Sunday Sermon: Join the Humble Procession

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By Michelle Phillips

Embrace wholehearted living inspired by Jesus’ journey this Lenten season. Trust in God’s guidance as you discern your response to the call of peace and restoration in the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus this week. We’ve journeyed with Jesus through Lent. Our lives have been swept clear of clutter that distracts us from the things that are most important. We’ve been invited to simplicity, to purpose, to connection. And we’ve made it here, to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 

Jesus enters the city amid this joyous fanfare, knowing what will come at the end of the week when these crowds disappear and he’s left alone. “The tragic irony is that Jesus is headed to a shameful execution – and he knows it.” Mark’s gospel is stark and dismal in its story of the last week of Jesus’ life. And yet we take today to celebrate, rejoice. 

As I contemplated this juxtaposition of the I tried to imagine what it must have felt like for Jesus. I used one of my favorite spiritual practices, Ignatian contemplation, which I’d like to invite you to experience here with me. This is a spiritual practice rooted in the teachings of Ignatius of Loyola, and it emphasizes prayer through imagination. In this tradition you engage actively with Gospel scenes, allowing your mind and heart to interact with the events. 

This spiritual practice doesn’t come naturally to me, but I find that the very effort is helpful to settle my soul and connect me to my own divine intuition. By visualizing the scenes as vividly as watching a movie, you immerse yourself in the details, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and emotions. The goal isn’t merely to recall the stories but to encounter the mysteries of Jesus’ life in a personally meaningful way, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. 

Trusting in God’s guidance, you explore the narratives, discerning whether your imaginings draw you closer to or further from God, providing consolation or desolation. Not everyone finds imaginative prayer easy, but individuals are encouraged to pray as they are able, trusting that God will communicate through various faculties, whether memory, intellect, emotions, or intuition. The essence lies in openness and receptivity to divine communication. So, as I read the scripture again, I want you to settle in and try to imagine the scene as vividly as if you were recalling an event that happened to you. 

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

This last sentence, this anti-climactic ending is what I have been dwelling on. I imagine Jesus, a man with such vision and passion for his mission, but also a deeply sensitive, and I like to think, introverted soul. What a day of sensory overload, after a long journey, and being attentive to the needs of everyone else. All of this was overshadowed by the burden of what was to come. 

Jesus Can Only Love at Full Speed

The verb used here to “look around at everything” connotes deep contemplation and attention. I imagine that he was taking time to breathe, to take the space between, to prepare and refocus. I imagine he was remembering why he was about to take actions that would lead him to the garden, cross, and grave. 

I wonder if he reflected back on the beginning of his ministry, in Luke 4:18–19, when he proclaims his mission and when he reads from the Isaiah scroll and is anointed for a divine mission. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

This mission of reaching the brokenhearted, the suffering, and those who need hope and peace, proclaiming good news and inviting others to join in mission, and releasing those held captive by unjust systems and the circumstances of life that devalue the worth of any person are the mission we are called to engage in here in our day. This is the mission that Jesus committed his life to and that eventually led to his death.

“His unbridled approach to human wholeness has proven too disruptive and offensive for those wielding power. Jesus chooses death because toning down love to avoid death is not an option. Jesus can only love at full speed … Jesus is on a mission, not to conquer peoples and land, but to restore broken humanity to its divinely created wholeness. That is the kind of king Mark calls us to follow.”

I think we need to be careful when we describe Jesus as King. Because he was purposely subversive in his use of the symbols of royalty. He truly showed us an upside down kingdom. This week when we celebrate Maundy Thursday, we will reenact the servant leadership that Jesus demonstrated and calls us to follow. 

Our Place in the Humble Procession

As Community of Christ, we claim a special history and future as followers of this humble king. We have a place, as individuals and collectively, in the humble procession. Our little quirky group, an island of misfit toys, has a special place in the humble procession. One of our beloved modern scriptures, D&C 164:9a&b, reminds us of this journey and what it requires. 

“Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely led, eventful, challenging, and sometimes surprising to you. By the Grace of God, you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church. When your willingness to live in sacred community as Christ’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation, you will become who you are called to be. The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of Christ, awaits your wholehearted response to the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ.” 

In this broken world, we are called to live wholeheartedly, to act in spite of fear, and embrace spiritual and relational transformation. Whole-life stewardship is not about fleeting moments of praise, but rather a lifelong response of gratitude for the grace and generosity of God as expressed through the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and continuing life of Jesus Christ. How will we respond, not just today, but every day to the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ?

One of my personal prophets, Brené Brown talks about this wholehearted living, about transforming and healing ourselves as a precursor to helping others do the same. 

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené explains, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night and thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Jesus embraced this wholehearted living and showed us the way. 

He lived authentically, letting go of what other people thought. 

Jesus modeled a resilient spirit, filled with gratitude and joy. 

He calls us to a life where we trust in intuition and faith, letting go of the need for certainty. 

His creativity and ability to joyfully laugh, sing, and play, as well as his need to take time to rest and be still, reminds us that anxiety and exhaustion are not sustainable lifestyles, even for the son of God. 

His engagement in meaningful work shows the way to let go of self doubt and perfectionism. 

This wholehearted living is on display here in the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus is engaged and present through a vast array of human emotion and experience. He is focused on mission and restoring relationships. How will we move forward, and realize the vision of the rise of Zion, the beautiful, peaceful reign of Christ, that awaits our wholehearted response to the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus.

What is your wholehearted response? What is my wholehearted response? 

This week as we follow Jesus from his triumphal entry to the cross and tomb and eventually to Eater morning, I invite you to try a revolutionary act. Try this wholehearted living.