Misunderstanding Palm Sunday

man wearing black vest near crowded people
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It’s exciting to be in a crowd, but it can also be very frightening. The mood of a crowd can rapidly change, the dynamic of the mob can quickly take over. Who knows what the crowd will do next, especially if its expectations are not met?

The crowds surrounding Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem were no different. The emotions and excitement were reaching fever pitch, and the conditions were right for the whole thing to turn nasty.

You can read the story of the first Palm Sunday in Luke 19:28-44.

There would have been thousands of hot, excited, sweaty people all wanting to see Jesus; all wanting to know who he was, all wanting to see what he would do.

Jesus approaches and enters Jerusalem in the full knowledge that both the religious and political leaders were feeling threatened by his teaching and ministry, and that the crowd could easily turn if he didn’t fulfil their expectations and hopes.

The first Palm Sunday was a dramatic and hugely significant day in the life and ministry of Jesus. Prior to this, Jesus had resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem, to very publicly announce the coming of his kingdom.

He carefully chose a time when the people would be gathered in Jerusalem, and he chose a way of proclaiming his kingdom that was unmistakable.

But, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept over it:
If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

These weren’t the words of a human king, but rather the words of divine Saviour whose heart broke because of the spiritual and moral blindness of the people. He’d come to bring true peace, but they didn’t want it.

The crowd in Jerusalem thought they understood as they cheered, shouted, waved, and threw palm branches, but completely misunderstood Jesus’ identity.

They were full of nationalistic fervour and failed to recognise the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. Palms had been a symbol of Jewish nationalism from the time of the Maccabees and appeared on Jewish coins during their revolutionary struggle against the Romans, and now they were oppressed by them.

Jesus showed the people his true identity by riding on a donkey; a sign, according to the Old Testament, of the Messiah coming in peace. The people expected the Messiah to bring victory by force, but Jesus came to conquer by the Cross. The way of Jesus is not one of hatred, force or violence, rather it’s the way of sacrificial love.

The praise and adulation of the crowd was not the glory Jesus wanted, his glory was to come through self-sacrifice and suffering.

On this Palm Sunday, may we make our own decision to set our face towards Jerusalem; resolving to go God’s way, despite the expectations of the crowds, and live like Jesus.

See also: 05/04/20 Palm Sunday Worship

Radical Uncertainty

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Having a blog/website allows me to highlight some articles I’ve found helpful in the current pandemic. In this article, Oliver Burkeman advises us to focus on the things we can control, with a reminder that we aren’t as powerless as the coronavirus pandemic makes us feel.

He starts with a sermon given by CS Lewis in 1939: It wasn’t the case, he pointed out, that the outbreak of war had rendered human life suddenly fragile; rather, it was that people were suddenly realising it always had been. “The war creates no absolutely new situation,” Lewis said. “It simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice… We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life’. Life has never been normal.”

I hope you find the article as helpful as I did, click on the link here.

29/03/20 Sunday Worship

Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve not been able to put together the same type of online worship meeting as I published last Sunday (although I hope to be able to in the future). So this is something of a DIY Sunday worship meeting. I’ve put some useful links and resources at the bottom of this page, and I’ll add to these in due course. PDF of this post here. Blessings, John.

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Today we celebrate children and youth during the Salvation Army’s International Day of Prayer, please click on the link for a variety of resources for you to use in creative ways in our new circumstances.

The following message is from General Brian Peddle:

Then little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might pray for them. Matthew 19:13

Let’s not be too critical of the disciples. They were simply reflecting the social values of their day. Children were on the lower rung of the ladder of social importance. The disciples were simply trying to be protective of the time and energy of Jesus. What they were learning as disciples of this Teacher is that the Kingdom of Heaven has a different set of social values. Women, as well as men, are integral to the Kingdom. All races and ethnicities are welcomed in the Kingdom. Abilities and disabilities are not a factor in being loved by God. And children, especially children, have an important place in this realm of God’s grace.

Were we to overhear Jesus blessing the children I wonder if it might sound something like this: ‘Hey kids. I want you to know I’m really proud of you. We are going through some difficult days right now, aren’t we? This virus is making a lot of people sick. I hope you are keeping well. Thank you for washing your hands as much as possible, and for keeping your hands away from your face. Thank you too for helping the adults in your family. Your help around the house is very important. And thank you for praying for your friends. We are part of a team that is fighting something important. You can help us to make a difference in our world. We need your help. Know that I love you, and appreciate you very much. May you be blessed this day!’

This Sunday, 29 March, will have a particular emphasis in The Salvation Army world. It is an International Day of Prayer, with a focus on Children and Youth. It is being called The Power of One. Each child within our influence is important to God, and us. Each child has the possibility of making a difference in our world. We are grateful for every Salvationist who takes a particular interest in our young people. Thank you for your time and efforts as teachers, coaches, musical leaders. And thank you for befriending the young people in these formative years. During the COVID-19 crisis, our young people are particularly vulnerable. They may have a difficult time comprehending what is happening. We adults have a difficult time comprehending what is happening! Thank you for your explanations that help, for your patience as they seek to adjust to new boundaries, and for your love that sustains them in difficult moments. Even as we pray with the help of our digital world, may our united praying help to affirm that The Power of One is very real.

There are people hurting
In the world out there.
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
There are children crying and no one to care.
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
And they’ll go on hurting
In the world out there,
And they’ll go on dying, drowning in despair,
And they’ll go on crying, that’s unless we care!
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
(Joy Webb, Song Book 935)

Be affirmed and be still, encourage and be encouraged, love and be loved.
God bless you all, Major John Ager.


Useful links and resources.

The Salvation Army IHQ: International Headquarters in London, UK.

The Salvation Army THQ: Headquarters in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

BibleGateway: Read, study and listen in all languages and versions.

Our Daily Bread: Daily devotionals that can also be streamed or downloaded.

Northumbria Community

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In these bewildering times, you may find some solace and strength from the Northumbria Community, especially their regular Daily Prayer. These can be used by individuals, families and friends and can be easily shared over the telephone or via video calls. They can provide a much needed daily routine and a sense of grounding in a rapidly changing and confusing world, where we are all asking many questions and searching for answers that may not immediately be to hand.

Transfiguration (Malcolm Guite)

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In worship this morning at Wallsend Salvation Army we considered the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9. I used an audio daily devotional from Our Daily Bread entitled Live Wire and the following poem by Malcolm Guite.

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

I discovered the poetry and prose of Malcolm Guite a few years ago and I turn to these regularly for private devotions and public worship. Click on the painting by Lewis Bowman for more information.

The Essence of Lent

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We’re now in the period of the Christian year known as Lent, on the start of a journey towards Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. It’s a time when we consider the tremendous challenge Jesus experienced in the desert. Forty days when he prepared himself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the task he would accomplish on Good Friday; the victory of love over hate, good over evil, peace over violence, life over death.

In essence, the temptations Jesus faced were the same as we face:

  • The temptation to put physical needs or desires before the things of God.
  • The temptation to use power and influence for our own selfish ends, rather than for the things of God.
  • The temptation to show off, to imagine that we are better (even spiritually) than others, rather than living a humble life that allows God the glory.

In the desert, Jesus showed us the way of obedience to God.
On the cross, he paid the price that we might know life in its fullness.

So often, we choose the way of imperfection, fuelled by self-interest and pride. How often do we crown our desires as the sovereign of our lives?

Yet Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to offer us the prospect of salvation and the restored dignity of humankind, a sacred gift of true life.

Once we accept the truth about ourselves and, in humility, reject material goals for spiritual ones, we are walking the way Christ walked for us; and one which, because of the resurrection, he is walking with us today.

Note: You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 4:1-13

Is self-denial old-fashioned?

1 In the Beginning from The Salvation Army UK & Ireland on Vimeo.

In some ways, I suppose it could be said that self-denial is an old-fashioned concept, but there are many instances of people who give of themselves to love and support others, sometimes even people they don’t know personally.

The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland is currently in a period of ‘Self-Denial’ (which partially coincides with Lent in the Christian year) when we consider giving sacrificially to support the work of the Salvation Army in other countries.

This year we are especially focusing on Burkina Faso in West Africa, and over five weeks are watching short videos (as part of our weekly worship meetings) showing the work of the Salvation Army in this country, before giving in an ‘Altar Service’ on the fifth week when we bring our financial gift forward in worship and place it on an open Bible.

I’ve embedded the first video into this post, but the others can be found by clicking on the links below.

2 The Road to Faith
3 Stirring Things Up
4 Sowing Seeds
5 Growing Saints

One of the concerns in Burkina Faso at the moment is terrorist attacks, many of which are directed at the Christian Church. Indeed, two such fatal attacks have taken place since we started considering the work in this country. Please remember Burkina Faso in your prayers and give generously. If you’re not connected with the Salvation Army, you can find more information here.

Update: The day after this post was published another deadly attack was reported: Gunmen have killed 24 people and wounded 18 others in an attack on a Protestant church in a village in northern Burkina Faso.