Perspectives on Palm Sunday

March 28, 2010 - 8:18 am 13 Comments

Entering In: Towards a more inclusive understanding
Of Palm Sunday and its meaning for us
The Rev. Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Invocation/ Opening Words:

What is required of us is to take courage, to enter in.
There are frontiers to cross, doorways to open, thresholds to step over, heroic pathways to life, love, truth and forgiveness.
The gate of Palms opens, and you can cross over…
Take heart, be courageous, enter in…

Responsive Reading: # 35 Life of the Spirit

Selected Reading: The Gospel of St. John 12:11-17a NEB (adapted)

The next day, after hearing about Jesus, and his intent to walk into Jerusalem, a great crowd of pilgrims took palm branches and went out to meet him. When they saw him, they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!…
Then Jesus found a donkey and mounted it and rode into the city and the people placed palm branches in the road before him. This was done in accordance with the Scriptures, that read, “Fear no more, Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, mounted on an asses’ colt.” At the time, the disciples did not understand this, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that this had been written, and that this had happened to him.

Benediction/Closing words:
What is required of us is to recognize deeper meanings, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

Pastoral Reflection: “Blessed is He, and blessed are we”
Each Palm Sunday either a reference or a reading is made to the phrase, “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Hosanna is a cry or a statement of love and adoration- it refers to Jesus as God’s healer and teacher; as someone who provides a salvific example, an inspired presence.
Yet, even this words are inadequate when they are sentimentally or just historically remembered. It is neither sufficient justice nor glorious enough to keep them in the past tense. As Jesus refuted the necessity of blood ties as the definition of family, he also rejected the idea that he alone would move forward into a holy city without bringing others along with him-especially those who were his spiritual brothers and sisters. Jesus defined sisters and brothers as anyone who desires to do the will of God in their lives. Likewise, all those who act to live their lives more spiritually, that is, with more depth and authenticity, live and act in the name of God and can be considered blessed by that aspiration.

Now this might sound blasphemous, but I believe in the more inclusive and multidimensional sense of palms and blessings.
The creation of attitudes of love and service recalled in the life of Jesus makes us one extended family.
Each of us can receive Hosannas as we courageous claim our spiritual identities as the children of God, and the sisters and brothers of Jesus. As we learn, and as we grow more fully in our understanding of God’s mysteries and our own depths and abilities, we, too, enter into the Kingdom, and arrive at the gates of a Holy City. Then we can say and reaffirm on every Palm Sunday, that we are leading our lives in the name, and in the loving servant reality of Jesus. Hosannas to you all. AMEN

Reflection/Reading: The many Meanings of Palms
The Palm has always been regarded as a life-giving plant.
It retains its timeless value for us today, not just as a historical symbol, but as a gift of caring we can give to one another.
The image of the Palm was found everywhere in the ancient world. It adorned the walls of the glorious Temple of Solomon, and its practical uses for food, for rope, and for shelter are numerous. (I Kings 6:29 and other places)
The word palm comes to us from the early Greek word Phoenicia, which meant “land of the Palms,” the stretched all along the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the region’s coins had one side, decorated with a palm leaf for tails, and the heads side was the image of the current ruler or emperor.
In religion and ritual, the early Jews used palms as a welcoming or housewarming gift. Hanging palms outside one’s door was a sign of hospitality, much like seasonal wreaths and Colonial pineapple carvings of more recent years. When hung by one’s door, palms would signal that this was a place where a person could come, be cared for, welcomed and respected.
Among the early Christians, hanging palms shaped into simple crosses was a sign of sanctuary- comfort for anyone weary or anyone who was in need of solace and inspiration. It was also considered to be a sign of protection from damaging rains, wind lightning, fires or flooding. (Hmm… I wonder if it could protect religious liberals from pollution and loud politicians?)

I have a special remembrance of palms as it relates to comfort and caring… I remember fondly my paternal grandfather Paul, sitting me down at our kitchen table, and asking me to help him to make little crosses out of palm leaves that he just received at church. (Later, my cousin Elaine, gave me the best instruction-patiently and lovingly, she showed me the best way to do it…)
Intently, I watched his patient process of stripping the individual leaves, then pairing them and placing them carefully in rows. Then he would take each pair, and begin to fold them and interlace them to make these gentle, graceful, bowed crosses. After he had made one for me, he began to make them for all his grandchildren, approximately three dozen, filling a large wicker basket with them. (Here I start to make one for the congregation…)
He then went around giving one to each grandchild, instructing them to place or hang them by their bedside, or somewhere in their room. Later, he taught his children how to make them for their homes and offices. He always hung them in the greenhouse as a sign of encouragement and for protection for all the little tomato seedlings that he had planted.
Making crosses for each of his grandchildren was his traditional way of showing his caring. It was for him, an extension of his devotion and caring. Often, he would tell me the Palm Sunday story in his own words, and said that the palms were a sign “that God could always come to us, and could enter into our hearts whenever we would ask or let him in.”
Today, grandparents might elect to do a similar thing, such as give their grandchildren an inspirational card, bookmark, or some other token of the spiritual message of the Easter season that would be more personal and meaningful than chocolate bunnies or sugary eggs. While eggs and flowers retain their symbolic value, especially on Easter Sunday, a gift that expresses a parent’s faith has, at least to me, a more lasting, deeper importance.

Receiving palms, hanging them in my home, making gentle bowed crosses, and then giving them to others, will always remind me of my grandpa Paul, and his gift of faith and caring.

Homily: Gateways to God and Palm Sunday:
A “Gnostic” look at its meaning for us today

The climatic event in the Palm Sunday story is when Jesus, astride a young colt, rides down the royal road, over a bed of palm leaves into Jerusalem accompanied by a joyous crowd. It was the pinnacle of his popularity, his “claim to fame.” It was the triumph before the tragedy, all foretold, and all to be revealed in the week’s events.
Jerusalem then was a thriving city, a contemporary metropolis. It was a world center, a place where people brought their families for important celebrations and their products for vital trade or commerce. It was also a place where ideas and beliefs were expressed and contrasted, a place where Greek philosophy mingled with Eastern mysticism, where Babylonian gods were being absorbed into Jewish theology, and rituals. Simply, when anyone or anything entered into Jerusalem, it became known to the entire world. Thus, Jerusalem became a spiritual center: a place where wisdom, prophecy, logic, and mystery all found internal admission within the culture and in each person’s life.
Entering in… through the door or past the gate… And what about Jesus and the symbolic act of entering into the Holy City?
Other than coming in from the outside, or as a separation– picket fences, garden gates, iron barriers, etc., gates also stand for what permits and protects us. There are material gates of security, and emotional boundaries of protection. Also, there are physical doorways to enter into a new place, and spiritual thresholds to cross over to enter into new awareness.
In Gnostic thought, there are always many levels or depths and dimensions to any possible interpretation for Biblical and personal events. Gnostic approaches to life parallel ordinary events but takes us into our hearts and souls for definitions.
Gnosis is involved in the search for wisdom and meaning, and how that quest has purpose and value for our deeper selves or for our spiritual identities.
When Jesus entered into the main gate, accompanied by a teeming, celebrating crowd, he stirred up both advocacy and animosity. On one level, it was a crowd expectant, they felt overdue for deliverance-they yearned for a Messiah and welcomed anyone who had a new message and gave evidence of a new reality.
Jesus’s arrival also stirred up jealousy, and animosity for anyone who might challenge the status quo way of religion and society. Few people in power ever want to relinquish it.
Yet, this entry was not like so many others. It was not like the mayor in the motorcade, or the beauty queen riding in on a pageant float. Who Jesus was, and what his entry into Jerusalem represented, acted as a sign. It was a meeting point for a welcoming readiness, and symbol of an arrival at a new religious paradigm. Additionally, it was a spiritually-based visitation by a man who represented a new doorway, a new path towards God. For his followers then and now, Jesus’s life, his ethical principles and his spiritual understanding, show how God can enter into our lives and fill us with a new awareness. Our reverent response is to spread palms; to open our hands, our heads, and our hearts and to give permission for whatever is holy to come in, to be recognized, and be understood. For a follower of Jesus, that means looking, listening, watching, praying and acting on that comprehension and empowering new model for being oneself and in relationship to others.
This gateway to God swings inward. It moves us from our outer concerns and fears, and into our core selves. When we enter in, we find our wounds and our wonders, our pain and our gifts. The door from God to our hearts is not an easy one, but its necessity compels our search for knowledge, and completes our sense of wholeness and holiness.
When we open that door, we look into our past. We take a long look at our problems. Then with courage and persistence, we move through them looking to find what truly comforts and uplifts us.
We enter through the gate of a Holy City whenever we cross over that threshold of what was for what might be. We enter in every time we are willing to search attentively and reverently, whenever we are willing to risk love and acceptance, forgiveness and peace as answers to life’s questions.
By looking within, we become Gnostic and contemplative. We examine our motives and incentives, we see what our lives have been about, and what ways they need to be changed or affirmed.
This doorway from God to each of us is also the gateway that teaches us how to replenish and restore ourselves from the stresses and strains of living. Just as we cannot continue to work without rest, we cannot offer any cooling comfort to anyone else from our empty well- nor can we offer hope and love from an empty or broken heart. The Gnostic Christian recalls the words of Jesus when he said, “[I am the door, I am the gate that leads you toward God.]” In proclaiming this, he did not say that his physical person or even his life or death is the entry point for us. He stated that his reality, and the effects of learning his ethics and spiritual understandings would replenish and inspire a Christ consciousness could be seen in each of us.
Gnostic teachings would state that whosoever enters into Jesus’s reality can be made whole, free, and find the rest, nurture, self-acceptance and peace so many of us lack or need. They would remind us of Jesus’s promise:” [I, as the Christ consciousness that is in me, has come into this world, so that you might have a greater sense of life and purpose and then have it abundantly.]” John

There is a second door. It the door or the gateway that leads out of our hearts. It swings outward to welcome in the stranger and the friend. As we learn to live more in God, we nourish ourselves and strengthen our families and community so that we can turn our care, concern and compassion out into the world.
This door of our hearts swings outward to be inclusive and responsive to human need. From the inner rooms of our souls, and from the support we receive from our spiritual communities, we ready and open ourselves to others in ways of service, encouragement, and justice-making. As the Psalmist put it, it is “out of the abundance of our hearts” we give to make the world more equalized and fair. From our solace and comfort, we act with compassion and empathy. The door from our hearts opened first by God, and kept ajar by a sustaining grace; it is a pathway that becomes a wide open welcoming entrance, a redeeming way that blesses the world by our caring.

Visualization Exercise: Entering In/Crossing Over
Now, I ask you to participate in a short visualization that focuses on the doorways and gates of your lives… please close your eyes, sit comfortably and breath slowly and deeply.. .
Picture yourself before a doorway or at an entrance that can open up a new dimension for your life. Picture this doorway in some detail…
What does it look like? Is it high or heavy, low or light? Would it be easy to open? Where, if you go inside, will it lead? Do you know? How do you feel about entering into a new or unknown place?
If you cross over that threshold, do you have an idea what might be in store for you? Does it matter? Can you trust going in?
Is there anyone else there with you? Is there anyone there to greet or guide you? If so, Who is it?
Now go inside…cross over …What do you see and what do you discover?

Ask yourself how will going through this door might change your life? Change who you are, and what your next steps might be?
Lastly, ask how might it contribute to others and to our world?
Come back to this time and place… with what you have discovered or learned…
Some people might still see the events of Palm Sunday in a literal or more orthodox way-as only one man’s triumph or as a prelude to a sacred tragedy. I feel that the timelessness of the story can be also seen on this deeper level of contemplation and consideration. The Palm Sunday story reminds each of us about entering into the realm of God, into a more holy consciousness or awareness that teaches, heals, consoles, forgives and that frees. It is a new level of gnosis or spiritual wisdom that can affect us deeply.
Jerusalem is everybody’s inner city. It is the place in our lives where we can meet or greet God. Without escaping from the fact of working beyond our egos and present difficulties, Palm Sunday holds within its promise, the gateway to the heart’s triumph and to the soul’s victory. It is a spiritual victory, a personal triumph that public scorn, betrayal, and even crucifixion cannot stop or prevent. Finding our sense of God within, and then opening up the door of our hearts to others is to know life and to have it abundantly. For it is from one opened doorway to the other, that the steps toward God and toward one another can be found. It is from that new place that our way might be paved with palms, and that we learn how to be more spiritually attuned and become servants to our planet and caregivers to one another. AMEN

Benediction/Closing words: What is required of us is to recognize spiritual frontiers, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us is what can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

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