Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Palm Sunday Sermon

a 6 minute sermon about Palm Sunday – a very dangerous story.

Transcript below the video. I talk about the financial, military, political, and religious layers of the narrative. It is a well known script that we rehearse every year.

If I were to tell you a story about a little girl named Liberty and the story was set in Philadelphia in 1776, you would probably have a head start on what was going on in the story.

Or similarly, if I told you a story about a police officer in Ferguson Missouri in 2014 you might have a clue as to what that story was going to be about.

Today we are celebrating Palm Sunday and it is a story that has layers and layers of the buried meaning that we have to dig through as a 21st-century audience if we want to uncover.

Palm Sunday is doubly distracting because there’s not only is there a cute little colt that Jesus rides in on but there are actual children waving palm fronds. Don’t be deceived however–this story is saturated with dangerous ingredients.

Jesus rides in to town and makes his triumphal entry in what appears to be an unassuming and non- threatening sort of a way. But just keep in mind,  there had to be more going on in the story then first appears because he will not make it out of this week alive. Whatever he was up to was perceived by the authorities to be such a threat that he would be terminated before the week’s end.

So what exactly what’s going on that was so threatening and dangerous? I just want to pull on three threads that are woven into the fabric of the story for our time together this morning.

The first thing we need to do is look at what was going on and the other side of town. It is not difficult to imagine the profound contrast of the Roman appointed ruler riding in to town on an actual stallion with actual soldiers in an actual military parade complete with trumpets.

Jesus was no military general and that was no war-horse with battle armor. So what we call the triumphal entry was really more of a low budget pantomime or charade. It would have looked more  like a satire or lampoon than an actual threat.

But let’s keep digging.

What were those palm leaves about anyway? Well it turns out that they were a very subversive dog-whistle of sorts that harkened back to it time when the Jewish people were not occupied by a military oppressor and actually had their own currency. Archaeologists and Biblical scholars pointer coins that had Palm fronds on them as a sign of independence and liberation.

Let’s be honest, compared to the swords of the Roman centurions, those palm branches were no threat to anyone. Especially in the hands of little children you wouldn’t think that they were to be feared. But here is the thing: they were a reminder of a time when the people were free and the nation was sovereign. These palm branches we’re not just subversive but a secret-song to incite revolt. Even in the hands of little children they were full of violence.

It is in to this powder-keg that Jesus, named for his ancestor Joshua whose name means ‘salvation’, comes riding into town with the crowds shouting, ”Hosanna – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This can easily be heard as a cry for liberation, a freedom song that people who have been under the heavy boot of military occupation and both political and religious oppression sing when they are longing to throw off the yoke of their oppressor.

So we have talked about an economic layer with the coins, the military layer with the swords in contrast to the palm branches, a political layer, and even a historical layer with his Jewish ancestry and even illusions to a messianic expectation of deliverance, salvation, and liberation.

What is the religious layer?

When Jesus rides in, what he offers to ushers in is not just a new kingdom to replace the old Kingdom. It’s not a simple switch from Caesar’s reign to God’s reign. What Jesus is ushering in is an invitation to an entirely different way of being in the world. This is the tragic thing that gets lost in the shifting sands of history.

Jesus’ is vision of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) isn’t a Caesar style Kingdom or empire at all! It is a counter kingdom, and un-kingdom, an upside down inside out insurrection of the established order and the status quo. It’s not a revolution or a military coup just so that Jesus can sit on Caesar’s throne–it is instead a vision of an entirely different way of relating to the divine order, your neighbor, and your enemy alike.

Whether the rulers knew it or even the people lining the parade route that day knew it – what road into town that day was of vision of a different way of being in the world: call it a revolution of love, a divine economy, or the kin-dom where all of God’s children can flourish and prosper without fear.

This is the sub-plot of our yearly drama. Every year on this Sunday we rehearse the pageantry of the palms and we have our children process as we enact the narrative of the Prince of Peace humbling riding in on an unassuming donkey.

That is all fun. Just don’t be under the impression that it is tame, or cute, or non-threatening. Embedded in the narrative is a menacing sub-plot. It is an invitation for you and I to imagine the world being a different way. It is chance for us to rehearse a different way of being in the world.

Underneath the well-rehearsed script of the familiar play is imbedded a subversive invitation to wake from our slumber, break out of our routine, and begin to participate in the inbreaking kin-dom of connection and care that undermines the assumed and entrenched ruts of this world in order to rupture the concrete reality of our daily existence.

We are in an unprecedented time in our society. We are caught up in a global pause of social isolation.

Our question for this Palm Sunday is this: when we hit the ‘play’ button again, how do we want things to be different? Can we imagine the world a different way? Maybe ‘getting things back to normal’ isn’t our only option. Maybe there is a different way of being in the world.







Palms Are Political

A friend reminded me this week that I used to write about Easter frequently. Then in theology class this week several topics came up that related to Lent and Easter subjects. SO I thought it might be fun to rework some archived material and post it on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I would love to hear your thoughts.

When I was a children’s and family minister, Palm Sunday was fun. At our stained-glass and organ church did it up big. We got lots and lots of palm branches for folks to wave during the singing of the hymns and we had the kids process down the aisle and march around the sides of the pews. It is quite a visual.

That is the modern version of Palm Sunday. It is kids choirs and photo-ops and party-like atmosphere.

The original Palm Sunday was little bit different. It was not so cutesy and hallmark holiday. It was aggressive and it was deeply political.

The politics of Palm Sunday:

The Jewish people were under occupation. Roman occupation was especially repressive and brutal.IMG_0332.JPG (2)

The last time that the Jewish people had been free and self-governed also meant that they had their own currency. On their big coin, a palm branch was prominently displayed.

Laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a colt/donkey was an act of defiance and an aggressive political statement.

We want to be free. This guy is going to change things and restore what was lost.

Having children wave palm branches in the equivalent to teaching a child to stick up her middle finger in anger… only more political. kid_soccer_fan

I am troubled by the lack of context regarding the palms of Palm Sunday. It reeks of both willful ignorance and religious disconnect.

I’m afraid the palms are just one more migrating signifier that no longer re-presents that which is supposed to signify. 

In so many ways we have sanitized, sterilized and compartmentalized the teaching of scriptures. We proudly and loudly defend the Bible – all the while neglecting the actual reality talked about in that Bible. Continue reading “Palms Are Political”

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