“Hosanna, heysanna!” from Jesus Christ Superstar captures the mood dramatically. And for me, I love the fact that "Hosanna!" isn't a cheer. It's a prayer, meaning something like "Lord, help, please," or "Help us now." What was the tone of the Hosannas on Palm Sunday - as habituated as the people were by the Romans to stay quiet?
I am pondering doing something ultra-creative (which frightens me a bit) - building a sermon around What did Jesus see in trees? I started with the idea that when he saw palm fronds, those branches they waved at Palm Sunday, he liked them -
but shuddered a few days later when what he'd seen in other trees were those strands of thorns (the dreaded zizyphus spina christi, with a bit of itchy, burning poison which would grace his brow on the cross). Then I thought of Jesus and trees period. He'd worked in wood with his father; The Last Temptation of Christ envisions Jesus making crosses for the Romans. Did he see building material? Did he see birds in the trees (which he spoke of so eloquently in the Sermon on the Mount)? I thought of Mary Chapin Carpenter's lovely "Only a Dream," recalling a childhood of looking up into elm trees with her sister; did Jesus recall his childhood? Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree) might help... At Passover, did Jesus notice wood having been recently cut down - for the fires of the temple altar, or for the fires for the Roman soldiers in the city to keep the peace? Jesus wound up dying on a tree - and I may delve back into that lovely medieval "Dream of the Rood," which tells the story of the tree that became the cross. Will I do this to break my own boredom of preaching now on my 37th Palm Sunday? or stick to my usual?
Even the whitest most prosaic preacher can indulge in a bit of a cadence this week. Something like Instead of a war stallion, he rode a donkey; instead of a palace he was born in a manger; instead of wielding spears and swords he was armed with nothing but love – and so forth. People love this, and it can capture the counter-cultural-ness that is the Gospel. Last year, with the election looming, I observed how Jesus is humble, courageous but not angry; but we fawn over leaders who are arrogant, and angry – and we are driven by fear. I might revisit that this year.
And then I will never again ponder the passion narrative with recalling Robert Jenson’s wise conclusion to his exploration of various theories of the atonement: “The Gospels tell a powerful and biblically integrated story of the Crucifixion; this story is just so the story of God’s act to bring us back to himself at his own cost, and of our being brought back. There is no other story behind or beyond it that is the real story of what God does to reconcile us, no story of mythic battles or of a deal between God and his Son or of our being moved to live reconciled lives. The Gospel’s passion narrative is the authentic and entire account of God’s reconciling actions and our reconciliation, as events in his life and ours. Therefore what is first and principally required as the Crucifixion’s right interpretation is for us to tell this story to one another and to God as a story about him and about ourselves.” The question for the preacher is: can I trust the story? Or do I feel some compulsion to dress it up and improve upon it?
“I wonder what was at work in the mind of Jesus of Nazareth as he jogged along on the back of that faithful donkey. Perhaps his mind was far away to the scenes of his childhood, feeling the sawdust between his toes in his father’s shop. He may have been remembering the high holy days in the synagogue with his whole body quickened by the echo of the ram’s horn. Or perhaps he was thinking of his mother, how deeply he loved her and how he wished that there had not been laid upon him this Great Necessity that sent him out on to the open road to proclaim the Truth, leaving her side forever. It may be that he lived all over again that high moment on the Sabbath when he was handed the scroll and he unrolled it to the great passage from Isaiah, ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor.’ I wonder what was moving through the mind of the Master as he jogged along on the back of that faithful donkey.”