From Glory to Glory
Updated: Mar 29, 2021
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “God Transforms Reality”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
March 28, 2021
1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Changed from glory into glory! Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? The phrase comes from that glorious hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The fourth verse prays and promises we will be “Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place.” It always makes me smile – first because of the promise of the glory of heaven, but also because it reminds me that we are God’s glory now – living as we are in the flesh, living in the trials and temptations of right now we are God’s glory. So let’s think about what that means for a moment.
How are we God’s glory? Are we living in glory now? Are we the embodiment of God’s glory? Sounds – amazing, astonishing even! I know it is and we are, theologically. I just wish I could remember that more often psychologically and act on it more constantly! I confess, I often forget this is supposed to be “glory.” And I forget that I am God’s glory, you are God’s glory, we are God’s glory. But this morning as we remember the day Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the day we call “Palm Sunday,” I want to do a deeper dive into what this glory means.
The day we call Palm Sunday has mostly been portrayed the way we would define glory and frankly the way the Romans of Jesus’ time defined glory. We have buffed it up to be a real celebration. I like that personally, but if we dig deeper into the real history of that day the glory comes with a pointed message we often miss today.
First, the reason Jesus was in Jerusalem was for the Jewish Passover. Thousands of “pilgrims” were there for the same reason. Passover is the high holy day of their faith. It was time to remember how God had “passed over” the Hebrew slaves in captivity in Egypt. While some sort of a killing pandemic hit the Egyptians, the Hebrew slaves were spared, saved by a mark of blood on their door jam. This was the beginning of their “Exodus,” their escape, by God’s grace, to the Promised Land, to their former homeland of Israel. But this religious celebration was a pain in the neck for their current captors, the Romans. The Romans prided themselves on allowing their captive nations the freedom to “carry on” in their traditions and ways, but these Jews were quite the pain. It seems these holy celebrations kept turning into times of riots, seditious attacks on the Romans.
Pilate, appointed Governor of Palestine by Caesar, had had just about enough of the craziness from these rioters, these zealots. He had begun to make a point, at the beginning of Passover week, to organize and ride in to Jerusalem at the head of Roman troops on horseback, armed and armored up in full regalia. The point of course was to emphasize Rome’s ability to put down any sort of riot, and the threat of execution by crucifixion was a constant, visible reminder on the roadsides into Jerusalem for anyone accused of sedition. So the idea of a parade was not original with the followers of a certain rabbi from Galilee who was gaining notoriety for his teachings and his “miracles.” It was, you might say, a way to make an alternative point to Pilate’s.
Saying that, the details of Jesus’ little parade stand out because they echo Biblical prophecies about the coming of the one the Jews called Messiah, the holy title for the King of Israel. The prophet Zechariah put it this way [9:9], “rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So this passage tells us a couple of things. First, it illustrates the expectations of the Jewish people that their King would come both religiously righteous and bringing salvation – but whether that was for “heaven after death” or from an earthly conqueror may not be so clearly defined. In addition, it is interesting that the prophet tells us instead of looking like a mighty warrior, as Pilate was trying to do with his little parade, this Savior was coming with the quality of being “gentle.” And instead of riding a mighty steed, a warhorse, this king was coming on a donkey, and what’s more a young, not fully grown donkey. One imagines Jesus’ feet dragging in the dirt as he rides this undersized foal, this colt and the rather comedic quality of that picture.
All this is to say that what we call glory and what the Bible defines as glory may be quite different in some ways and at some times. We tend to define glory by, well, how glorious it is. More bling, more lights, more fireworks defines glory, right? Paul Simon sang, “she was a rich girl, she had diamonds on the soles of her shoes.” We loved Elvis, the King’s bling – his white jumpsuits, his gold chains and the Las Vegas quality of his shows. Churches even get into it. They have fireworks, and light shows with the dry ice smoke and the decibel breaking rock bands. We don’t much go for humble. We like leaders who are loud and showy and kick “you-know-what.”
But here comes Jesus, feet dragging in the dirt, no grand flags waving or red carpets rolled out. Just a few palm fronds and a small, dirty crowd of peasants, peasants just like Jesus was a peasant. Jesus didn’t have much of what we consider “glorified,” stuff. Rev. William Carter, [ “The Best Things are Borrowed,” day1.org, 04.01.12. ], says, “Jesus was born in a borrowed place and laid in a borrowed manger. As he traveled, he had no place of his own to spend the night. He rode into the city on a borrowed donkey. He ate his final meal in a borrowed room. He was crucified on a borrowed cross, wearing a borrowed crown that jokers stuck upon his head. And when he died, somebody placed his body in a borrowed tomb.”
He asks, “Have you ever considered how remarkable this is? Jesus didn't own very much--just the tunic on his body and the sandals on his feet. After he was arrested and condemned, the soldiers tossed dice to see who would take his clothing. He commanded the same of those who followed him. As he instructed them, ‘When you go out to proclaim the good news, take no money, no knapsack, no extra tunic, no extra shoes, not even a walking stick. Take only a word of peace, borrow the bed given to you, and proclaim that God’s kingdom is very close.’” Now I say all that not to glorify poverty, but I have to stop and think about what a Benedictine monk said about why he kept no possessions other than the clothes on his back. He explained, ‘If your closet is empty, there is more room for God.’
What’s the point of all this talk about what makes for glory? I guess it comes down to the one we call the King of Glory, Jesus. What do we expect of him? What is the glory that he brings, that he is? What is the point of “Palm Sunday?” The first thing that jumps to mind is that maybe the point of Palm Sunday is to challenge my expectations – my expectations of life, my expectations of Jesus, my expectations of what constitutes glory, maybe even my expectation of salvation.
See here’s another little historical detail. The people at Jesus’ parade were shouting a word that is very strange to our ears. The word was “Hosanna!” Now most of us have been taught this is a word of praise for God. But at its root it means literally “Save us!” The word comes from Psalm 118:25 which reads, “Save us, we beg you, O Lord!” I’m struck here again by a small detail. They shout “save us!” Not “save me!” This isn’t about personal salvation as we would define it. It is about a people, knowing they were considered peasants, worthless, poor and powerless, held under the army boot of the largest army of the most powerful nation on earth at the time. They had no economic power, no political power, no religious power. Their religion was considered a bizarre blasphemy by sophisticated, powerful, and religiously jaded Rome. So this is the conflict that is at the heart of this little scene of street theater, this political protest held in what was little more than what we would call a village, in a backwater, impoverished nation a long, long time ago.
It is a conflict that still echoes in every conflict today. In those who cry out because their race is oppressed, the Hebrew people’s – brown people’s cry is heard – “Save us!” In the cry of those oppressed by armies of police who are trained to arrest, to shoot, to control, to overpower anyone who does not immediately obey their commands, we hear the cry of those Palm Sunday protestors – “Save us!” In the cries of women abused by men who think their actions are just those of “boys will be boys” or whose talk is just “locker room talk” in the offices and coffee break rooms at work we hear the cries of those powerless Jewish peasants: “Save us!” In the cry of every person who feels unheard because they are struggling with mental illness or with physical disabilities or with a gender orientation different from the majority we hear this same cry: “Save us!”
Most of us don’t think that way. We think – ‘Save ME!” We don’t think much about asking for the sake of the others. We have been so indoctrinated in the myth of the individual that we recoil when others suggest we have become tribal. We don’t think like those folks, we think. Our behavior isn’t like those folks, we think. I got where I am by my own abilities, your failure is because you are lazy, or you are inferior. We believe we earn everything and no one gave or gives us anything, so why should we help anyone else. If we help them we’ll just make them welfare queens or thugs, coded racial words for, well, you know, “them.”
Makes me want to shout – “Hosanna!” Save us, Lord! Save us from our selves. Save us from Caesar and the misplaced trust in those who use power enrich themselves while others suffer. Save us from religion that does nothing but justify our prejudices, stereotypes, assumptions, and expectations. “Hosanna!” Don’t just save me, Lord because by myself I am nothing. I need others. I need those who are different, who are not like me because “I cannot be fully me until you are fully you.” Save us Lord from economies of wishful thinking for billions of people while a few thousand continue to amass wealth beyond any wish or imagination. Save us, Lord from ourselves and our thinking that only those like me are worth saving, everyone else needs conversion or deserves hell.
This Palm Sunday, shout Hosanna with me…Hosanna, Lord! Save us! AMEN.