Welcome back to my series, Lent, In Other Words. You are welcome here! The following essay is a reflection of the Palm Sunday lectionary reading, Matt 21:1-11. This week’s word is bold.
I recently heard Thea Gillmore’s folksy yet chilling cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969, Bad Moon Rising. She strums a banjo as she croons,
…Hope you have got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye
Don’t go around tonight
‘Cause it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
The lyrics and the soulful music resonate with me.
In the space of one week, the world watched innocent people slowly suffocate to death from a sarin gas attack by a ruthless dictator whose hunger for power justified the killing of babies and children.
A bomb exploded during Palm Sunday worship in a Coptic Church in Egypt, bloodying the pews, scattering palms, and shattering lives.
In California, a teacher was shot and killed by a mentally ill gunman in front of her young special needs students, two of whom were caught in the gunfire. One little boy, Jonathan Martinez, later died.
A game of military one-upmanship escalated tensions in the middle east and Asia, putting the whole world at risk of even more senseless violence.
And in lighter news, we saw a dehumanizing video of a man forcefully dragged off an overbooked United flight when he refused to give up a seat he paid for, raising questions about the western practice of prioritizing profits over people.
Some have likened these incidents to an assault on humanity. It sure feels like there’s a bad moon on the rise. We’re in the midst of nasty weather and it threatens our very lives.
The Palm Sunday narrative in the Gospel of Matthew described Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where he knew he would be handed over to the authorities and killed for teaching peace rather than violence; challenging people to turn the other cheek rather than seeking an eye for an eye; and commanding love above all things. But prioritizing human dignity over the law was countercultural and illegal, and the penalty was death. Jesus was warned, “Don’t go ‘round tonight. ‘Cause it’s bound to take your life.” But he went boldly anyway.
There’s an argument in theological circles that suggests western Christians are hyper focused on the triumphant part of the story: people laying down their cloaks and palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!” as Jesus passed by. And what’s not to love about that idea? People laying down everything in reverence to Jesus who pushed onward to sacrifice his life in the name of love, is a truly beautiful thing. Shouts of praise seem appropriate considering the powerful culmination of events on Easter morning,
Yet acknowledging the nasty weather Jesus mired in gives the Easter story its power. Scripture says that the city was in turmoil. People didn’t know what to make of Jesus. Was he a king? A prophet? A revolutionary? Shouting “Hosanna” was a brave and bold statement. Declaring Jesus as the one who comes in the name of the Lord was an act of resistance to the status quo and a dangerous confession of faith. People recognized trouble on the way; a bad moon on the rise. Yet they had the audacity to hope for something better.
The details of our world may be different than they were some two thousand years ago, but humanity’s need for a savior is the same now as it was then. This Holy Week, let’s challenge ourselves to lay everything down before the One who saved humanity through an act of love. Let’s praise the One who taught us that we can inherit the kingdom of God, by the grace of God. But let’s not be afraid to follow the One who is with us too, and who shows us the way through the nasty weather. Let’s bravely and boldly move through this week to confront the reality of the cross, even while holding onto hope for something better.
Take a moment to listen to Thea Gillmore’s Bad Moon Rising and imagine the scene as Jesus marched into Jerusalem. Then think of our world as you imagine Jesus humbly leading us through our nasty weather. Please join me in praying for those who are hurting, that we might find ways to alleviate suffering.