At the opening of
her book To Dance with God, Gertrud Mueller Nelson tells the story of
an afternoon she spent absorbed in a project at her sewing machine.
Her daughter Annika, three years old at the time, dug into the basket
of scraps that sat at her mother’s feet. Annika pulled out several
long, bright strips of discarded fabric, gathered them up, and
slipped away. Gertrud writes than when she went to find Annika, “I
tracked her whereabouts to the back garden where I found her sitting
in the grass with a long pole. She was affixing the scraps to the top
of the pole with great sticky wads of tape. ‘I’m making a banner
for a procession,’ she said. ‘I need a procession so that God
will come down and dance with us.’ With that she solemnly lifted
her banner to flutter in the wind and slowly she began to
How often do we celebrate our Lord? How often do we
ask God to dance with us, acknowledging his amazing presence in our
lives? I think we need to start out this Sunday by remembering that
dance. This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, remembering the day when
the crowds of Jerusalem offered a procession to celebrate the one who
came to live, and walk, and work, and dance among us. This week we
begin our service with glad songs and waving palm branches. We seek
the joy and the attention of our beloved God. Hosanna!
cry out Hosanna, just as those crowds did long ago. We cry it
triumphantly, gladly, rejoicing in the glory of our king. We smile as
children call out, waving their palm branches aloft. We mimic the
actions of the crowds around Christ. The crowds that lined the street
and cheered for Jesus as he entered the city in his humble way. Some
of the people there had already heard of Jesus and were followers,
thrilled to have him come. But not all of them.
i do about people and the way they act together, I imagine many of
those gathered there that morning had been drawn in by the noise of
shouting. And like any good crowd at a parade, they joined in, crying
Hosanna! and waving branches with the others, enjoying a moment of
spectacle in their day.
People are drawn to what is popular,
to who is popular. It is the definition of popular after all. We cry
out for the one everyone else cries out for. Be they politician or
actor or reality TV show star. We cheer with everyone else.
crowds that morning cheered together for Jesus. They were excited to
see him, joyful even. Everyone who heard became caught up in the
excitement and joined in the cheering. But facing this week, we have
to ask, how did they go from cheering his entry on Sunday, to calling
for his painful, bloody death on Friday?
I think it is because
Jesus didn’t behave they way they wanted him too. They were crying
out Hosanna, which means, Save us. Please, Save us. The crowds cried
to Jesus for salvation, but they didn’t like how he went about it.
Jesus didn’t come with armies to save them from the Roman government,
which is what many of the people thought the messiah would do.
Instead Jesus disrupts the status quo. He over turns the
stalls of the money changers and drives them out of the temple. He
preaches peace and forgiveness instead of war and freedom. He
doesn’t do what they thought he would. And that scares them. So yes,
they want him crucified. They want to forget about him. Better that
than to change the way we look at the world.
Like so many
popular people, Jesus did not act the way the crowds want him to act.
It is like following a sports team; it is far easier to cheer when
they are winning. Fair weather fans jump from team to team, based on
whoever is winning that week. But not everyone who watches sports is
like that. There are those true fans. The ones who stick with their
teams no matter what. True fans always make me think of my father.
My father has always been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. When he
was a kid that was something to be proud of. They won the World
Series a few times and always did well in the playoffs. In the last
couple of decades, they haven’t done so well. They barely make it to
the playoffs and never last there very long. Yet he still spends his
summer evenings on the back porch with his radio, listening to all
their games. He isn’t a fan just when they are doing well, but all
This week is like that. Too many of Jesus’
followers become fair weather followers. Even the ones who don’t
actually turn on him, pretend not to know him when things get tough.
When he doesn’t act the way people want him to. Yet there are those
who stick with Jesus through the good and the bad. Even when his
actions make no one happy.
We are like that even today. We
forget the good that Jesus has done in the face of our current
frustrations and heartache. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of
thinking that Jesus isn’t helping because our lives aren’t going
the way we want them to.
Palm Sunday begins an intrusive time
for Jesus. He has quit preaching and gone to meddling. I think we
sometimes like to tell ourselves that whatever the gospel means, it
must mean that God wants to help us with our agenda. It must mean
that God deals with us like an over indulgent and too permissive
parent who wants his child to get ahead and be happy. It must mean
that God is at my service and Jesus has come to help me be more
successful, more fulfilled, more whatever it is that I want.
Palm Sunday began to go bad when it became clear that
Jesus was a threat to the way things were organized in the city of
Jerusalem. Jesus was most welcome when it was believed that he would
help you with illness, raise brother from the dead, cure cousin’s
blindness, make the demons go away; but he does not stop there. He
wants to redirect life.
On Palm Sunday it becomes clear that
when God enters our lives he not only blesses, heals, teaches and
leads, he also confronts and disturbs. Palm Sunday is the moment when
it becomes clear that God is concerned with more than our spiritual
and physical health. He is concerned with our moral health and has
claims on the power centers of our lives. You see we have little
trouble with Jesus in the suburbs or even with Jesus in the hospital.
But Palm Sunday reminds us that God is not satisfied with
being Lord of our spiritual lives or our inner lives, that is easy
enough, but on Palm Sunday Jesus goes down town and enters the law
offices, the financial districts, the brokerage houses and the halls
of government and that is where the trouble really got started. Jesus
isn’t just Lord of the spiritual edges of our lives, but our whole
lives. Jesus calls us to be followers every where we go and in all
that we do. Following Jesus in the day to day is a lot harder than
following him on Sunday mornings.
While I want to see myself
with the disciples during this last week, as wrong as they get it at
times, I know that there are days when I stand with those crowds.
Those are days when I feel like a fair weather fan. When I call out
to Jesus to save me, and then get mad that he doesn’t save me the way
I wanted him to. When Jesus doesn’t just save me, but changes
my life. Crying Hosanna to the Savior can mean that the Savior
changes everything you thought you knew.
If you cry out to
Jesus to Save you, you have to be ready for the changes that he will
make of your life. Calling out Hosanna with the crowds, is inviting
the Lord to come dance with you and your life will never be the same.
Despite our resistance. Even though we kick and scream and do
not want to change, Jesus dies for us anyway. Even though we cry for
his crucifixion, Jesus saves us anyway. He responds to our cries of
Hosanna with such love and joy that our lives will never be the same
again. Jesus saves us, even as we condemn him. Christ stays with us
even when we are at our worst. We know what is coming this week, but
we aren’t quite there yet. We who stand among the Palm Sunday crowds
know that the Word will soon be beaten, mocked, and killed. We know,
too, that that is not the end of the tale.
But we have not yet
moved on to that part of the tale. This week’s Gospel lectionary
beckons us to linger alongside the road, to lift our voices in
celebration, and to ask ourselves a few questions. I find myself
wondering, what is the way that I am preparing for Christ? Do I dare
to shout Hosanna, and accept what that means? Am I willing to be a
true follower of Christ and not just a fair weather one?
we are called to take a cue from little Annika, and lift up our best
that God might come down and dance with us. Amen.
Rev. Cara Gee
April 17th, 2011