Palm Sunday is the transition point between Lent and Holy Week, making it a particularly fitting time to reflect upon one’s relationship with God. The prophet Isaiah beseeched the people of God again and again to attend to their relationship with God, yet throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites struggled. They struggled because they were constantly drawn away from prioritizing God in their lives in favor of material wealth or power. The lure of worldly distractions chipped away at their relationship with God until disaster befell them, after which they would return to God once again. The prophet served as a reminder in people’s lives to prioritize God even when the world is trying to take priority instead.
Hopefully Lent has been a time of growing deeper into your relationship with God. Lenten disciplines, done well, can help one prioritize God in one’s life and bring to focus the things that are truly important. The next challenge is to be able to step back into the world post-Lent and face all the distractions in the world that threaten to take priority over your relationship with God once again. Just as Isaiah warned the Israelites, be aware of where your hard work of prioritizing God in your life is being threatened.
- Did you find yourself reprioritizing values during Lent?
- What in your life threatens to undo those priorities?
- What changes can you make to keep your relationship with God a priority?
Shame is one of the most powerful forces that can control a person’s life. Few things motivate a person’s behavior like the fear of or experience of shame. The ancient Israelites were deeply immersed in a culture based on honor and shame, and the psalmist vividly expresses what it feels like to be lost in shame: “a horror to my neighbors,” “dread to my acquaintances,” “passed out of mind like one who is dead,” etc.
Shame can be terribly isolating and dehumanizing, yet the psalmist has a glimmer of hope in God’s promise of unending love. Even in the midst of shame, God knows who we are and has promised to love us.
During Lent, many people end up reflecting on mistakes they have made of which they are ashamed. Likewise, Holy Week causes some people to experience great shame surrounding the idea of Christ needing to die for one’s sins. There are no words that can magically make shame disappear, but this is an important place to start: God’s love is steadfast. Christ did not die so that people would feel guilty, but instead, as a sign that nothing we can do will ever stop God from loving us. All of us feel shame sometimes, but God is never ashamed of us.
- When have you felt like shame was controlling you?
- Do you know someone who feels alone because of shame?
- How can you help them see that they are loved?
A great deal of the shame that is piled onto people comes from expectations placed on them by the world. Women are made to feel like bad mothers because they spend too much time working and not enough caring for their children, but also find themselves shamed if they do not have a career outside of the home. Schoolchildren face having to pick on another student or else risk being picked on themselves. Employees who tell their bosses they cannot work on Sundays because of church commitments risk being thought of as “one of those Christian fundamentalists.” One’s values are constantly being measured against those of society and judged. The world is a minefield of potential shame.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his standing up to the leaders. It is important that God chose to do this, because it means that God knows what it is like to be shamed, laughed at, thought of as crazy, mocked and physically punished for his beliefs. Even if no one else in the world understands how you feel, God does.
When society points to the marginalized and scorns them, Christ said the marginalized are worthy of love. For our part, we can rest in knowing that God fundamentally knows us and we are able to take part in looking at the marginalized in the world and judging them worthy of love too.
- Have you ever felt alone in the world?
- What is it like to know that someone sees you and loves you?
- How can you help someone to know that they are not alone either?
The Gospel of Mark highlights the importance of Christ’s sacrifice for the world, so what is the world that Christ was trying to transform? From this gospel, we can see that it is a world where leaders choose to hurt and kill those who disagree with them rather than engaging in discussion (14:1). It is a world where material wealth is valued higher than caring for another person (14:5), where violence is the answer (14:47) and where fear is more powerful than faith (14:50). Christ’s sacrifice was about fundamentally challenging this way of living with one another. We were shown the terrible brokenness that comes from this way of living, to the point where the God who loves us despite anything we may do is put to death.
Yet we know where the story is going. We know that Christ cannot be defeated by a world of materialism, shame and violence. As we enter into Holy Week, we are called to look at how God chose to participate in our world with love – and how we now have the choice to participate in our world with that same love. We can choose to prioritize people over possessions, respect people who disagree with us, and help people see that they are known and loved. Sometimes living in this way is easy and requires no great sacrifice on our parts, but other times it takes a great deal of sacrifice to keep striving to change this world. We can always look to God and each other, however, and know that we are not alone in our work.
- Where do you see people suffering in the world?
- What things get in the way of making the world a better place?
- How can you make a difference because of the choices you make?