loudly as they ever have. And, who knows, maybe with the enforced separation and the buzz dialed back…with the shadow of danger and even death lurking over the whole scene, maybe we are ready to hear the story of Jesus’ last days in a way that we haven’t heard it in a long time.  This year, as the days lengthen, as the drama heightens, as the crisis grows, as our anxiety squeezes us, the Son of God makes his way to the Mount of Olives, riding on the back of a donkey. The drama begins. With words. With silence. With heart-wrenching passion and action. With acts of betrayal and acts of mercy. This year, may Holy Week be a week like no other.

Palms, Permaculture, and the Passion

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 22:14-23:56

Last Fall, I spent ten intensive days studying permaculture with Chris Grataski–a theologically astute, justice driven, ecological designer. Sitting with a group of students around folding tables in a cramped upstairs classroom in my church, we had our minds opened to a whole new way of thinking about life and human relationships with the whole of creation. Chris offered many definitions of permaculture, but the most robust, if my notes serve me, was this: “Permaculture is a principled design discipline concerned with the cultivation of high-biodiversity human habitats where the needs and desires of the human community are met through serving the needs and desires of the non-human community.”

Chris went on to reflect theologically about the nature of the permaculture design philosophy, arguing that it is essentially kenotic, and more that, there is an underlying kenotic nature to the whole of creation. If we seek to serve our own ends, we end up with a world that is depleted and diminished; if we seek to make room for the life of others, for their own flourishing, then we will join in wholeness that is also health–our own humanity will come into its fullness.

Read more

A Fickle Popularity


Palm/Passion Sunday

Psalm 118
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Among the more difficult aspects of adolescence is that so much hinges on that most elusive and most fickle of realities—the esteem of their peers. While obtaining that coveted commodity – admiration from one’s classmates – is difficult, holding on to it seems nearly impossible.

As I think back on my own time in high school, I can remember hearing—and sometimes voicing—the common complaint that the teenage experience felt like a cutthroat popularity contest. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising or disappointing to wake up and find, decades later, that our society, populated by alleged grown-ups, still resembles nothing so much as a popularity contest.

While we would like to buy into the myth of self-assurance and pretend that we are the kind of confident people who don’t care what anyone else thinks, we live in a world that runs on social media “likes,” positive Yelp reviews, blog post clicks, and television ratings. It’s tough not to get swept up in such things, whether you’re a minister scanning attendance records, a professor flipping through class evaluations, or a Facebook user wondering why there aren’t more thumbs-up icons next to your latest witty and/or profound reflection on theology, politics, or televised sports. It’s important, from time to time, that we turn down all of this noise and allow ourselves a reminder of what this anxious striving after popularity and acclaim actually accomplishes, and just how capricious such pursuits can be. Read more

Year B links

We’ve been doing bLOGOS for a while now. The 2014-15 bLOGOS posts will be our third cycle of lectionary reflections for Year B. This list is the complete collection of previous posts for Year B. Due to calendar changes and times when authors were unable to submit, there may not be two posts for each week, but we hope this set of links will be helpful. The authors for the two years, mostly by order of appearance were:  Jesse Larkins, Jake Wilson, Erin Martin, Doug Lee, Ragan Sutterfield, Kyle Childress, Debra Dean Murphy, Joel Shuman, Brian Volck, C. Christopher Smith, Janice Love, Halden Doerge, Mark Ryan, John Jay Alvaro, Danny Yencich, Jenny Williams and Heather Carlson.

A pdf file of the complete reflections can be downloaded here. 

Advent-  1: 2008, 2011  2: 2008, 2011 3: 2008, 2011 4: 2008, 2011

Christmas2011

1st Sunday after Christmas – 2008

Holy Name of Jesus2011

Epiphany-  +1: 2012 +2: 2009, 2012 +3: 2009, 2012 +4: 2009, 2012 +5: 2009, 2012 +6: 2009, 2012

Transfiguration: 2009, 2012

Lent- Ash Wednesday: 2009, 2012 1:  2012 2: 2009, 2012 3: 2009, 2012 4: 2009, 2012 5: 2009, 2012

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday: 2009, 2012

Easter- 2009, 2012 2:  2012 3: 2009, 2012 4: 2009, 2012 5: 2009, 2012 6: 2009, 2012  Ascension: 2009

Pentecost: 2009, 2012 Trinity: 2009, 2012

Ordinary Time 10: 2012 11: 20092012 12: 2009, 2012 13: 2009, 2012 14: 2009, 2012 15: 2012 16: 2009, 2012 17: 2009, 2012 18: 2009, 2012 19: 2009, 2012 20: 2009, 2012 21: 2009, 2012 22: 2009, 2012 23: 2009, 2012  24: 2009, 2012 25: 2009, 2012  26: 2009, 2012 27: 2009, 2012 28: 2009, 2012 29: 2009, 2012 30: 2009, 2012 31: 2012 32: 2012 33: 2009,  2012

All Saints: 2009

Reign of Christ: 2009 2012

 

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Palm Sunday

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

These celebratory words plunge us into Palm Sunday pageantry: greens waving, draped cloaks, children processing, and hosannas resounding. Six weeks into Lent, we may be looking for an escape. We hear the cry, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and we catch a brief glimpse of Jesus as coming king. Finally there is light in the darkness!

The crowds that gathered some 2000 years ago are also relieved; it’s not simply six weeks from which they seek reprieve, but a lifetime (and an ancestry) of heaviness, oppression and fragility. At last Jesus will take hold of Jerusalem! Maybe even a wisp of smugness laces the festivities; finally the powers that reign are going to be put in their place. “That will show those Roman occupiers who our God really is!”

Mixed with our anticipation, we also are prone to gather with a waft of conceit. Read more