Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: MARK 11:1-11
1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] 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,
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.
As we enter into this holy week, we step onto a path that has been walked before and we hear again the stories that take us from palms to the cross to the resurrection. Today is the first story of the gathering of people in Jerusalem, a crowd.. present and there to see Jesus and to stand with him as he comes into the city. If we just look at the words, it seems like this was an unplanned, spontaneous gathering, but if we read the spaces of the story we can hear more, that there was a little bit more time in there–the build up of the gathering, the rumors, the invitations, and whispers spreading–Jesus is coming into Jerusalem… did you hear he will be riding a colt? Just like the prophet Zechariah said–the king will come triumphant, humble, riding on a colt and we will end the battles and bring peace to the nations… ! did you hear, The disciples say he will come in the east gate.. the romans..they’re are on their way riding their horses on the west side… Jesus is going to come and save us, it’s time… what should we do? How do we get gather for the moment?
I imagine some started from out from home that day and had time to think about what they were going to bring. Planning for laying a coat on the ground might have led some to find one they didn’t mind getting dirty. And I imagine some also bypassed the box that was going to good will and picked out their finest garments like the best blanket or coat they owned to take to lay down in homage. I imagine some went and found what had the most value to them-grandma’s shawl, grandpa’s hat, the wrap that kept them warm every day and now would create a path for the one they hoped would bring deliverance. I there would have been those that did not set out from home but found themselves caught up in the moment, inspired to gather together, grab palm branches and lay them down with those who had gone already.
These crowds were inspired to gather together. They were inspired by a movement. They were inspired by words, actions, and promises being told by Jesus. They were inspired by one another in the stories they shared and heard, in the whispers to come and see and in the moment of recognizing a small shift in what they had previously known to be true. They were inspired by their seeking out something more, something bigger, something beyond just their own selves. They gathered seeking peace, they gathered seeking hope and deliverance from the system of domination they were in, they gathered seeking a way to be one with each other and with the movement of God’s spirit.
What inspires us to gather? In our country now many are inspired to gather together in different ways in the same seeking of peace, of hope, of wanting to create a solid, strong, safe world for our children-our youth-our elderly-for all ages in between. Some are inspired to gather to advocate for ways to end the violence that terrifies them. Some are inspired to gather in prayer. Some to write letters. Some to work for justice along political avenues and some to work for creating peace in their relationships amongst their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and churches. All these ways come together in the same cry and pleas — Hosanna–Lord save us. Save us from that which threatens from the outside and save us from our inner turmoil. Hosanna–save us from a world of conflict and struggle, save us from our ourselves. Hosanna–bring us the spirit of God.
As I continue to imagine the scene from that day, the image of the people laying down what they had before Jesus, I also imagine what it is we need to lay down before Jesus and for one another. These prayer shawls are one image of that because just as they are laid out here on the altar rail tey are on part of how we together represent the peace of God and how we are called to gift it and lay it upon the shoulders, the laps and the hearts of our neighbors. I have taken many prayer shawls to people for many reasons–for those who were ill, just born, struggling with grief, those who just needed warmth and the tangible evidence of prayer being laid upon them. And every time there is a good story, a feeling of connection, a moment of gratitude and grace in the receiving and in the giving.
One story in particular stands out to me today. It’s the prayer shawl I wrapped up at the last second, almost as an afterthought this Christmas as I was taking gifts and food to a father and son. The father has been unable to work because of losing his eyesight and other health problems and they were living in a very cold place. I had no true idea of his faith background, if prayers were meaningful, if he would give one hoot about a prayer shawl from people he didn’t know. But I took it anyway, with the card that come along with it. Usually I wrap the shawl on the person and pray with them, but this time because I was not sure of how it would be received and we were bringing other gifts, I simply told him it was made by a woman in our church and given as a gift of prayer and love from our congregation. My husband went back a few days later and he was wearing the shawl, rubbing it as they talked. At the end of their conversation he thanked Rob, told him how much it meant and that he felt a peace and a inspiration to keep going, to keep seeking out that hope and deliverance that he needed. When we went to move him to a new place with heat it was the only thing he would not let anyone else carry. He kept it with him, holding it through the drive and the move.
This shawl brought literal warmth and much more than that. This shawl knit and hooked together the spirit of God with a sense of belonging and laying down of what either of us once thought we knew about each other, about connections, about how Jesus continues to enter our lives in small shifts, to come even in things such as afterthoughts and hastily given gifts.
These prayer shawls are like the others ways we gather up God’s spirit and seek to serve and advocate for peace, are symbolic AND they are filled with faith. While the shawl did not solve every area of this man’s life that needed deliverance–It was God with him man and us– gathered together in ways that we do not always understand but that inspire us to keep moving on the path in this mystery of faith. In these acts we lay down who we are and we take a stand in what we are called to be for our neighbor and we place them at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus entry into Jerusalem was intentionally symbolic even as it was filled with this mystery of faith. Riding on a colt as in the words of Zechariah was a clear way of stating that the kingdom he was bringing in was one of peace. That the system of domination and violence was being overturned. That he would not play that game but would stand against it. That God’s power was coming to enter the world in peace, in love, in redemption and to enter the world not in the ways of the people but from the depths of the grace of God. Jesus comes to Jerusalem not so much as a passive man ready to meet his death but as an one who will speak truth to the powers even in all that is to come in the days that follow and as God who invites us to follow on this path.
The kind of deliverance that Jesus brings was not what all of the crowds truly wanted as they laid down what they had before him. These are the same crowds that will lose hope and lose their own sense of peace as their hosannas turn to shouts of crucifixion on Friday. They may not have been ready to lay down knew about who God is and what kind of peace and deliverance Jesus had come to bring. And yet, Jesus still enters in and continues the walk.
This is the beginning of the journey towards Easter. A walk where we also lay down our own thoughts, feelings, images of who Jesus is, what peace looks like, and how we want to be delivered. And as we enter into Holy week, you are invited to lay down our best or lay down whatever you can grab, and know that in and through and with you on this walk Jesus enters in and remains with us the whole way.