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[Sermon] Songs of Loudest Praise

David Horton, Minister of Music & Worship + March 24, 2024

In his Palm Sunday sermon, David Horton delves into the complexities of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, highlighting the contrast between humility and power. Drawing from John's gospel, he invites us to embrace the mystery of faith amidst confusion, reflecting on Peter's journey and the significance of the upcoming Holy Week events.


From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation and paragraphs added by ChatGPT.

Grace and peace to you from our mother, our father, Creator, and parent. And we say, Amen!

I've got a slide for you.

All right, be honest, identify the Emoji that best describes how you felt at the beginning of worship. Which one are you feeling at this moment?

Happy Palm Sunday, y'all! Are you a little confused about what's happening this week? Maybe even a little bit worried about what's coming? You don't know. All your emotions are perfectly normal, and the story of Palm Sunday has them all packed into it. We've got excitement, we've got confusion, we even got a sense of foreboding. So let's go a little deeper into our story. But before I do, I've got a disclaimer.

The past few weeks of Lent have been undoubtedly a time of reflection and emotional exploration for all of us, and that's great, that's perfectly what it's appropriately for. Lent is a season for us to go deep into introspection. Instead of throwing challenges your way today, I instead want to prepare our hearts and our bodies for the momentous events unfolding this coming week, Holy Week. Let's approach these events through the lens of Peter, whom we've been studying throughout Lent, and we'll explore John's unique perspective on Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, that city's significance, Peter's role in this pivotal moment, and how our spiritual growth mirrors the journey of this understanding. We'll also discuss what lies ahead this week and then, most importantly, extend that invitation to join us on this faith journey. So here we go.

All four gospels tell us this specific story in their own way. I believe John's account that we heard today was chosen to highlight a few important things, focusing on a few key underlying themes. John's gospel often emphasizes Jesus's control and divine nature, while other gospels highlight the dramatic aspects of this entry. Each gospel retelling has Jesus arriving humbly on a donkey or a colt, symbolizing peace and a different kind of kingship. In the Jewish tradition, the donkey symbolizes the coming Messiah. Each gospel made sure to emphasize Jesus's choice of transportation, which reinforces this Messianic message. And it's right there in our gospel: "Rejoice greatly, daughter Zion! Shout, daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9, if you didn't know that one.) This humility contrasts with Pilate, the Roman governor, who enters with a grand display of military might, showcasing Roman authority and their claim to be godlike rulers. This opposing imagery sets the stage for the events of Holy Week. Jesus's message of peace and love stands in stark opposition to the oppressive power of the Roman Empire.

Now, to understand Jesus's life and teachings, we must read all four gospels and understand those authors' lenses. John's highlights Jesus' control, actively acquiring the donkey himself, whereas other gospels have him sending a disciple or someone else to get the donkey. He also highlights the significance of Lazarus's resurrection, which we didn't get to hear necessarily in this Lenten season, but I'm sure you all know that story, reinforcing Jesus' power over death and, of course, God's universal love. Notably, the author also highlights the disciples' confusion, reflecting the difficulty of grasping Jesus' true nature. And again, it's right there in our gospel, this is the NRSV translation: "His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him."

Next, we have to consider the location in which this all takes place. The fact that this all takes place in Jerusalem gives us both positive and negative connotations. Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish faith for a millennia, the city of God, the site of Solomon's Temple, is considered a connection to God. It's a pilgrimage destination and a source of deep devotion, associated with hope for a future messiah in an era of peace. However, it became the center of wealthy elite and a domination system with injustice. Prophets criticized Jerusalem's rulers for corruption and betraying God's covenant, seen as a place of oppressiveness and violence. Despite all this criticism though, Jerusalem still stands as the glimmer of hope, as a potential source of future peace and justice for the world, even today.

To truly understand this profoundness, we must understand our history, though. So here is the quickest and most concise retelling of critical events that affect Jesus and his parade on a borrowed donkey. The first temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, and the second temple was built 50 years later. Judea was ruled by various empires, including the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Herod the Great, appointed by the king of Rome, rebuilt the second temple into the grand complex, despite being a ruthless leader. After Herod's death, Rome placed temple authorities in charge, creating a system of wealthy disparity. John the Baptist, Essenes, Zealots, and Jesus challenged the temple's legitimacy and practices.

So far, we have the significance of John's gospel and the importance of Jerusalem. In our worship series, "The Wandering Heart," you'll remember that throughout our series, we focused on Peter and his faith journey and how his life is a relatable example of our own faith journey. We have read and reflected on Peter's ups and downs, mirroring our faith struggles. We find in Peter's flaws that he highlights God's love for imperfect people. Throughout this Lenten season, Peter allowed us to reflect on our faith paths, all while seeking the constant love and grace of God. Throughout Lent, we focused heavily on Peter's role in the gospels.

However, in John's account of this event, Peter takes a back seat. He blends in with the other disciples, a silent observer amidst the chaos. Instead, we're just left with deafening shouts of "Hosanna." So we have to wonder if maybe the most striking memory etched in Peter's mind isn't the sight of Jesus on the donkey, but the sound, the crowd's unified roar of "Hosanna," a celebratory yet unsettling melody. These weren't the chants Peter expected. These were supposed to be praises for Caesar, the earthly ruler, entering from the opposite gate of Jerusalem. Instead, the air thrums "Hosanna" for Jesus, a man riding a humble, borrowed donkey. Perhaps the courage of the crowd resonates with Peter.

Public displays of faith are contagious and a bold defiance against the established power. However, in verse 16b, John mentions, "they remembered," but what specific memory remains unclear. Perhaps the authors of John are reflecting on how we often gain clarity about past events only after experiencing them fully. So, we imagine our understanding of past events as a landscape shrouded in fog. As we participate in an event, we experience it through a limited lens: our emotions, our biases, our incomplete information. Only later, when the fog lifts, can we see the bigger picture, the cause and effects of relationships, and the true meaning of what transpired. Just like understanding past events takes time and reflection, the spiritual journey is rarely a linear path to enlightenment. It's a process of exploration, growth, and learning through experiences. That's kind of what this whole Lenten series was about. We may only sometimes understand the significance of our prayers, the challenges, or moments of grace in the moment. Still, time and reflection can reveal more profound meaning and purpose in our spiritual lives.

So, Palm Sunday, this festival day, the first day that begins a weeklong journey into sacrifice, redemption, hope, faith, and suffering, and triumph over death, invites us to witness Jesus' entry with this mindset, a resurrection lens. We understand its events' significance later, but we must consider what we will remember from this day and how our faith will respond to this week's coming events. The Easter Story will reveal the true meaning of Jesus' sacrifice, yes, but first, you have to listen to what the disciples remembered about Jesus and his words, each finding their own moment of clarity.

So, for those keeping score, we've covered the significance of John's gospel, the importance of Jerusalem, what's going on with Peter, and the context of our worship series. Here's the invitation: come wonder about remembrance and reflection and preparation this coming week. On Maundy Thursday, at 6:30 p.m., come wonder about Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. On Good Friday, at 6:30 p.m., come wonder about Christ's light relentlessly overcoming darkness. On Holy Saturday, our Easter Vigil, and finally, come wonder about Peter rushing to the tomb, forever changed by his denial and eventual understanding on Easter Sunday.

So, Palm Sunday, I invite you to join me in embracing the mystery alongside Peter. Let our Hosannas testify to our faith, even if understanding remains elusive. Just as the disciples' understanding deepened later, so too will ours. This journey of faith is a marathon, not a sprint, filled with moments of both celebration and confusion. As we celebrate today, we enter Holy Week with mixed emotions. We see joy and praise surrounding Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, yet a sense of unease hangs in the air. We remember the historical context, the complexities of time, and the road ahead for Jesus.

Have you been noticing the artwork that our series has been doing each week? If you notice in the back of your worship bulletin or, of course, read intensive detail on our What's Happening or follow us on social media. If not, please take a moment to go back and look at the different pieces of art from the previous weeks. You may have joined us for the midweek devotional study following Vespers, where we explored each artwork and its creator in detail. But today, I invite you to turn to the back of your worship bulletin and find the featured artwork. And I want you to take some time to appreciate its colors, its lines, and symbols. And as we do that, I want you to just listen with an open heart.

Dust swirls around my feet, a gritty counterpoint to the electric energy crackling through this crowd. Hosannas erupt like a sudden storm, a sea of palm branches waving fanatically. Our Jesus, perched humbly on a donkey, is the eye of this swirling storm. Is this a king, a conqueror? It doesn't feel right. I remember the rebuke, the harsh words about denial. Does Jesus even trust me anymore? Shame burns in my gut. The crowd continues to shout "Hosanna," a joyous roar that feels hollow. I remember the plots and the whispers of arrest and the fear in Jesus' eyes. Is this some kind of a trap?

I join in the chant half-heartedly, my voice lost in the throng. The chants that fill the air are unexpected. These aren't the pronouncements of power I expected. These are supposed to be reserved for Caesar, the earthly ruler. Yet the crowd defies tradition, their voices a unifying roar for Jesus riding a borrowed donkey. I, who once impulsively walked on water, now walk amongst the throng, a silent observer amidst the chaos.

This triumphant spectacle is far from the intimate moments we shared with him, the awe-inspiring miracles, the whispered teachings, and the sting of my own denial. A flicker of admiration ignites within me. The public display of faith is contagious, a bold defiance against the established power. I can't help but be moved by their conviction. These people see something profound in Jesus, something he himself struggles to grasp fully.

But beneath the surface lies a sea of uncertainty. Memories flood my mind: the miraculous catch of fish, the terror of sinking beneath the waves, the chilling prophecies. I remember Jesus' teachings about suffering and rejection, pronouncements that seem far removed from this joyous parade. This celebration doesn't lead to triumph; it will lead to a cross. I wrestle with this dissonance. My heart echoes our confusion.

Once again, I raise my voice in the chant, but my "Hosanna" feels hollow. I join in the outward display, yearning to understand the deeper meaning. This day is a turning point, a mix of exuberant praise and a gnawing sense of unease. The road ahead stretches uncertain, and I can only walk it one step, one confusing "Hosanna" at a time. Jesus calls me Peter, the Rock, but my God, does my heart wander.

Church, may this week grant you clarity even amidst confusion. May this week help you, like the disciples, to see the bigger picture in hindsight and to find meaning in the moments you don't fully understand. May your hearts be open to the journey God has already secured for you, and may you embrace the mystery of faith, celebrating the highs and finding solace during the lows, all while remembering Jesus' immense sacrifice, love, and promise of hope offered through his resurrection.

Can I get an amen?

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