Depression and the Living God – Lenten Series

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? was written by an anonymous contributor.


I don’t hunger and thirst for much. I just hunger and thirst to escape depression. There,
I’ve said it. But I’m not able to add my name to this statement. I need to be anonymous.

I am a middle-aged pastor of a suburban congregation of around 150-160. Every week I
stand and declare that Jesus forgives our sins and restores us to life. Yet I am bound by
pain which reaches back into my infant past, pain that I have only just become aware of
through therapy, pain that I have not yet faced—and fear to face even now.

I have grown up being driven to ‘repair’ the world, to ‘make a difference’, trying to make it
better so that others don’t suffer the way I do. I fear I have mixed that up with what it
means to be a Christian, and to be a pastor. When I fail, there is a kind of voice within my
my therapist calls the ‘savage god’ who accuses me of being—wait for it—less than
perfect. I have confused that voice with the Living God. Sometimes the only thing that
protects me from suicidal thoughts is a sense of compassion I can find within myself for
those with whom I could be rightfully angry with. I would dearly like to find ‘rest for my

I see a therapist several times a week. I take antidepressants at the maximum dose. I
pray. I believe. I love my congregation, and I have the good fortune to pastor a supportive,
wonderful community. The people know I suffer with depression, because I’ve spoken
about it from the pulpit. It seemed important for me to do so to help fellow-sufferers who
felt shame for their illness. Yet only a few know how much I suffer; I want to protect the
congregation. I want them to know the freedom that is theirs in Christ. In fact, when I lead
worship I do feel like the burden is lifted for a while. I find that I can step outside the
constrictions of the pain I feel and be with the people. I don’t mean that I’m overly
demonstrative, just that I know that inner freedom for a time and my smile is genuine.

I don’t think I’m living a lie. My problem isn’t authenticity, it’s just pain that has dogged me
since the nursery.

I’m sure there will be others posting in this series who want justice and peace for all. So do
I, and so does my community. I want the kingdom of God to come. I know it is here now, in
the midst of my pain, our pain. I know that in Bonhoeffer’s great words, ‘only a suffering
God can help’ and I take comfort in that. I know Christ’s strength is in my weakness. I just
want to feel it all the way through.

This Lent, I expect to put one foot in front of the other and walk towards Holy Week and
the Triduum. I rejoice at the destination of the Empty Tomb. But I fear there’s still quite a bit
of me mouldering in that tomb, and I hunger and thirst for it to live.


Blessed Is He Who Comes In The Name of the Lord by Richard Brown

Palm/Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a/50:4-6 IV, Psalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Mark 14:1-15, 47/14:1-15, 51, Mark 11: 1-11/11:1-13 IV

This post was written by Rich Brown a freelance writer, editor, and publisher specializing in religion. It was first posted on his blog Forewords as Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.

Here we are, once more, just days away from Palm/Passion Sunday, the beginning of the most important week in the Christian calendar. Yet it brings this rather uncomfortable question: How many Christians really care, or for that matter actually notice and alter their normal routines?

For much of my adult working life I was a (if you’ll pardon the crassness of the term) a “professional religionist.” As an editor for my denomination’s publishing house before and after it was absorbed into its international headquarters, I couldn’t help but be aware of Holy Week’s importance. And this was true, despite the fact my faith community was hardly “high church,” liturgically speaking. Well, at least the office was closed every Good Friday and there was not-so-subtle encouragement to participate in local congregational activities throughout the rest of the week, as well.

Anthony Falbo, "Gethsemene" (The Hour is Near, 2006)

That was nothing like my first year in seminary, however. I recall what a very big deal that was: foot washing in my own congregation during a Maundy Thursday service, attendance at two (!) quite different Good Friday services (my New Testament professor preached the homily at the Anglican cathedral downtown; afterward, several of us seminary students dropped by a Baptist communion service); then there was the Great Saturday Vigil service in the school’s chapel, which followed the centuries-old Anglican rite (including incense–didn’t care for it then, don’t much like it now either), a sunrise service on Easter morning, followed by a glorious Easter service in my own congregation. I was exhausted by Sunday afternoon. It’s just a good thing the school gave us “Easter Monday” off, as well.

Nowadays, well,… at least I blog. I don’t think I’ve attended a Good Friday service in all the years since.

But enough about me and my mea culpa.

I wonder: Will American Christians this weekend be more focused on the beginning of Holy Week or the end of this year’s NCAA basketball season with the Final Four semi-finals Saturday night and the finals Monday evening in New Orleans’ Superdome? It’s probably unfair to even ask such a question. And I don’t bring up the subject to guilt anyone into “appropriate” religious observance.

But maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us all to hit the pause button on life and spend some time in the Gospels. This year’s lectionary takes us through Mark, at least until Good Friday when, as always, the lectionary focuses on the Gospel of John.

Matthew and Luke are perfectly fine accounts, of course, although Mark has the advantage of brevity. Recall, too, that Mark begins this way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1 NRSV). Mark spends a lot of time and effort to persuade us of that basic truth, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. But it isn’t until chapter 15 until a Roman soldier, of all people, proclaims this out loud: “Now when the centurian, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, `Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (15:39).

Even if all we do is start reading Mark’s Gospel with chapter 14 and go to its end (at 16:20), we will find a story like no other. Keep in mind that Luke and Matthew offer differing perspectives and details–fortunately, there is no “one true account” of God’s good news. Palms and hosannas in Jerusalem. Cleansing the Temple. With Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The Upper Room. Gethsemene. Arrest and trial. Peter’s denial. Crucifixion. Empty tomb. Certainly it’s far more important than checking off those last few brackets in our NCAA predictions.

May the coming week be, for you and for me, an exceptionally holy one.

Lent, again – By Jim Schmotzer

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  is a poem, contributed by Jim Schmotzer. You can find more from him on his blog here.

Lent, again

Small Baptist church
Edge of the city
Family farms were gone
Ever widening streets
Car lots and early stage
Of strip malls
Good people
Almost “country folk”
My mom’s people

They knew the Bible
They loved it
They tried to live it
No creeds of rituals so
They believed

Lent was bad, almost evil
Empty routine of
False religion
Catholics and Lutherans
Maybe some others so
Far from faith

Home is not so distant
Four or five hours down the freeway
Decades later, now about four

Yearly ashes to my forehead
The joy of sorrow
The smudge of death
The touch of some pastor
I hardly know

What was once forbidden
Now is my food, my life

I worry for a moment that I may later see
Someone I know at the
Store who won’t understand

Six weeks Wednesday at noon
Sitting with Glenn
Sometimes others join us
A hymn or two
Short sermon
Some good, some not

Lunch in the basement
Church cookbook casserole
Creamy salad
Water or tea
Neither of us drink coffee

Talk of family and sports
Maybe the sermon
Church friends and politics
Work updates
We say our goodbyes

Giving up something, maybe
Remembering, anything to help

Holy Week, the beginning with
Sword ferns posing as palms
Maundy Thursday
It took a long time to
Understand the “Maundy”
Good Friday
It’s trite,
But who ever thought to
Call it “good?”
The dark, quiet and waiting

Easter and
It’s over
Day of joy
Get my life back, again
Not sure I want it
At this cost
The seasons end

I hope it will come again
Next year
Or maybe, I hope
I’ll be here next year
To remember that
It happened
Jesus suffered
And I live

Lenting Fasting; Easter Feasting – By Rachel Stone

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  is by Rachel Stone. She blogs about food, family, faith at her site, Eat With Joy. This piece was first posted here.

I’m not sure what the actual stats were, but it sure seemed like most of the kids in my high school were Catholic. When I started going there as an eighth grader, everyone (it seemed) was busy making their confirmations. On Ash Wednesday, lots of people went around looking like this:
And while I’m pretty sure it wasn’t constitutional or whatever, somehow it seems that the school lunches on Fridays during Lent tended toward the fish stick and pizza variety and away from the fleisch products. Could it have been so? I can’t be sure, but I definitely remember people “giving up” various things–chocolate, swearing, soda–for Lent.
I must admit, I always felt a little left out as one of the few Protestant-y type Christians. Because I don’t how much my A Beka curriculum told me that the Catholic Church was BAD, I found all that liturgy and incense and images and ashes and abnegation attractive; a welcome change from the excessively inward “is your heart right with God?” kind of thing. I could always see–can still see–how holding a cross and a circle of beads might help one’s mind stay on one’s prayers.
But it wasn’t until after college, I think, that I started to see some of my fellow evangelical-type Christians practicing Lent in the more modern style of “giving something up.”
(Orthodox Christians still go vegan for Lent; traditionally, Lenten fasts involved limiting meals to one a day and fasting from various animal products. Hence, Mardi Gras-type celebrations are called Carnival in Latin America: “farewell, medium-well!”)
Some Christians see the tradition of Lent–beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending forty days later, on Easter Sunday–as a way of “fasting while the Bridegroom is taken.” Others see it as a way of participating in Jesus’ 40 days of desert temptation. In any case, practicing some kind of fasting during Lent is definitely no longer a ‘Catholic’ thing. What’s its appeal?
1.  Lenten Fasting Makes Outward and Visible Stuff That Is Otherwise Just In Your Head
A vintage (circa 1960) Christianity Today article put it this way:
“Lent can become a time when material things are put again in their proper secondary position; when we see in the spiritual the unconquerable forces of life. It can become a time of self-examination, when we reflect upon our present position in the pilgrimage and check our directions. It can become a time of personal readjustment, not through mental resolutions to do better but through yielding ourselves afresh to the God who demands to be obeyed. And it can become a time when, by following the battered path to Calvary, we identify ourselves once again with the Saviour who makes all things new.”
And in an NPR interview, the inimitable Anne Lamott said:
“Ash Wednesday, to me, is about as plain as it gets — we come from ashes and return to ashes, and yet there is something, as the poets have often said, that remains standing when we’re gone.”
Hence Facebook, online, and other media-fasts. Not “I should spend less time doing this or more time doing that,” but a firm resolution to do so. Can this be ‘legalism’? Sure. Can it just be a Good and Healthy Discipline? Absolutely.
2. Lenten Fasting Gives You a Good Reason to Say No To Good Things
Andrew Santella wrote the following for Slate a few years back:
“Perhaps it’s the things that made Lent hard to take as a Catholic kid—the solemnity, the self-denial, the disappearance of hot dogs from the lunchroom—that account most for the season’s broadening appeal. I was schooled to see Lent as a time apart, a respite from the daily pursuit of self-gratification.”
And likewise Lauren Winner:
“In sated and overfed America […] fasting teaches us that we are not utterly subject to our bodily desires.”
Greediness is tiring. A season of voluntary simplicity is–or can be–one way of taking a kind of rest. Also, it can be a way of expressing solidarity with those whose simplicity is not-so-voluntary.
3. Lenten Fasting Provides a Counterpoint To Easter Feasting
My favorite Episcopalian priest I’ve never met, Robert Farrar Capon, exalts the rhythm of festal/ferial as a splendid way of ordering our appetites. Because really, how much better is Easter Dinner–how much sweeter a sacramental celebrating that Joy of Joys–when you have prepared for it by fasting?
The sensation I always remember in this regard is how incredibly tasty a nasty freeze-dried meal by the fire with friends can taste when you’ve been hiking up and over mountains all day on nothing but water and GORP–a sweet nectar/sore need dynamic.
Again, Anne Lamott on the breaking of the Lenten fast–ie, Easter Sunday:
“I’m going to go to my little church, and we will have a huge crowd of about 60 people. And I will cry a little bit … out of joy, and then I will go home, and I will have 25 people — 15 relatives and about 10 riffraff, i.e., my closest friends — and we will sit down and we will eat, the most sacred thing we do.”
Even though I want to fast, I’m not quite sure what form that will take for me/us this year.
What is your take on Lenten fasting? Will you fast this Lent? How?

Good Friday Prayer 2012


Skeleton cross from Stations of the Cross Cityside Baptist 2005

Today we walk with Christ in the dark shadow of the Cross,

Knowing we have weighed him down,

Our burdens crushed his shoulders,

His suffering is for us,

For us he willingly endured death.

May we trust in God alone,

And walk the way of the Cross together,

Let us move forward without fear into God’s eternal purposes.

Then we will never know disgrace,

And we will learn to praise our God who does not abandon us.

In the midst of grief and despair,

May we know that without darkness nothing is birthed,

Without light nothing will blossom and flower.

May we sense Easter springtime coming,

Death’s dark and overwhelming night will give way to resurrection life.

May we throw off our grave clothes,

And all the weights that hold us down,

Looking and listening for signs of resurrection life,

May we take on the life of the one who raised Christ from the dead. 

And respond to the Spirit of God who lives within us. 


Lord have mercy,

When we stand in the shadow of the cross.

Christ have mercy,

When we kneel with repentant hearts.

Lord have mercy,

And shine your resurrection light on us.


Read John 18:1 – 19:42

God as we walk through this day may we remember,

Beyond sin there is love inexhaustible,

Beyond death there is life unimaginable,

Beyond brokenness there is forgiveness incomprehensible,

Beyond betrayal there is grace poured out eternally,

May we remember and give thanks for the wonder of your love.


You may also like to look at prayers I have written for Good Friday in previous years

Good Friday 2011

Good Friday 2010

Another prayer for Good Friday 2010

Prayer for Good Friday 2009

Righteousness in Short Supply – by Jon Stevens

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Today’s reflection in the series Easter Is Coming What Do You Hunger and Thirst For, comes from Jon Stevens proprietor of the Open Gate Farm on Camano Island
Righteousness seems in short supply these days.  You know the kind.  The kind we’re supposed to be hungering and thirsting for.  Folks seem to be getting wrapped around the axle of the end times, the tribulation, the second coming, and all those life changing activities 2000 years of Christians hoped would start tomorrow.  Our vanity allows us to think it is going to be our generation that sees the rollout of the new creation.  So forward looking have we become that we’ve lost the view of the present moment, the now, and the gift of new life it holds.  And we’ve lost our hunger to live righteously, that is, in right relationship with God.  Actually it may be we have not lost it because we have never had the true thirst and hunger for righteousness and have only been faking it.
If we live in the right relationship with God now, all that other end of the world stuff drops out because if you read the Bible carefully you may spot that salvation (which precedes righteous living) solves any fears we might have of where we’ll be when all Hell breaks loose literally.  When we’re saved, the only question remaining is will we see our friends and family after the dust clears and the new world is in place and we on it.
So it doesn’t matter if the Mayans have the right date.  It doesn’t matter if an old man sitting on a mountain called it for the end of the world.  What matters is that the fruit of our personal salvation has us hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  And we have to remember to keep the cart before the horse…first salvation, then hungering and thirsting.  If we get that wrong we’ll be thirsting for more than righteousness when the world falls apart.  And hungering for those apples hanging from the Tree of Life we saw once in a garden.

Content with Our Daily Bread, But Thirsty for Tomorrow’s Wine…by tracy Dickerson

Hungry anyone?

Content with our daily bread but thirsty for tomorrow's wine

Today’s contribution to the series Easter Is Coming What Do We Hunger and Thirst For, comes from Tracy Dickerson. It was first published on her blog Nacreous Kingdom 


In my vocation as a hospice nurse, I have observed repeatedly a phenomenon that occurs when patients draw closer to the end of life: they stop feeling hungry and thirsty; they simply have no desire to eat. Amazingly, accompanied by this lack of desire is also a lack of ability to process fluids and food: swallowing and digestion become impaired or altogether cease. This is often a bewildering and highly frustrating experience for the loved ones who, faced with this very dramatic change, are incapable of making the mental shift from life to death and so attempt to force-feed their beloved in the hopes that some form of reversal takes place. Of course, this never works, and only tends to place the patient at risk for choking, aspiration, or a stomach blockage. Knowing this, my goal is to pro-actively teach patients and loved ones ahead of time that when hunger ceases, so should the compulsion to feed.

Easier said than done- because in our minds and spirits is an innate understanding that hunger and thirst are related to LIFE…and that lack of hunger and thirst most certainly always lead to DEATH.

And so it is with our spiritual “hungers” and “thirsts”…

In my vocation as a pastor in 21st century America, I see an equally bewildering phenomenon. In my dealings with middle-class Americans who have very few physical “wants,” I hear them tell stories of their emptiness, their spiritual hunger, their feeling lacking and in want of God’s presence, and of their relentless desire to be “filled” with “something more.” If you doubt the veracity of this, I challenge you to go to any contemporary worship service and listen to the music- it is rife with images of hunger, thirst, and need. What’s so amazing is that all this hunger is being experienced in the midst of unprecedented physical abundance, as well as in the midst of a culture that, for the first time in history, is able to provide us with seemingly unlimited information and unrestricted opportunities for connection. Yet the end result is loneliness, emptiness, and spiritual hunger and thirst.

The commentary on this phenomenon is extensive, much of it critical of our consumerist culture and its alleged spiritual dearth. The brevity of this article limits my ability to discuss this false conclusion in depth, so I will address only one concept: Contrary to others whom I have heard comment on this trend, I do not feel that it is a negative thing to be spiritually hungry, nor do I believe that spiritual hunger is equivalent to spiritual dearth. In fact, I will be as bold as to say that spiritual hunger and thirst are healthy in that they are signs of a viable spirituality.

But what does this mean practically? How should we then proceed? Should we ignore the hunger we feel, and recognize that feeling “spiritually full” is this life is a futile goal? Should we stop trying so hard and cease searching?

Well, yes and no.

God has instilled eternity in our hearts, yet we are embodied currently in mortality and are limited by time and space. What this means is that we have been created in such a way that there is a natural tension between our mortality and our eternity. We live in the “now and not yet Kingdom of God” and we innately know it. If we were to have a feeling of spiritual satiety, what would happen to us, I wonder?

Complacency would rule, I think, and Kingdom work would never be accomplished. We would be comfortable with life as it is and desire no more. We need to stay hungry in one sense; because-let’s face it- staying hungry keeps us attached to the vine.

Interestingly, Jesus cautions us to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves and plan out and worry about tomorrow, yet his final command to his disciples (“Go and make disciples of all men…”) connotes a task with a future-reaching trajectory. Likewise, Paul teaches us to imitate him in how he has found a way in which to find contentment in whatever situation he is in, and in how he “presses on toward the mark.”

So therein lies our answer, somewhere between discontent and complacency is a third way, the way Jesus taught, the way which Paul imitated- a place characterized by contentment, but hallmarked by a holy discontent, a longing for the “not yet” that our Life in Christ promises to us. It is a strange tension that we are called to live within: to be content with our daily bread, but to be thirsty for tomorrow’s wine. It is in this indeterminate state that we live and move and breathe, until that final day when we finally share a table with the King of Kings and dine with Him for all eternity.

Re-Placing Holy Week – towards A Public + Local Liturgy by Brandon Rhodes

liturgy map

liturgy map via

This week as well as the daily posts of Lenten reflections I am posting additional resources to stimulate our thinking about how we celebrate Holy week and Easter. I love this creative and challenging post which comes from Brandon Rhodes. Brandon is the husband of Candice and a doctoral student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, where he is studying the impacts of automobility on North American churches. Brandon is applying this research as a Grassroots Storyteller and Field Guide with the Parish Collective where this was first posted as Replacing Holy Week: Towards a Public + Local Liturgy. I am really looking forward to being with Brandon at the Inhabit Conference April 20 & 21


If the gospel of Jesus has public implications, and not just private/interior ones, then our liturgical lives should reflect that.  And if our church life is meant to be first-and-foremost local, then we should expect our particular locality to also have a big part in our liturgical life.  Together, the local is the primary public arena for our life, worship, and liturgical rhythms.

What I’ve learned about the public implications of the gospel, though, usually have a lot to do with a national or global crisis – important issues like extreme poverty, climate change, and child soldiers.  And accordingly I’ve seen such challenges be confronted by the gospel in prayer books, worship songs, response liturgies, and advocacy campaigns.

But I’ve not learned much about how to display, imagine, or express the gospel’s public implications at the local level.  How do the assets and challenges, the saintliness and the sinfulness, of my neighborhood interact with the good news of Jesus’ risen regnancy?  And how, when we hear the gospel’s summons to signpost new creation, can we think first of our own context and second of bigger global issues?  Surely, after all, God’s shalom and justice have something to say to my block as well as Joseph Kony’s.

Tailoring our gospel imagination around our neighborhood will include “Sunday morning” activities which focus our hopes and laments on our own blocks.  That’s where we at Springwater have found vitality in practicing an open time of “God-sighting’s” and “kingdom-sightings,” where we can point out where we saw Jesus Christ at work in one another and our neighborhood.  Sometimes that’s as tiny as gratitude for a housemate doing more chores than usual, as staggering as a neighbor turning from addiction, as mystical as springtime birdsongs chirping God’s praise, and as concrete as a new crosswalk making it safer for kids to get to school.

We’re also in the midst of exploring how to follow the liturgical calendar in a way that tunes us to God’s story playing out among us.  How might Lent be seen as a life coursing through our streets?

At Springwater this year we’ll be letting God’s work in our neighborhood take center stage for Holy Week in a participatory reflection on remembering, lamenting, and hoping.  It will focus on interacting with a big butcher-paper map of our neighborhood spread across one wall of where we worship.  Each day’s activity will link a thought or idea written on a note card to a specific location by way of a colored length of yarn.

Maundy Thursday – Seder Meal: As the Passover meal remembers God’s great deliverance in the Exodus story, we’ll remember the little exoduses of deliverance we’ve seen on our streets, at our jobs, and in our homes.  Before and after the meal we are invited to make and geotag/yarn these memories of gratitude.

Good Friday – Lament Service: Usually we extinguish candles after reading laments, until the room is dark, remembering all the while the darkness of the world carried by Christ.  Mingled with that activity we will post notecards of lament — where we have seen darkness and brokenness and fracture in our neighborhood.  Though we seek an asset-based posture in life and ministry, we also create space in our liturgy and minds to be honest about the darker legacies of our neighborhood, and remember that Jesus has crippled that darkness on Golgotha.

Easter Sunday: After replacing invasive thistles with native plants in a nearby park, we’ll celebrate with food, music, and map-posting hopes for where resurrection and new creation can spring up in our neighborhood in the year to come.

In years past we’ve not always given much harmony between these three holy days, nor have we considered our neighborhood that much in their liturgies.  But hopefully this map can be the thread that vivifies them all together, and reminds us of the locally-public nature of the gospel story that those holy days tell.  In so doing, we can “re-place” liturgy’s summons to remember, lament, and hope in Jesus and for the world.

Next year I’d like to have a sidewalk-adjacent mural map of our neighborhood maintained year-round, and a similar set of cards, yarn, and liturgical prompts for neighbors to participate in seeing the biblical story play out on our streets.  In doing so we all can remember that the gospel a local, public imperative.  And we can do so in a way that gently invites neighbors to participate in imagining how that gospel story plays out.

How has your community involved your particular context in your liturgical and worship life?

All Glory Laud and Honour – Traditional Hymn for Palm Sunday

The traditional hymn for Palm Sunday is All Glory Laud and Honor. I love to parade around the church waving palm fronds and singing these beautiful words. I thought that those of you who are unfamiliar with this hymn might appreciate this version with the lyrics provided. And for those of us that are familiar with it there is never any harm in getting a little practice.

Palm Sunday 2012 – Which Procession Will We Join?

Palm Sunday by Bill Hemmerling image via

Palm Sunday by Bill Hemmerling image via

This post on Palm Sunday is an adaptation of posts I have written in previous years. I am reblogging it here because I feel that it is very appropriate for the theme of this year’s Lenten series What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? It particularly came mind after I read my husband Tom’s post for Saturday Thirsting for Justice in a Society of Growing Inequality and the comment by Joe Carson, one of the co-ordinators for the Occupy EPA rally.

I suggest you should connect the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” with “suffering for righteousness’ sake” in the ways the priviliged Christians who read your blog will most likely find opportunities to do so – related to their vocations.

But that is, in my experience, a “red line” Christian religious professionals will not cross, because the “blowback” from the pew sitters could well leave them saying “would you like fries with that?” in their next job.

The message of Jesus was always subversive, and no more so than on that day that he entered into Jerusalem.


This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday the beginning of Holy week. Many of our churches are busy making palm frond crosses or preparing for a Palm Sunday procession around the church.  Stores are full of Easter eggs and hot crossed buns, trying to divert our attention from the real meaning of Easter to their commercialized version of it.  And how many of us are sucked in?  What is the focus of your thoughts as we head towards Holy week – is it on the life, death and resurrection of Christ or is it on the upcoming Easter egg hunt and your new spring outfit? Most of us know that this day commemorates Jesus triumphant procession into Jerusalem on donkey’s back but few of us are aware of the deeper and very subversive implications of this event.

Palm Sunday gives a preview of  Jesus Messiahship and the advent of God’s kingdom of wholeness and abundance.   What many of us don’t realize is that  there were actually two processions into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning – one that symbolized the Roman culture of Jesus day and the other Jesus proclaiming his upside down kingdom.

According to Borg and Crossan’s important book The Last Week (2006), it is probable that there were two processions going on into Jerusalem on that day. In the year 30, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor assigned to Judea and Jerusalem.  It had become the custom of the governors to live outside Jerusalem, but it was also their custom to come with their soldiers to Jerusalem for Passover.  To provide a very visible and powerful Roman military presence at that volatile time, to prevent any potential uprising, for there are already been uprisings and many crucifixions.

His procession would have come from the west at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers – an impressive and lavish procession specially designed to impress the people with a visual display of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.

On the other side of the city, down from the Mount of Olives in the north came Jesus and his humble procession – no pomp, no ceremony, dressed simply like the people, riding on the back of a donkey and followed by his disciples drawn from amongst the peasants and the common people.  I can imagine the lepers he had healed and the once blind man dancing and rejoicing with him.  And there is Lazarus with Mary and Martha a living symbol of the triumph that this procession represents.

Here was the truly triumphant procession and the true rejoicing of the season.  Jesus and his friends were greeted with cheers and shouts by crowds  all along his path. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!”

Much of what Jesus’ life and teaching was about was the conflict of the kingdom of God with the empire of Rome.  Theologically and politically.  The Romans believed their emperor was to be worshipped as the son of God, the savior of humankind.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and his followers acknowledged him as Lord and Messiah, this was not only a personal theological statement but a political statement as well.  Jesus’ belief in a liberating, inclusive, non-violent, peace-seeking kingdom of God was over and against the oppressive, greedy, elite-loving, peasant-starving kingdom of Rome.  No wonder his was so angry with the Temple hierarchy – the chief priest, the elders and the scribes –  who had become servants of the empire and not of the kingdom of God.

Jesus ride into Jerusalem was obviously headed for a collision with the powerful Roman empire –  collision that would cost his life and change history forever. Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem may have begun with crowds shouting Hosanna but it ends with Good Friday and the apparent triumph of the powers of the Roman Empire and of Satan.  It does not end with a gold crown but with a crown of thorns.  Jesus triumphal entry ends with his willingness to take into himself all the pain and suffering of our world so that together we can celebrate the beginning of a new procession on Easter Sunday – a procession that leads us into God’s banquet feast and the wonder of God’s eternal world.

The question for all of us as we approach this Palm Sunday and enter into the celebration of Easter is: Where is our allegiance?  Where do we find ourselves in these pictures?  Are we part of that ragamuffin discipleship band following Jesus fully aware that we are on a collision course with the values of our secular culture? Are we some of the misguided enthusiasts, cheering our own idea of a  messiah, that looks more like the Roman emperor than the humble Jesus?   Are we enarmoured of an idea that has little to do with what Jesus has come to teach? Do we only want to follow a Jesus when we think he promises health and happiness here and now.  Have we so misunderstood him and his purpose and that we are ready to turn against him when he turns out not to be who we thought he was?

Perhaps however, we’re not part of Jesus’ procession at all.  Perhaps we’re standing at the other gate, cheering for the symbols of empire.  Dazzled by power, attracted to wealth, wanting to identify with the victors, not the vanquished, hoping to be counted as one of the elites of our time.

Actually most of us are probably part of both processions – wanting to follow this Jesus whom we find so don’t fully understand but also caught up in the excitement of Easter egg hunts and spring fashion displays.

And the beauty is that Jesus, in his humanity, sees and knows all of us. . . the flawed humanity that surrounds him. . . the flawed humanity of each of us. . . and he sees it and he forgives it, and loves us, and gives his blessing to all of us as he clops along the dusty road toward his confrontation with power, his time of trial, his abandonment, his death.

Let us enter the city with God today,

And sing hosannas to our king,

Let us turn our backs on the powers that grasp and control,

And open our hearts to the son of God riding on a donkey.

Let us join his parade,

Surrounded by outcasts and prostitutes, the blind and the leper.

Let us follow the one who brought freedom and peace,

And walk in solidarity with the abandoned and oppressed. 

Let us shout for joy at Christ’s coming and join his disciples,

Welcoming the broken, healing the sick, dining with outcasts.

Let us touch and see as God draws near,

Riding in triumph towards the Cross