24 March 2024

The Liturgy of the Palms is always a good time to explore the subversive nature of the Reign of God when it confronts the systems of our human Empires. The events of Palm Sunday open themselves to an element of foolishness in interpretation and application, which makes this feast both fun and challenging. We have already encountered this call to foolishness in Lent 3, but on Palm Sunday, the implications and impact of this call to Gospel foolishness are made more clear, and our need to respond is made even more urgent.

May the foolishness of God’s Reign capture our hearts in this year’s celebration.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29: An exhortation to give thanks to God for God’s eternal mercy. Also a cry for God to save God’s people, and an invitation for God’s people to join a procession of thanksgiving, marching to the altar with palms, blessing the one who comes in the Lord’s name.

Mark 11:1-11: Jesus instructs his disciples to fetch a young donkey for him to ride. Then he rides it into Jerusalem and a procession forms with people laying their coats and leafy branches on the road, while shouting out “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. Then Jesus goes into the temple, looks around and leaves because it is late.
OR John 12:12-16: People who are in Jerusalem for the Passover hear that Jesus is coming and so they go out to meet him with Palms. He sits on a donkey and they cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The disciples realise, after the resurrection, that this all fulfilled prophecy and that they had been part of the fulfilment.

The archetype of the Fool is an important and subversive one, since the fool, traditionally, was the only person who could speak truth to power. The musical Godspell portrayed this through dressing Jesus up in clown make-up and clothing. Rather than being an irreverent and mocking way of thinking of Christ, the fool image is a prophetic and transforming way of encountering Christ’s message and work, and this is particularly true as we think of the rather foolish image of a Christ processing into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – not the most compliant of species at the best of times. What makes this even more subversive and comical is the comparison with the second procession that would have been happening in Jerusalem that day – Pilate, on his white war horse, and his Roman troops arrayed in their best and most intimidating military finery. In Mark’s account of this event, the strangeness of the procession is further heightened by the fact that Jesus does not immediately overturn the tables in the Temple. Rather, he simply looks around and leaves – leaving the crowds, I am sure, rather bewildered and perhaps anti-climactic. It is only the next day, when the “safety in numbers” is no longer there, that Jesus does his work of cleansing the Temple. It is clear that Jesus is working hard here to reveal that God’s Reign is present, but to avoid either the excess of a military dictatorship, or the uprising of a bloody and violent revolution (which may well have arisen if he had done his table-turning with the crowds in attendance – in spite of what the other Gospels may say…). So, this Sunday may be a good time to reflect on the foolishness of Christ, and the foolishness of following Christ in the ways and values of God’s upside-down Realm.

Global Application:
There are two ways that the Palm Sunday theme can be applied to the current world situation. The first relates to our unwillingness to be, or appear to be, foolish. When mistakes are made by those in positions of power and leadership, it is uncommon to hear a simple, clear apology. Rather, the usual strategy is blame, denial, or misdirection. And even when no mistakes have been made, but massive challenges confront us, it is often difficult to get clear, straight answers especially when the issues have not yet been fully understood. This same avoidance of looking foolish applies to corporate CEOs, school teachers, church ministers and even parents. Yet, in our quest to avoid looking foolish, we often end up in arrogance, denial, avoidance, and hubris – all of which can lead to unwise and destructive responses or actions. However, when we are willing to admit our mistakes or ignorance and run the risk of looking a little foolish, we almost always end up wiser and more able to address our issues effectively, because we have the humility and openness to listen and learn and collaborate to work things out.

The second possible application of today’s theme is to explore the difference between the seeming foolishness of God’s Reign, which is actually the wisest way to live and which offers real strategies for addressing our world’s crises, and the seeming wisdom of the world’s systems which are, in fact, fostering inequality, injustice, climate change, ethnic and religious violence, and fragmentation of our world and societies. When the simplicity, humility, generosity, compassion, justice, and grace of Christ are fully embraced – as foolish as these qualities may seem in today’s competitive world – the impact on our world is life-giving, healing and peace-making. The question we need to face is whether we are willing to become fools for the sake of the Gospel – and for the healing of our world.

Local Application:
In the personal and local sphere the call to be a “fool for Christ” is no less important than in the global sphere. When we insist on being “right” all the time – whether as leaders, parents, spouses, or pastors – we damage our relationships. When we refuse to laugh at ourselves, we lose the abundance and joy of living and loving. When we insist on always being “good” or “holier than thou” or “wise” we lose the sense of awe and wonder that connects us with God, others, and our world. The ability to embrace our foolishness, and to be willing to appear foolish to others, is a Christlike quality that brings such healing to all who encounter it. The Palm Sunday account reveals how Jesus was willing to process into Jerusalem in a comical way, how he willingly laid his dignity aside (as he would continue to do throughout Holy Week and especially on the cross) and how he embraced humility, servanthood and weakness for the sake of God’s Reign and the salvation of the cosmos. In our relationships, worship, service, and evangelism, we could use some of the playfulness, humility, and weakness of Christ, and, if we will embrace these qualities, we will find new joy, strength, and effectiveness in our lives and ministries. Again, the question is whether we can release our fear of being foolish and embrace the “foolish” Reign of God.

Calls For Allegiance
The King Is Coming
The UnKing
A New World
Another Way

Hymn Suggestions:
All Glory Laud And Honour
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Rejoice, The Lord Is King
Ride On, Ride On In Majesty
Prepare The Way (Link to YouTube video)
Hosanna (Link to YouTube video)
Servant King (Link to YouTube video)
Meekness And Majesty (Link to YouTube video)
Undignified (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for Palm Sunday

Video Suggestions:
From Palms To The Cross