As I sit and reflect on Palm Sunday, I have come to the conclusion that I have always enjoyed Mark’s Gospel. Probably because in college I studied it under James Edwards, a very passionate Mark scholar. It could also be because Mark’s writing is so much like the other writers I enjoy – writers of fast-paced, hidden plot device-using, suspenseful novels.
One of Mark’s themes is the hidden nature of Jesus. We know Jesus is the Messiah, but the characters in the stories don’t. One way he highlights that is through telling multiple stories together with one overarching theme.
One of my favorite examples of this starts in Mark Chapter 11, Jesus is about to give his greatest sermon, go on trial and be crucified. He enters Jerusalem in the prophesied format of the coming Messianic ruler, and returns to his lodgings outside of town for the evening. In the morning, the disciples and Jesus are walking along the road and see a tree with no fruit. Jesus curses it. Then, he enters the temple and clears out the stuff getting in the way of worship. That evening, as they return again to their lodgings outside of town, the disciples see the cursed tree, now dead.
One of the other reasons I like Mark’s gospel is the richness of Jewish symbolism. Here is Jesus, riding a young donkey, and the people are waving palm branches and shouting! As Jewish people, this calls up the image of the Feast of Booths, or Sukkot. We wave palm (and other) branches and we sing and shout and celebrate because God has chosen to dwell with us. It is a simple time of food, family, and camping away from the distractions of modern life. It is a time of joy, remembering the columns of fire and cloud, the tabernacle and temple that physically reminded us of God’s presence in the midst of the people, and a time of looking ahead to the restoration.
Ch Rob Rose and his staff with the Chief of Staff of the Air Force
In my current position, I try to instill that same sense of restoration. We say military chaplains are “Visible Reminders of the Holy.” We are present in the midst of the people to remind them there is more to this world than meets the eye. We remind them of times in the past when their spirituality has helped them and attempt to steer them to a time in the future when their spirituality can help again.
Due to a combination of once in 500 years factors, Nebraska has just recently faced historic flooding. In 2019, three significant rivers flooded at historic levels all at the same time and my workplace is near where they meet. My office had five and a half feet of water in it, and other buildings nearby had 24 feet around it at the height of the flood. Beyond just office space, many people are mourning the loss of mementos, routines, as well as homes, cars, and other property.
Jesus’ triumphal entry, as the church has called it, is a reminder to me in this time that God is with us. Jesus is as much Emmanuel in the Lenten season as in Advent and Christmas. Our theology tells us God desires to be in relationship with us. The images of the humble ruler and the shouting crowds remind us of Sukkot’s promise of God’s presence. Even the story within the story of the cursed fig tree and temple, all speak to God’s overwhelming desire to be near to us.
So, whatever your season looks like, take a lesson from Mark’s gospel – bear fruit in season. Jesus knew where the cheers and palm branches would eventually lead and He continued for our sakes. During this season, know God was, is, and will always be right there next to you.