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"Boldly Singing”

​Let me try and set the scene for you. The Holy City is flooded with people. (It is a bit like how people describe Charleston during the Regatta Festival, back in the day.)

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

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

Dr. Todd R. Wright Let me try and set the scene for you. The Holy City is flooded with people. (It is a bit like how people describe Charleston during the Regatta Festival, back in the day.) Visitors would have come to Jerusalem from all over the known world. In the words of one scholar, “The city is alive, abuzz, international, exciting. Every possible room is rented at a premium price. Everyone is out of doors. The [tourists] and pilgrims are readily identifiable by their clothing and by their manners ... by the extra bags hanging off their shoulders, and by the way they meander up and down the streets, pausing, gazing, pointing, [gawking].”[1] Families are welcoming relatives. Merchants have stocked extra goods … and raised their prices. Musicians and street performers draw people who laugh and dance. Expectation is high! After all, Passover celebrates God’s intervention on behalf of the people of Israel. It reminds the occupied that the most powerful military of the day was no match for God’s mighty deeds. It stirs the blood and makes them wonder, “Could God do it again?” The Romans know this. So they have come in force – armor gleaming, strength displayed in numbers, standing guard against any threat to the Empire’s enforced peace. But troops cannot stop the singing. Can you hear it? They are singing Psalm 118, a song of triumphant victory! The psalm has been called a liturgical script with parts for leaders, as well as members of the congregation, to add their voices. With this psalm on their lips, the priests and people climb the rising road toward the Temple. They are like the slaves loosed of their chains, like the women singing in triumph of Egyptian horses and chariots thrown into the sea, the war machines of shock and awe turned into scrap. Like those who crossed the Red Sea, they march, “the tang of salt on their lips, nothing but dry dust on the bottoms of their feet, they haul out tambourines and recount God’s deeds of glory.”[2] The procession pauses as they come to the gates of the city. The walls are massive, and they have protected Jerusalem in the past. They are a testament to the past glory of the warrior King David … and their current humiliation. But that only fuels their crying out the psalm’s demand, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter … and give thanks to the Lord!” The gates creak open and the parade continues. They will adorn the altar with signs of victory, all to express their faith that since God has saved them in the past, the Lord can do it again.


They are following a traditional path, but this year is different. This year when they sing from the psalm … “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord” there are some who throw down their cloaks for the one they hope will save them. When they sing … “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” there are some who think he is the one riding on a borrowed colt. And when they sing … “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” there are those who believe, despite the doubts of some religious leaders, that the prophet from Nazareth is the stone on which God will build a new kingdom!


Nancy Taylor goes further. She believes that this time is different because a seismic shift occurs in the followers of Jesus. Here’s how she puts it: “Until this day, this moment, until right now, the followers of Jesus had been just that: followers, largely passive observers of his ways. But on Palm Sunday, today, a shift occurs, a transformation begins. As they enter Jerusalem, the followers begin to assume the roles of leaders. They walk onto stage -- onto the world stage of a capital city during a great annual festival. For the first time since they have known Jesus, they take up their roles as players and protagonists in the kingdom of God. Against this display of power and authority, against and in defiance of it, the followers of Jesus stage a street drama announcing this: their hearts, their allegiance, their [bodies] belong, not to Caesar, but to Jesus, Prince of Peace. On the streets of Jerusalem in front of God and Rome and everybody, they announce that their hearts, their allegiance, their [marching feet] belong, not to the Pax Romana -- an uneasy peace achieved by force -- but to Pax Christi, a peace to which we are invited, but never coerced, a peace which emanates from the very heart of God, a peace that passes all human understanding.”[3] It is an act of spiritual self-discovery; of standing and singing with those who had gone before, of finding that the words spilling out are more real than they had ever hoped before.


We have spent six weeks singing the psalms along with the faithful who have gone before. We have sung of God who … is our refuge and rescuer; our light and salvation chasing away both darkness and fear; who satisfies our spiritual thirst with steadfast love and shelters us under God’s wings; who forgives our sins and surrounds us with glad shouts of deliverance; who restored the fortunes of Zion, filling our mouths with laughter and shouts of joy! And now, as heirs to all that history and all that hope, we have the chance to join them in giving thanks to the Lord whose steadfast love endures forever; we can shift from being merely followers of the one on the borrowed colt to leaders of the singing; we can risk our very lives by declaring who alone can save us! So, cling to those palm fronds. They are not just mementos of a party; they are a sign of a leader’s bold faith. Amen

[1] From “Players and Protagonists in the Kingdom of God” by Nancy Taylor, 3/20/16 [2] This wonderful description is from Jason Byassee’s reflection on the text for, 4/12/20 [3] Also from “Players and Protagonists …”
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