Descending Into Greatness

Welcome, friends! Philippians 2:5-11 is an appropriate place for us to be on Palm Sunday. Christians everywhere are reminded that Jesus humbled himself by coming and submitting to death. In so doing, Christ absorbed all the guilt and shame of the world on a cruel cross. As we enter this Christian Holy Week, let us do so embracing the mindset of Jesus as a servant to all. Click the videos below and let us declare that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God.

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Philippians 2:5-11

God of our salvation,
help us to enter with joy
into the celebration of those mighty acts by which you have given us fullness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Psalm 118 – “A Spiritual Pilgrimage”

Welcome, friends!  On this Palm Sunday, let us give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Click on the video below to join in the joyful procession….

The following links are for your use and enjoyment:

If you are having any difficulty with the video on this site, you can click TimEhrhardtYouTube to view and listen.

To learn more about the Labyrinth, click How to Walk a Labyrinth for a short guided tour.

Click Give Thanks and allow Filipino singer Janella Salvador to lead you in song.

May we walk and feel the ground of the coming week, that is Holy Week, for it is on this sacred soil that we live and run, work and play, praise and lament.

A Spiritual Pilgrimage

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It seems strange sitting here in my home with no anticipation of being around children waving palm leaves.  It feels awkward facing the beginning of Holy Week with the prospect of no physical gatherings of Christian believers.  Perhaps with the exception of this year, every year on Palm Sunday thousands of Christians, from all over the world, gather in the small town of Bethphage, located just two miles outside of Jerusalem – to walk to Jerusalem like Jesus did in his triumphal entry on a donkey.  Many of those pilgrims carry palm and olive branches.  All the people sing hymns as they walk up the Mount of Olives, down into the Kidron Valley, and then up Mount Moriah into the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a worship experience filled with gratitude. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1)

Every year there are others along the pilgrim path appearing out of place for such a joyous journey.  Spread out along the way are Israeli military soldiers wearing full combat gear, carrying automatic weapons over their shoulders and gazing on the spectacle of worshiping Christians before them. Other Israeli Jews look on with a mix of indifference or concern.  Maybe we can imagine that Jesus encountered a similar experience with people laying palm branches along his path; Roman soldiers all around; and, Jews looking on with curiosity.  It might have been easy for Jesus to avoid Jerusalem and not face the cross that he knew was coming at the end of the week.  It might be easy for us to avoid adversity and suffering. Yet, Jesus continued his journey into Jerusalem because of joy and gratitude. Psalm 118 ends like it begins: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his love endures forever.”

Joy and gratitude can be our strength in times of adversity.  Yet, it will only come as we join the spiritual pilgrimage.

Psalm 118 is a liturgy for worshipers coming to Jerusalem and the temple from all parts of Israel in order to celebrate Passover.  Like the Christian pilgrims on Palm Sunday, the ancient Jewish worshipers ascended Jerusalem with great anticipation.  They sing of God’s love and remember the deliverance from Egypt and slavery into the freedom of the Promised Land.

The word for “love” throughout Psalm 118 is my favorite word in the Old Testament.  It is a rich word which is difficult to translate in English because the term is so dense with meaning.  The Hebrew word is chesed and the New International Version translates it in various ways:  grace, covenant loyalty, mercy, compassion, kindness, and consistently translated in Psalm 118 as “love.”  It is the kind of love that is graciously given despite whether a person deserves it or not.  It is a steadfast love that holds on and does not let go.

God is a God who consistently gives grace when we fall short; shows unflagging commitment where we are fickle; gives unbounded mercy when we are broken; provides constant compassion when we have been hurt; provides kindness even when we are unkind; and, dispenses enduring love which, for the Christian, finds its ultimate expression in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who embodied “chesed for us so that we might experience life to the full.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

We may be under directives to stay at home, yet, we have the gracious opportunity to walk on a spiritual pilgrimage every day to the very heart of God and meet love face to face. How might you and I do that?

Labyrinth

One way is through walking a Labyrinth.  This is an ancient practice of the Church meant for spiritual centering, contemplation, and prayer. Entering the serpentine path of a labyrinth, one walks slowly while quieting the mind and focusing on a spiritual question or prayer.  A labyrinth is not a maze. It has only one winding path to the center and back out.  The wisdom of the Labyrinth is that it reflects life, that is, our lives are not about the destination – life is about the long circuitous journey.  The Christian life is consistently described in the New Testament as a road or a way.  We walk with Jesus.

Although many Labyrinths are typically found within churches, church grounds, or in park spaces (and many or most of these are currently closed) we can utilize “finger” Labyrinths.  Rather than physically walking, you can slowly trace the path with your finger.  You might also get creative and make your own homemade Labyrinth in a space of your home or yard.  Click The Labyrinth Society to get free printable Labyrinths, as well as take a virtual Labyrinth walk.

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The Labyrinth is not meant to be a race to the center; it only “works” if we move at a pace which enables us to meditatively pray, paying attention to what God is doing within us.  Generally, there are four stages to the walk:

  • Releasing on the way toward the center – letting go of all that weighs us down in the Christian life.  “Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, CEB)
  • Receiving in the center – accepting the love God has for you.  Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:24, NRSV)
  • Returning through following the path back out – integrating what you have received for the life of the world.  “I will give them a heart to know me, God. They will be my people and I will be their God, for they will have returned to me with all their hearts.” (Jeremiah 24:7, The Message)
  • Responding to the love of God through gratitude – thus finding joy, even in the most troubling of circumstances.  “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1, NRSV)

The penitent heart will resonate deeply with the psalms as worship liturgy.  This is because liturgical practices impress the spirit and bring spiritual freedom.  We will only find this odd if we have nothing to repent of.  Turning from sinful liturgies of life and turning to a new liturgy of following Jesus is like walking through a gate into a new reality and rejoicing with all the other redeemed pilgrims who are walking the road to Jerusalem to be with Jesus.  Our Lord himself said,

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  He will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:9-10, NIV).

In this time of virtual presence and electronic communication, I take comfort in the reality that we do not need to text or email God and hope he answers – we have the joyous opportunity of walking the pilgrim way and crawling into the lap of God.

Just like everything else, what you put into something is going to affect what you get out of it. If we go into the Labyrinth half-hearted, we will leave half-hearted. If we go into prayer or worship thinking only of the obligation, we will only fulfill the obligation. Yet, if we come ready to meet God, if we come ready to receive his grace, if we come expectantly – Who knows what God can do?

So, let us enter prayer, reading of Scripture, virtual fellowship, and the worship of God each day with the heart of a pilgrim. Let us enter with a song on our lips and joy in our hearts. Let us enter knowing that worship is the place where we connect with the love of God through the Son of God. Let us enter expecting to come out of worship changed, carrying in our hearts the anticipation of great things to happen.

The Message of Palm Sunday

 
 
The story of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week leads to a couple of penetrating questions:  Is Jesus really enough for me, just the way he is?  Or, do I think he ought to be different than he is?
 
The majority of the people who gathered to give Jesus praise at the beginning of the week, shouted to the Roman authorities to have him crucified at the end of the week.  Why the big turn around?  The change in attitude came because Jesus did not fit the crowd’s expectations of what the Messiah should be and do.  They did not accept him for who he was.  We need to be aware of our own expectations for God, and for what we believe Jesus ought to be and to do.
 
Missed expectations create either hurt, anger, or both.  How we view Jesus determines how we will view the Christian life and the Christian Church.  If we see Jesus as being like an earthly politician and emphasize his war chest while downplaying his meekness, we will then have a triumphalist view of Christianity and be disappointed when there is no practical victory taking place.  The crowd wanted assurances that in Jesus’ first 40 days in office that he would put the big hurt on the Roman authorities.  They had expectations of strong leadership, making things happen, and accomplishing big hairy audacious goals. 
 
On the other extreme, if we view Jesus as only a Suffering Servant and pay little attention to his lordship over everything, then we will remain in spiritual contemplation without effectively engaging the world with the victory of the cross and resurrection.  But if we view Jesus as the Gentle King, the Humble Sovereign; if we see him as lowly royalty, giving due emphasis to both his divinity and his humanity, his authority and his humility; then, we will begin to worship Jesus as he truly is and not as we want him to be. 
 
            Most of the crowd checking out Jesus already had their minds made up about who they thought he should be.  They had no room for a suffering servant and a humble savior because they could only see the sins of others, and not their own sins.  They believed Jesus was the King of Israel, and, for them, that meant a political liberator from the Gentile Romans.  They were aware of the royal psalms that spoke of divine rule over the nations.  The crowd was understandably weary of being dominated by non-Jews, and wanted some serious payback and a new establishment with the Messiah in charge.
 
            To put this ancient scene in perspective, it would be like in our day getting completely jazzed-up about a particular presidential candidate who did some incredible things on the campaign trail and is now entering Washington D.C. to a ticker-tape parade and lots of flag-waving.  Palm branches were the national symbol for Israel, like our flag displays.  There was no question about what the crowd of people wanted:  a strong leader-king who was going to change the establishment and inaugurate a new administration of peace and prosperity that put the Romans in their place and give prominence to the Jews, like King David of old.
 
            But Jesus deliberately chose a donkey to ride on in Jerusalem (John 12:12-16).  He was serving notice to all the people that he was not going to capitulate to the crowd’s agenda for him.  He was not going to become the political savior they were looking for.  He was not coming to overturn the establishment.  He was not there to make everyone feel good about being a good patriotic Jew. 
 
Here is the point that this story emphasizes, and it is a timeless, necessary conclusion:  We are to adjust to Jesus, and not the other way around.  Jesus did not fit into the triumphalist and nationalist scene of the Jews because he is the not just the King of the Jews, but the King of All Nations.  He did take on the establishment – just not the Roman one.  Jesus came to overturn the ruling establishment of Satan and his wicked spirits; he came to upend the principalities and powers of this dark world.  Jesus came to take back the people of this earth for God, and he would not do it through a political revolution, but by a spiritual one.  Jesus would seize power by sacrificing himself for the sins of everyone, and making it possible for people to live a new life without the world, the flesh, and the devil dogging them at every turn.
 

 

The church has a wonderful message of deliverance to communicate.  Let us remember the basis for it in this Holy Week.