They Did Not Understand

They Did Not Understand

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
John 12:12-16

Palm Sunday Celebration

Throughout the season of Lent here in Oldtown, we have been talking about many of the difficult words and understandings of our faith – words that carry with them fear and doubt and confusion. We have been “digging through the mess,” as we called it, to understand just how those difficult words can speak to our lives and to our faith. But do we always understand? Do we always have all the answers? Do we always know why things happen the way they do? I don’t know if you do, but I know that I don’t.

What I do know is that sometimes the best way to understand something is to experience it. That’s why, here in Oldtown, we think it is so important for our kids to be a part of worship each Sunday. Because the only way to learn about worship is by experiencing it. You can’t just read about it in a book or learn about it in a class. The only way you can truly understand the rhythm of worship is by actually being a part of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that we understand things just because we are used to doing them. I know that there are people who come to worship week after week and still have questions about God and their faith and why things happen in the world. And I have to admit that I am one of them.

This week, as I was reflecting on our Scripture reading, I was caught by a phrase that I found myself reading over and over again. Because it’s Palm Sunday, you might think it had to do with Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, or the donkey that he rode on, or the palms that the people waved as they shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” but it didn’t. The phrase that stood out to me this week was this, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered.” 

The truth is, my friends, there are a lot of things that we do in the church that we don’t fully understand. Many times, we are simply following the traditions of the past or carrying out rites and rituals that were designed by the early church. But sometimes, when we experience them again and again or we hear the same stories year after year, something finally clicks, our hearts and minds are opened, and we start to understand them differently. And then, when we look back, we remember.

Yesterday, Jenn Lumi and I met with our second and third graders for a Communion Retreat. We spent nine hours together, learning not only about Communion but also about the stories of Holy Week. Because in order to understand Communion, you need to understand what Jesus did and said at the Last Supper. And in order to understand why it was the Last Supper, you have to understand Good Friday. In order to understand Good Friday, you have to understand who Jesus was and why he had the reputation that he did. And in order to really understand who Jesus was and what Jesus did, you have to understand what happened on Easter Sunday. So, in order to help the kids fully understand Communion, we spent nine hours walking through Holy Week and learning about Jesus.

We can’t just teach our kids that God loves them and that it’s their job to be a good neighbor and to love others. Sure, that is important, but it’s not the whole story, because our Christian faith is about far more than lighting candles on Christmas Eve and shouting “Alleluia!” on Easter morning. Actually, there is no way to get to the celebration of Easter Sunday and the good news of the resurrection without passing through the darkest valley and facing crucifixion and the pain of Good Friday.

In talking with the Communion class, we questioned why Good Friday is called “Good Friday” and not “Bad Friday,” because that was the day that Jesus died. But I explained to the children that Good Friday is called “Good Friday” because that is the day that we receive the greatest assurance of hope. That is when we receive the deepest love that the world has ever seen. That is when we receive the most amazing gift of grace that has ever given. But I’m getting ahead of myself here!

Our Communion retreat started by learning about the Palm Sunday Parade, as the crowds shouted “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us!” Then they learned about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. We talked about how people in Jesus’ day wore sandals and walked dirty and dusty roads and how some people – usually poor people – worked as servants washing people’s feet before they entered people’s homes. The one thing that the whole class all agreed on is that they wouldn’t want to have that job because washing other people’s dirty feet is gross! Well, that’s when I explained to them that Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples was an act of humble service. Now, the disciples didn’t understand why Jesus was washing their feet, but they later learned that Jesus was teaching them to serve others, not by telling them what to do, but by showing them and letting them experience it on their own. We then went on to learn about the Last Supper and how Jesus shared a meal with his friends in an upper room, and how at that meal, Jesus told the disciples to remember him when they eat bread and drink wine together. Again, as we often say during our communion service, the disciples didn’t understand, but they did it anyway.

Next, the communion class learned about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how he asked his friends to stay awake but they all fell asleep. While Jesus was praying, he said to God, “Thy will be done,” just like we say every week in the Lord’s Prayer. And we talked about the fact that Jesus must have felt scared and alone.

Our next story was about Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus. As we talked about it, the kids had the idea of building a tomb out of stones. So, as they built the tomb, we talked about how it was the Sabbath when Jesus died, and no one was allowed to work. Jesus’ body was put into a tomb, and a stone was rolled in front of the doorway. And then, on the third day, Easter Sunday, when the women arrived at the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, they found that he was gone! They were afraid, but an angel said to them “Do not be afraid, for he is risen!”

I know that sounds like a lot of stories to learn in order to understand what Communion is, but to be honest, even that doesn’t cover it, because Communion is a sacrament. In the Protestant Church, we celebrate two sacraments, the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of Communion, because those are both things that Jesus gave us specific instruction to do. But when we celebrate a sacrament in the church, it is so much more than the mere act of blessing someone with water or eating bread and drinking grape juice. There is a sacred sense of mystery to the sacraments that none of us can fully understand. As we discussed at length during our communion retreat, we know that when we celebrate the sacraments, God is here with us. And we don’t have to do anything to deserve the sacrament. We just need to be fully present to receive it. But we do need to be respectful. It’s not a time to fool around or to have bad manners.

It’s also important to understand that no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been coming to church, we all still have more to learn about Communion. And the best way to do that is to simply be a part of it. Friends, we hope you’ll join us at Jesus’ table today, as our Communion class helps to serve Communion. And I would ask that you take time to think about what scripture told us today… “Jesus disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered.” 

As always, remember that ALL ARE WELCOME AT THIS TABLE because Jesus knows that we are afraid sometimes and in need of his assurance. He knows that we are broken, and we are weak, and we are tired. He knows that life is not always easy, and we don’t have all the answers. He knows that we don’t always understand and that sometimes it’s hard to remember. He knows that every day is not a joyous parade and that we are often searching for hope and shouting, “Hosanna!” that we might be saved. So he invites us today to the table that he has set before us. He invites us to come as we are and to be fed and nourished for he himself knows that the journey can be difficult.

So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, may you go refreshed by the gifts received here today. May you go out into the streets, waving your palms, and shouting, “Hosanna!” as you wait for the story to unfold. I urge you to take your time walking through Holy Week, allowing yourself to experience each and every step of the way, because sometimes the only way that we can truly understand is to allow ourselves to look back and remember!

May it be so…thanks be to God, Amen!


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