JOYFUL; Palm/Passion Sunday; Bethesda UCC; Rev. Vertie Powers; April 10, 2022

The psalmist says, “Go ahead and celebrate! Come on and clap your hands, everyone! Shout to God with the raucous sounds of joy! The Lord God Most High is astonishing, awesome beyond words… Sing and celebrate! Sing some more, celebrate some more!”

Pray with me: Mighty God, we wave our palms as the followers of Jesus did long ago, for we, too, long for deliverance. We join the procession with a passionate hope, yet we follow at some distance not knowing what the deliverance may require of us. As we worship this day, give us courage to walk the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, to face both the known and the unknown with faith in him who has gone before us to meet crisis and cross for our sake, giving thanks together for the faith you have nurtured within us, that whatever we may face in this world, we do not face alone. Amen.

As we continue our journey into Lent with Jesus, we know what lies ahead. We have read the story and we know what is coming next. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. The people know nothing of what is to happen later in the week in Jerusalem. They are just excited about their good news and so they shout saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” They can see, feel, smell and taste freedom coming for them soon. So, today we are going to rest where the village people are, rejoicing and celebrating Jesus’ arrival. We are going to continue to wave our psalms and lift our voices in triumph and jubilation. Today just this step, tomorrow another step, but today let us be Joyful.

Today, the first day of the week, while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and as he nears the Mount of Olives, he sends two of his disciples into the village saying, “as you enter the village you will find a colt tied up.” He goes on to say tell the owner, “I have need of it and bring it here to me.” They do what Jesus asked of them and returned with the colt. When Jesus and the disciples approach the path leading down then Mount of Olives, Jesus is sitting on the donkey and the people go berserk. They are waving palms and shouting words of welcome, spreading their cloaks on the road, praising God in loud voices for the good things God had done and for all the deeds of power that they had seen. They are happy and thrilled, no, they are ecstatic! They had all heard that Jesus was a King. They had all heard that Jesus was the one sent to save them. The lowly, Jesus would lift up, the mighty would fall to lowly depths. Those hungry and thirsty would no longer suffer for their hunger pangs would be eased and their thirst quenched. All of their enemies would be slayed and the privileged would no longer be exalted. At last, their turn to be lifted up is coming. No more running and hiding. No more using carefully chosen words. No more trying to be invisible. And so, they think, today is the first day of the rest of their lives. This young Galilean who had stirred up so much attention and they hope that he might strike a blow for the nation, a blow against Rome and for the homeland. The fact that the crowd waves palm branches is the big clue that they had mistaken the kind of king Jesus is. The palm branches were a symbol of nationalistic zeal. They misunderstood the true nature of Jesus’ kingship.

Have you ever had a moment like that, where you thought most if not all things would be set right? I have and does it ever feel good! Remember the 2008 United States Presidential election? The one where the junior Senator from Illinois and the senior Senator from Delaware were elected President and Vice President of these United States of America. I saw the crowds across the country, in huge numbers coming together with raised voices, waving arms and signs, jumping and shouting and crying.  It looked like the entire city of Chicago came out into the streets cheering and lifting up their adopted son, and brother. He was a transplanted Chicagoan from Hawaii. There was the belief that things would change for the better. It was believed that now everyone would have a fair chance. It was believed the most vulnerable and the least and those without voice would not be heard. You could hear the voices of Black people, those who had lived three score years and those who had lived three score years plus saying, “I never thought I would see this happen in my lifetime. Maybe my children or my grandchildren but not my lifetime.” It was a time of rejoicing. For surely freedom had come for many; Black people, white people, indigenous people, Latino folk, poor people, suburban folk, rural people, immigrants, poor people, working class people, single parents, what became known as dreamers, people with no health care, people with none to little education, people with lots of education; all of us just looking for a piece of what is called the American dream. We believed freedom had come for all of us and so we were joyful. Exceedingly and abundantly joyful.

You remember those times when you just couldn’t help but raise your voice in anticipation of the good that was coming and we could not and would not let anything or anyone take away our joy. Your first love, your marriage, the birth of your child, your graduation from high school and college, your first paycheck, your first promotion, the first home you purchased, your grandchildren, some of your first were met with great joy and at that time you didn’t need to know the rest of the story, you were just filled with something I am going to call joy.

Recall that feeling and hang on to it, because that is what the folk on the path down from the Mount of Olives was feeling. They were so loud that some of the politicians and religious leaders came to Jesus to ask for help in controlling and quieting the people, they said “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” They wanted the crowd to disperse and go home. They wanted them to be quiet and to stop shouting. They wanted the celebration over. Jesus was not having any of this. Jesus said it does not matter if they are quiet for if they are quiet, the rocks are going to shout out. Either way there is going to be rejoicing and it is going to be loud. In my sanctified imagination I believe, they were calling out around their world, are you ready for a brand-new beat, they were dancing in the street. They were ready for something new, they were going forward, they might have to step back and regroup but they were in forward motion mode.

Even though they had a few things wrong, they did not know that. So let us get on board and join in the joyful celebration. Monday is coming but it is not here today. I am going to sing, and I am going to shout because Jesus has entered this place. I am greeting you with power and praise saying, “Blessed is the Holy One, who come in the name of the Lord!”

Bethesda United Church of Christ, Jesus has come, and he has filled this place with the Spirit of the Lord. You have been given an opportunity to live and to serve. You may not get what you want however, you will get what you need. So go on and begin to talk to one another and pray with one another and discern with one another, never losing sight of God and the vision that is being revealed and then at a time we least expect, there coming down the road of our life is indeed the one for whom we have hungered and thirsted, Jesus the Christ, our Savior. Since we do not know what tomorrow will bring and we know what we have here today, let us be joyful. We have some plans we are considering; much work has been done and there is still more work to be done tomorrow, let us celebrate today what we already have and let God answer the question tomorrow if this is what we want or what we need. Today we pray that God will help us to accept ourselves, the journey we are on, and God’s abiding love for us all the way. Enable us to shout our “Hosanna” this day. As we celebrate today, let us embrace a hopeful spirit as we move forward and prepare to do what God through Jesus is calling us to do and be. Amen and Amen.

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