Palm Sunday is a day of celebration, even if this triumphant entry leads to tragedy before triumph returns. Good Friday will come soon enough, but in the meantime, let us celebrate the presence of God in our midst. During this Lenten season we have been attending to words from the Old Testament. We began with a reminder that our spiritual ancestor is a wandering Aramean. This image of the wanderer has been with us ever since, even when we entered the Land of Promise with Joshua. We heard how God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. We heard how God called Moses from the desert to go and deliver Israel out of the hands of Pharaoh. We made our way to the Land of Promise, crossing the river, but then we discovered that this time of settling in the land gave way to exile in Babylon. No matter where our spiritual ancestors wandered, God was with them. Yes, God is always at work laying down new pathways so that we might make our way forward.
Our Lenten journey began in Deuteronomy 26 where Moses declares that the ancestor of the people was a “wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:1-11). Last week we heard a word from Exodus 3, and Rick shared with us how God called Moses out of the land of Midian, where he was tending sheep, to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into a Promised Land. This morning we find ourselves at the end of that journey. Israel has set up camp at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho. They have crossed the river Jordan into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. The long years of wandering in the wilderness have finally come to an end, and so it’s time to celebrate.
Lent is a season of reflection that begins on Ash Wednesday with words of confession, marked by ashes, and accompanied by a word of forgiveness. The journey continues with a word about how the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed and was tested for forty days (Luke 4:1-12). These forty days of Lent mirror the forty years that Israel wandered in the wilderness having their faith tested. The reading from Deuteronomy 26 invites Israel to bring in an offering of Thanksgiving to celebrate the completion of the exodus from Egypt and the arrival in the Land of Promise. In words attributed to Moses, the people of God are directed to lay down their offerings and recite a confessional statement that begins with the words: “A wandering Aramean was my Ancestor.”
Every year on the first Sunday after Epiphany we remember the baptism of Jesus. It’s at this moment in the story that Jesus receives his call to ministry. In the gospels of Mark and John, this is the first time we actually encounter Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, starts the story before Jesus was even born. We even run into him in late childhood. Now, Jesus is an adult, and he comes down to the river to where John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance and baptizing those who were willing to repent. The people wondered whether John was the promised one, the Messiah, but John told them that the Messiah was still coming! While John baptized with water, the Messiah would baptize with Holy Spirit and Fire. Jesus joined this crowd who came down to the river. He got in line just like everyone else. He doesn’t make a fuss. There’s no spectacle. He’s simply baptized by John and then he goes off to pray.
You can understand why early Christians wanted to connect Jesus to Bethlehem. They proclaimed that Jesus was the promised child born in Bethlehem, who bring fulfillment to this promise of peace. We continue to embrace this vision as we celebrate Advent and Christmas – both the hope and the fulfillment. The phrase “little clans of Judah” caught my eye, as it did for Phillips Brooks. One of the wonders of life is that God doesn’t follow conventional wisdom. God doesn’t choose the powerful and the mighty – such as Assyria or Babylon – to accomplish God’s purposes. No, God chose Israel and Judah. And it was seemingly out of nowhere that David came to power. Remember that he was the youngest child in Jesse’s family. Jesse didn’t even bother to call him home when Samuel went looking for a replacement for Saul. Yet, God called David to be king. Wonders of wonders!