Category Archives: Palm Sunday

This is the day the Lord has made.

Some Psalms are sung at the various Jewish holidays every year. Music used in that way occupies a special place in minds and hearts. Think of cherished Christmas music. It becomes associated with a season, with the deeper meanings of the festival, and with how we feel hearing that music with family and friends, year after year.

Those Psalms are 113 through 118. It was Psalm 118 that the crowd sang as they lined the road down the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, waving palms and laying their clothes on the path. That’s traditionally the song that follows the Passover Meal (the Seder). If you ever get a chance to share Seder, do it; from bitter tears and hard labor, praying for enemies, lifting the glass to honor the Almighty, the kids, the fun, and the one place set for “someday” when the Prophet Elijah will join the feast. It’s great symbolism, family time, and a time for hope. Jesus was headed into Jerusalem with the Passover Seder in mind and Psalm 118 echoing on the voices of his followers.

22 The stone which the builders refused is become the headstone of the corner.
23 This is the Lord‘s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord.

Verse 25 is the word HOSANNA!
Verse 27 (the King James translators had trouble with it) describes palm fronds tied to poles the same height as the altar to make a “booth” as in Succoth.

The last words Jesus would have heard as he entered the eastern gate to set up his kingdom would have been “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.”

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Are we donkeys?

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Here’s the part of the Palm Sunday story that is usually skipped over. Before riding into Jerusalem, Jesus tells two disciples to go into town, find a donkey and her foal, untie them and bring them to him. He tells them if the owner says “hey, where you going with my donkeys?” just say “The Lord has need.”

Do you think that’d work? Just steal someone’s donkey and foal and say “no sweat, the Lord has need” and the owner will say “oh, ok?”

It always seemed strange to me. Pastor Todd Puckett decided to preach on that this morning at Redwood Family Church. What do y’all imagine his point was?

Hint: he started the sermon by calling his congregation “donkeys.”

Clothes Sunday

Palm Sunday could be called Clothes Sunday.

The people took off their clothes and laid them on the path for the donkey to walk on.

I have never heard that explained or preached about. So I’ve been trying to understand. I found references to Egypt and to Babylon, not helpful but interesting. I didn’t know kids ran around naked in Egypt until they were 6 years old, then they were dressed and consider adults. I found some Greek references to clothes… mostly related to burial practices; tearing clothes to indicate great grief, too.

Think about the whole technology of raising sheep or growing cotton, carding, spinning, weaving, dying. The ancient clothing industry must have been a big part of daily activity. And clothes must have represented a significant portion of personal worth. People couldn’t go to the Thrift Shop and find 99-cent Tee Shirts.

I have not found facts that I can report with certainty, but the suggestion is that this relates to the Roman system of occupation (and might be older of course). Namely as a conquering and superior army entered a given town or village the people put their clothes down on the road to show they were unarmed and had surrendered in total vulnerability, “we give up, you’re in charge.”

The Roman system, somewhat like all empires and like all mafia was based on protection money. They spread a common language and “management style” that stopped petty warlords and squabbles; the resulting peace (Pax Romana) allowed an increase in productivity that exceeded the tribute they extracted. They grew so large and powerful that no one at that time could stop them. (This was before the tribes of Europe decided they wanted to knock down Roman structures and haul the stones north to build castles for themselves).

I suspect the Roman invasion and occupation of independent Judah (only a few years earlier) was a scene of such a surrender. Many still resented the Romans and their puppet King Herod, and his network of cooperative business owners and religious leaders. This was just 40 years before the Romans gave up on the Jews, burned the Temple and kicked them out of Jerusalem, giving it to the Palestinians who cooperated with ’em. It wasn’t all that long ago.

Most scholars recognize Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a sort of a play with the main theme being Kick Out The Romans. There are doubtless other dimensions and I think the clothes on the path might be a clue. I am not sure the crowd, gathered at Bethany and inspired by the restoration of Lazarus a week before, who lined the way, weren’t actually surrendering to a new “management style” based on forgiveness, love, healing, sharing, and caring for the weak. I am not sure I can agree with the point often stressed by advocates of Propitiation that those are the exact same people who later asked for the rebel Jesus bar Abbas to be freed and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. There were too many Agent Provocateurs about.

Can “you and me” relate to the crowds in either scene? Some of us want a more righteous community, some defend the rich and powerful still today. I think “you and me” get to lay our possessions on the path before one of the two Jesus’s; the one who tried to trigger the revolution with a dagger and the blood of bureaucrats; or the one who actually triggered a spiritual revolution accompanied by the people singing Psalm 118, his own blood, and Psalm 22 sung as a solo from a cross.

Palm Branches

The crowd heading to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem with Jesus and the readers of Mark and the gospels 50+ years later both knew the story of Simon Maccabeus. He lived when the genocidal Antiochus Epiphanes ruled over Palestine. The stories of the Maccabean revolt did not make it into our Canon of Christian Scripture. They’re in the Apocrypha. It’s kind of important to know that story to understand Palm Sunday, though.

In 167 B.C. Antiochus caused a full-scale revolt when, having already forbidden the practice of Judaism, he erected an altar to Zeus inside the Temple and cooked some pork on it (which the Book of Daniel called the “abomination of desolation”) Antiochus was an advocate of Hellenism. He meant to improve the lives of his subjects by replacing their old superstitions with Greek thought. The Jews didn’t appreciate that opportunity though (smile). The Book of First Maccabees reports that the Greeks “… put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their dead mothers’ necks.” (1:60-61) (can you imagine?)

Mattathias, an old priest, rounded up his five sons and all the weapons he could find. A guerrilla war was launched against Antiochus’ soldiers. Though Mattathias died early on, his son Judas, called Maccabeus (The Hammer) was able within three years to cleanse and to rededicate the temple with no small thanks to external events between the Greek occupiers and the Persian army. But, 20 years later, after Judas and a successor brother, Jonathan, had died in battle, a third brother, Simon, took over, and through his diplomacy achieved Judean independence, establishing what would become a full century of Jewish sovereignty (ending with the Roman occupation in Jesus’ time).

Jewish independence was an occasion for great celebration. “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel” (I Macc. 13:51)

Why do you supposed Jews carried palm fronds? They were going to make “booths” see Leviticus 23 or look up Succoth. It’s good to know the background. Christians often miss references because we don’t read the Apocrypha or celebrate Jewish holidays. Jesus’ contemporaries and Mark’s readers were steeped in this stuff. Modern Jews still use palm fronds at Succoth.

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Donkey Riding

Consider:

1. Solomon rode a donkey into Jerusalem after being anointed and coronated as king to succeed his father, David. (See 1 Kings). Briefly, Adonijah (another of David’s kids) wanted to be king, gathered an army (on a hillside across from Jerusalem). So
lomon’s mother (Bathsheba) heard about this so went to Old Feeble David and reminded him of the promise he made to Solomon (she wanted to be Queen Mother, naturally). So David ordered the coronation and let Solomon ride David’s own mule. He was anointed with oil near a spring in a valley (on the NW side of Jerusalem). He entered Jerusalem with a loud crowd and horns blowing, quite a stir. (Adonijah got the point). There are no extra-biblical records of David or Solomon, but this was probably just after 900 BCE… at the start of First Temple Judaism.

The big Temple project had involved enslaving most of the tribes Solomon ruled and caused a great deal of internal strife. The tribe that called God Jehovah, the tribe of Judah, the Jews… and the tribe that called God Elohim, worshipped in Beth-El, and called themselves Isra-El remained, but were so weakened that the Assyrians would come take away Israel and soon the Babylonians would take away the leaders of Judah, destroy and loot Solomon’s temple.

2. Zechariah was a writer during the Exile period (the reign of Darius the Great). There is historical evidence that he lived and wrote around 587 BCE. He was influential in the Second Temple building project after Cyrus the Great had decreed that the Exiles could return to Jerusalem. He used figurative language to encourage a return to classical faith and hope. His messianic language influenced the early Church (a lot) and his images appear in the Gospels and the Revelation of John. One of those images is Messiah reinterpreting Solomon’s entry into Jerusalem (See Zechariah 9:9) with an even-more special donkey and even louder shouts and noise. It’s clear that Mark and the other gospels deliberately referred to this text in the Palm Sunday account (they even mention it).

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Jesus heads to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday:

The written reports of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem come to us from a time perhaps 60 years after it happened. They spent a couple of generations in the oral tradition. Clearly, from Paul’s letters, Hebrews, James… clearly, the Christian Church was alive and growing by that time. The first gospel tract was Mark’s. Matthew and Luke expounded on it. John didn’t obviously copy Mark, but the Palm Sunday story is in John’s Gospel, too. It must have been in the set of common teachings in the early church.

See the following:
Mark 11:1-11
Matthew 21:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

I am not a fan of “harmonizing” but these four accounts have common elements and helpful overlapping points of view. You should read them or find a site with them in parallel.

Jesus approached Jerusalem through Bethphage and Bethany. The unnamed village, home to the donkey and foal, is probably Bethphage. Both are on the West Bank. Different places have been named Bethphage over the years so we don’t know exactly where it was in Jesus’ time. Bethany is where Lazarus died (and was raised from the dead by Jesus)…. the home of Mary and Martha (a 2000 year old building there is said to have been their home). The ancient meaning was (probably) Bethany = place of unripe figs, Bethphage = place to eat figs.

That detail probably means nothing, but a year before Jesus had likened the Temple system and religious priests to a fig tree that was not bearing fruit. He warned that he would dig around and give it a year to start bearing fruit or there’d be an ax taken to the roots. They didn’t like Jesus.

The two disciples sent to retrieve the donkey and her foal are probably Peter and John (since they were the two also sent to prepare the Seder). Often when Jesus doesn’t do something himself, but tells disciples to do it, it can be an instruction to the Church seeking to be Christ-like today (see the miracle of feeding the 5000).

Palm Sunday

Donkey-top view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.