Palm Sunday: Blessed is the one

Mark 11:1-11

Today is a day of contrasts in the story leading up to the coming week’s events. We begin the story with everyone shouting Hosanna to the Son of David. Jesus is triumphantly entering the Holy City to the acclamation of the people, but in a few short days, shouts of joy and praise will be turned to the bloodthirsty cries of crucify him.

Before the liturgical reform in the 1960s, Passion and Palm Sunday were two separate days, but now, we conflate and commemorate them together. In one single service, we move from joy to sadness.

As an interesting aside, tomorrow, March 25th, is the day when the Annunciation is commemorated. This is traditionally celebrated as the day the angel visited Mary and told her that she was to have a baby and that his name would be Jesus. This year, just as we begin the slow walk to the cross, we have a glimpse of the Manger. The two stories come together and pass by one another. Such is the way of all things; as we commemorate a death, life is just around the corner. Another reminder that the death of Jesus was not the end of the story; it was just the beginning.

In previous years, we began our service outside, holding palm branches. As we did this morning, we would bless the palm and then hear the Gospel that was just read. We would then process into the church, reenacting that procession in Jerusalem. Toward the end of the service, we would hear another Gospel read, this time the Passion Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus’s crucifixion. We hear the same Gospel on Good Friday.

This year, however, my focus is going in a different direction.

Holy Week is a special time for me. It is the time of year when I become hyper-aware of my sense of spirituality, and it gives me a laser focus for my reflection and meditation. I usually choose one book to read this week, but this year, I did not pick a book. Amid home renovations and moving, Holy Week snuck up on me. We are rather lucky we have Palms this morning.

I have a focus, something I have never really paid much attention to in the past.

It’s easy to focus on spiritual things this time of year, and the Gospel basically preaches itself. However, we can become complacent with the story. How many times have we heard this story? We all know how it’s going to end, and there really is not much spin I can put on it.

A few weeks ago, during my preparation time, I read the various stories we would hear in the coming days. They are all familiar stories we have listened to hundreds of times. I was flipping through some commentaries and notes I had taken previously when a thought sprouted in my mind. During this Holy Week, I will focus on those people in the shadows of the story, the ones we don’t hear much about.

The obvious players in this drama are Jesus, the 12, the High Priest, Herod, Pilate, and so on. But what of the others?

Tomorrow’s Gospel takes us to Bethany, the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. On Tuesday, we hear another familiar story. I say it is familiar because we just heard it a few weeks ago when the Greeks came to see Jesus. Wednesday takes us to the Last Supper and those who are just off stage waiting at the table. And so on through the week.

Today, we have an interesting person, the colt’s owner, who Jesus will use to ride into Jerusalem.

We know nothing of this man and never hear from him again. We actually never meet the man himself, only his colt. He lives just outside of Jerusalem, on the main road, so there are always people traveling by. I wonder if the man knew what part he was about to play in the story.

So, Jesus sends two of his Apostles—we don’t know which two as they are not named—into the city to get this colt. Mark is not very specific in his description, but a colt can either be a horse or a donkey. Either way, it is a young beast, under four years of age, that has never been ridden.

He tells them to go and get it, and if anyone questions you, tell them, “The Lord needs it.” Scripture tells us that some bystanders questioned them as they were untying the colt. They knew who this colt belonged to and were concerned that it was being stolen. The Apostles did as they were instructed, and they were off.

I have questions. Not questions of great theological importance to which the answers will change the way I think about the events about to unfold but, questions. Did the bystanders know the Apostles that were sent? Had they heard of Jesus before? Did they follow them and join in the singing? Were these same “bystanders” “bystanders” later in the week as part of the throng calling for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Again, none of the answers will change how I think about events; I like to let my mind wander a bit.

But whatever happened to them, they had a role to play in the story, as did the owner of the colt, whom we had never met.

Tradition tells us that Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted only for three years. He never traveled more than 20 miles in any one direction from his home in Nazareth. Along this path, he encountered many people, most of whom we hear about in the Gospels. We are about those Jesus came in direct contact with and those he healed with a touch, a word, or a prayer. We have no idea how many people were affected by Jesus in those three years.

Somewhere in the crowds of people was someone who was struggling with something that only they knew about. Maybe, just maybe they heard a word or saw something that changed their perspective on things. Maybe, just maybe they were sick and just being able to see Jesus changed their life. We never truly know the impact of the words we say or the deeds we do and the ripple effect that takes place.

If we look at those in the background, they all have one thing in common: They served, and by their service, other things were able to happen. In today’s story, the man provided a colt, a simple beast of burden that enabled Jesus to ride into Jerusalem. If it were not for that man and his sacrificial act, the story might have been different or not have happened at all.

The point is that we all serve in one way or another. Some prepare, getting things ready so other things can happen. There are those who pray to give strength to others. Some give their time, talent, and treasure to make the rest possible.

A few months ago, Nicky and I took Oonagh to see a stage production of Cinderella at the Company Theater. Oonagh loves the story and music and enjoyed the play. It was a great production. Most of the attention is given to those out front, the ones who sing and perform. But none of what they do would be possible if it were not for the ones in the black who move stuff and set stuff up. They are the ones whose names scroll by quickly as we exit the theater, but their job is vital to the performance.

We all have a role to play in the story; some will be out front, and others, most of us will be in the shadows, diligently doing what we always do to make sure things happen when they are supposed to happen.

The world changed because the man allowed the Apostles to take the colt.

Let us strive to be like those in the shadows and keep doing what we are doing.


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