Saturday, 4 April 2009
A Palm Sunday Message
"I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who set out for Jerusalem with acclamations of praise and jubilation from the fickle-minded crowds that make sure that the "love-fest" would be short-lived; thus turning a welcome into a rejection in a matter of days.
Yet Jesus, though aware that his visitation, to the troubled city would ensnare him for death, continued his journey nevertheless. One week later he was affixed on a cross and left to die. But he did it for us, as described in John 3:16.
There are times when we are called upon to make little sacrifices, yet some try hard to avoid them, if you could. The story is told about three Scotchmen who were in a church when the minister made an appeal for a worthy cause. The tree became nervous when the collection plate was approaching. One of them fainted and the other two were glad to pick him up and carry him out.
Jesus' love for us was so strong, that not even death could have prevented him from loving us and embracing the cross. Whatever we do, and whatever we give, must be measured against Christ's sacrificial love for us. When understood in this context, giving becomes a pleasure; not a problem.
Palm Sunday, as we focus on Christ's entry into Jerusalem. This event, like all other events recorded in the Scripture, is more than a historical occurrence. It has a special significance that we need to be aware of, if we want the Bible to be a meaningful book for us. Jesus was going "up to Jerusalem", perfectly knowing, what will happen. He was about to face the greatest challenge in His life - trial and crucifixion, and the greatest ttriumph - glorious resurrection. He was determined. The biggest lesson we can learn from this story is that we don’t need to shrink from challenges, for our greatest challenge has a potential to turn out our greatest victory. We dont have to be afraid anything that might happen with us, for, in Truth, there is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus knew this Truth and acted accordingly. Be rooted in Reality of things. Know that you cannot and never will be destroyed, because you are more than flesh and blood. You are a spirit. You are eternal. You are immortal. Your true nature is invincible, for it is God�s nature. Sense knowledge has a tendency to absolutise sufferings. People, who think that they exist in three-dimensional world, are naturally inclined to do all they can to avoid challenges, to surround themselves with walls of self-defense, to protect themselves from all possible sufferings. Little do they know that by fearing physical pain and death, they put themselves into bondage of material world, and entangle themselves with deceptions of a carnal mind.
Eventually, they put a limit to their growth and soul unfoldment, and create the biggest obstacle to their happiness. There is no happiness in fear and dread. Spiritually enlightened persons know that all the crosses are temporal, but resurrection is eternal. They are not afraid to "take up their cross" of challenge, fulfilling God�s plan for their life. They know that the last word always belong to God. They are willing to say with James : "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, LACKING IN NOTHING. Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him". It was a common custom in many lands in the ancient Near East to cover, in some way, the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible reports that Joshua was treated this way, and many of the pre-Christian mystery religions, particularly that of Dionysus, report that their central human-divinity figure entered a major city in this way, usually before their death and resurrection.
Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. However, in the synoptics they are only reported as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John more specifically mentions palm fronds. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory, in Jewish tradition, and is treated in other parts of the bible as such (e.g. Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). Because of this, the scene of the crowd greeting Jesus by waving palms and carpeting his path with them has given the Christian festival its name. Jesus and Joshua are the same name in Hebrew, and Jesus' parallel to Joshua is usually seen as indicative of Jesus being seen as the Jewish Messiah. Those who see Jesus as a creation from Midrash tend to point to Joshua as the origin of this part of the New Testament narrative, while those who see Jesus as a myth, derived from syncretism of other religions, tend to consider the parallels with figures like Dionysus as more likely the origin. The song that the people are described as singing, Psalm 118, happens to be the benediction song for the passover meal, and hence is seen as foreshadowing Jesus' Passion as a symbolic passover sacrifice. Amongst those who see the events as being a literary invention, this is by design of the authors of the Gospels, while among those who believe the events are historic, this is seen as an example of Biblical prophecy.
The two of the Christ's most wonderful Palm Sunday lessons are : His marvelously courageous self-proclamation, and about the lesson He taught in the withering of the fig tree. Jesus was no fool. He knew Passover week was a time when thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean would be coming into Jerusalem. He knew that his thrilling popularity had raised the hackles on the necks of the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, and He knew that His new message of love had infuriated His opposition back then to begin to plot to kill Him. Christ had tried hard to open the eyes of the religious authorities back then to their evil and corruption, but like the prophets of old, His messages (and His Divine love) had fallen on deaf ears. And so, the Lord chose a path of entry into Holy Week that made it clear for all who were there what He proclaimed Himself to be, not only a true prophet for Israel, but also the Messiah, a King.
Jesus' opposition had let it be known that they were intending to kill Him. A prophet, therefore, could and perhaps would have slipped into Jerusalem by night. But Jesus chose another route---entering Jerusalem from the holy hill, the Mt. of Olives, riding upon an ass, the donkey as it is known, in broad daylight. This could only be interpreted as a dramatic act showing two things. First that He saw Himself as a King of the Jews�only kings back then rode into a city riding upon a colt. Also, that He was a King of peace. If His animal of choice were to have been a horse, then His message would have been one of war. Every eye was certainly transfixed upon Him, and Jesus knew the intensity of anger His behavior would stir within those already planning to kill Him. Thus, we learn of the profound courage living in the Lord's heart telling His naysayers that He would bring His message of Divine love and peace into the hotbed of the red-hot anger against Him. There is a similar degree of opposition to the presence and work and spiritual ministry of Jesus Christ going on inside of us at times. Have you ever noticed how oppositional our selfishness can get? How angry and upset it can be at the approach of God's love and truth? If so, it can be calming inside to learn that my own selfishness cannot intimidate our Lord of love and peace. He will come down and enter calmly and confidently into the very heart of our own mental Jerusalem, which may plot to both oppose and destroy Him.
The starkness of Christ's behavior riding in on that donkey paralleled prophets like Jeremiah who had once sent bonds and yokes to Edom, to Moab, to Ammon, to Tyre and to Sidon, revealing the future servitude they would follow if their corruption did not change. Jeremiah also wore a yoke around his neck, emphasizing his point. Christ riding openly, in broad daylight, into Jerusalem was following in the history of many prophets who also wound up resorting to extreme acts of symbolism, again hoping to open the eyes of the blind who seriously needed to see. Christ's message to all back then, as well as to all today, is simply that He must be allowed to be King of Love and Truth in your own mind, or turn another direction for enlightenment. You and I have our own interior Jerusalem the mind which God has given us. If Jesus is your Savior, then you also must allow Him to be King, and let His truth rule triumphantly within your thoughts. It is extremely important that we too welcome the Lord with joy and celebration as He rides courageously and intently into the intense ministry of growth needed within your heart and mind, symbolized by the city of Jerusalem. There is a lot of crucial spiritual growth, healing and learning that must take place within us, symbolized by the final week of awesome ministry, which God in His Divine-Humanity can offer each of us daily.
Think about the messages of hope and new life that the Lord preached in the Temple during Holy Week, how He said things like, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.Maybe there's a part of your own mind that resists resting deeply in God every day. Think of Him restoring sight to a blind man, and how perhaps there's a wonderful sort of spiritual truth just waiting for you to open your eyes to! Think about how vigorously Christ rebuked the extremely self-centered and stubborn religious authorities, calling them Vipers, whited sepulchers, full of dead men's bones and all corruption! Perhaps there's a stubborn and confused part of your self, which could use a stern and vigorous calling out on the carpet , which only Christ can do. And think of the Lord holding and blessing little children, and how this represents the special, innocent young affections in your heart, just waiting to be led today and every day to the warm touch and Divine love, which only Jesus can offer. Palm Sunday reminds us that the Lord is also your personal King of love in peace, who can ride calmly and courageously into your inner world of your heart and mind, and bring His ministry of growth and inspiration where things had once seemed to be fallen and hopeless. We are invited, too, to wave palm branches of joy and salvation in the air, and shout with glee, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! In this wonderful story we read together today, we are reminded of the enthusiasm felt and expressed by the pilgrims of Israel back then. This scene pictures, also, the kind of enthusiasm we too are designed to feel in welcoming the Lord as our King.
I want to end my Palm Sunday message with you today by briefly calling your attention to this fascinating story of Jesus using His Divine power to wither a simple little fig tree. Yet again we learn this morning of the vital importance of understanding spiritual correspondence, learning about the symbolism within the humble fig tree. The Fig is a modest tree, low and spreading. Its branches are ungainly and irregular. It is a tree that bears fruit without visible flowers. Interestingly, its fruit begins to appear before its leaves do. The fruit, however, is wonderful world renowned for its sweetness and nutritional value. Its fruit possesses soothing and healing powers. Leaves correspond to our ability to understand and receive God's light of truth, which are meant to lead us into new or greater forms of service. Flowers correspond to the most delightful of all kinds of thoughts those where we consciously connect our understanding to the Lord (perhaps with a quote from the Word) and know how to use God's truth, applying it directly to ours or another person's life in service of God's love and life. A plant that bears fruit reminds us that what we learn from God is meant to bear good fruit, sweetness that lasts. In comparison to the great Olive Tree, the humble Fig represents a natural degree of sweet kindness and usefulness, not connected to the Lord in a conscious way. As one author has said, the Fig is not so large, nor evergreen like the olive, nor so long-lived, nor are its fruit useful in so many ways. The olive represents the knowledge of the Lord's goodness and of how to bring forth His love in good works.
The fig represents a knowledge of natural kindness (unconnected to a person's higher thoughts of faith in the Lord). It's a more simple degree of goodness, sweet and nourishing, which is important and has its place in ourselves and our world, yet not yet ready to think more deeply about God our Father, who inspires the good works in the first place. The Lord took a moment, when He felt hungry, on Monday morning of the original Holy Week, to use His power to wither a little Fig Tree that had no fruit on its branches; this spiritual act of Christ reveals two bits of truth for us to consider. First, that He was simply using that little tree as an object lesson, showing His disciples of the real spiritual state of Israel at that time. Basic, simple, and random acts of kindness were of little import back then, which leads to spiritual decay and death. And second, that when or if we (people living today) choose a way of life where we are gaining access to simple wisdom on how to serve others but choose to not put it into action, then again spiritual decay is the effect. As Psalm 1 reminds us, blessed are those who delight in the law of God, who meditate upon it day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither. Christ, your Creator, hungers for you to produce simple acts of kindness for your family and others. May your Holy Week continue to intensify, as you welcome your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as King. Amen.