Scriptural Meditations for the Week Prior to Palm Sunday
EcoChaplain Roger Wharton
The following meditations are designed to be read the week before Palm Sunday. Please read the scriptural material indicated before reading the meditation. It is my hope that this further introduce you to the Christian Nature Wisdom Tradition.
Awaken and Listen to Creation
Isaiah 50: 4 & 5
Psalm 118: 24
Isaiah in the third song of the servant tells of how the Lord awakens the servant morning by morning to listen like one who is taught. The servant of whom Isaiah speaks has been interpreted as the Hebrew nation state, the People of God, as well as the messiah. As People of God and disciples we are called to listen attentively to God so that we might be able to give words of comfort to those who need to be loved and encouraged. When we actively listen we will be filled with the thoughts, words, and love of God and encouraged by the Spirit to bolster up those who are torn down.
When we awaken each morning we can proclaim and rejoice with the psalmist that God has given us a wonderful and beautiful day as we awaken to listen to the Lord. We hear God in scripture, in quiet contemplation and in the mystery of Creation.
As Lent comes to a close we may choose to listen and learn from the Book of Nature. The animals, plants, and natural events which we encounter daily all speak of God. To hear we need to awaken our senses and alert our minds to be sensitive to this type of communication. People throughout Judeo-Christian times have labeled this method of godly communication Nature Wisdom. This week we will open the Book of Nature together.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may open our ears as God speaks through creation and that we, like the faithful servant, will not turn our back as the Creator reaches out to us in every possible way.
Phil 2: 6 – 9
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi to help those new Christians understand the nature of Jesus their Savior. The church in preserving this epistle has passed on Paul’s important revelations and insights to us. In this passage Paul makes very clear some fundamental aspects of Christ that are important in awakening to the revelatory aspect of the natural world.
Jesus in his divinity became incarnate to live as a member of the earth community. In so doing he demonstrates that God is part of Creation and never separated from it. There is no dualism between material substance and the Creator, for God takes up human form and being in every aspect. There is a new bonding with creation that goes beyond the rainbow covenant and the concern shown by God for the animals of Nineveh in the Jonah story. Through Christ there is a new relationship between God and creation, a relationship that is unique and special in all of the cosmos because God choose to walk here incarnate in human form. The cosmos now waits in travail for the New Creation to be fulfilled as we become truly the daughters and sons of God in Christ.
In Christ Jesus God and Creation are united. Jesus comes to serve the whole Creation by reconciling God and humans. Men and women separated themselves from God and in so doing failed to carry out their responsibility to care for the earth and her creatures. Because of human sin all creation suffers. The death of Jesus on the cross not only redeems the human condition but it institutes a New Creation which embraces the whole universe. We live in the hope of this New Creation as we strive with God’s grace to walk the Way of Christ serving other humans, God’s creatures, and all of Creation.
Let us pray for the grace to experience the bond of Christ Jesus uniting us with God and all of Creation and the wisdom and courage to be a servant to others as we care for our planet.
Phil 2: 9-11
Names are important to human beings. Knowing the name of something places us in special relationship with it. In the first creation account God creates by naming while in the second creation story, creation is not complete in a sense until names are given to all the creatures. There is a great step taken in the developing relationship between God and humans when God’s name is revealed at the burning bush to Moses.
Is it any wonder that God Incarnate should have a name that is revealed at conception and in a dream to Joseph and is above all names? The very nature of God’s love is manifested in a human being who bears the name – “one who saves”. Jesus redeems not only human beings but all of the cosmos which is the message of John 3:16; “God so loved the cosmos…. ” The arms of Jesus on the cross reaches out to encompass and draw all of creation into himself in anticipation of the New Creation which is to begin on Sunday morning at the empty tomb.
The New Jerusalem Bible translation of v 10 of Phil 2 reads “so that all beings … should bend the knee at the name of Jesus”, implying that all orders of creation recognize and acknowledge the saving action of Jesus. Angels and archangels are joined with all of creation in the singing of God’s loving action in Christ Jesus. Humans have a choice to join the chorus or not. God has gives us the privilege as reflective, thinking, verbal, and sinning earth creatures to freely accept and acclaim that ,”Jesus is Lord of our life.”
Let us awaken to hear all of nature singing, bend the knee of our hearts in humility and thanksgiving , and join with them in the unending hymn of praise.
Let us pray with thankful, singing hearts that we know the name of Jesus and can sing forth his praises. Ask for guidance and wisdom in knowing how to proclaim him as Lord so that others may come to know and love him who died for us.
Psalm 118; 19 – 29
This psalm is a liturgy of thanksgiving which was used during a time of great joy in Jerusalem. The people came to the gates of the temple to join in the festivities which probably ended in a dance around the altar. They sang and danced of the great deeds that God had done for them. The sanctuary was entered and the praise continued.
Christians reading this psalm are reminded of the great joy of Palm Sunday and the entry of Jesus into the Holy City. The people sing and dance in great joy as Jesus rides into town, happy and excited as they anticipate a great act that God will perform. What is expected, however, never comes to pass. Instead there is a greater and more wonderful action of God in raising Jesus from the dead.
The singing psalm 118 brought the people dancing into the Lord’s presence. It can also be a key in awakening and listening to Creation. The key verse in this sense is verse 24:
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (KJV)
One of the reasons that we are not awake to Creation and do not hear what God is speaking to us is that we are all caught up in remembering the past and anticipating the future. It is a good to remember how God has acted in the past. It is good to look forward to how God will act in the completion of the New Creation. But the present is where we are at the moment, and it is here that we need to listen to God. It is at this moment that we need to give thanksgiving and praise to our Creator.
Open your ears and eyes to the wonders of spring. Smell and taste the goodness of the earth. Feel the breath of God blowing over the land. Expand your heart to the love of God present at this moment. This is the day which the Lord has made; rejoice and be glad in it for God will act in this day in ways that will never be duplicated. Each day is a very special and unique creation of our God bringing us closer to unity in Christ.
Let us pray that we may be awakened to the beauty and uniqueness of this day and may hear God calling out to us through all of Creation. Hearing that call, may we respond with a song of the heart.
Reading about the humble entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey, recalls his mother’s entry into Bethlehem on the day of his birth. In both cases the city was full of visitors and there was little room for just one more ordinary person. The prophecy of Isaiah which had foretold his birth once more is quoted by Matthew to show that the messianic prophecy continues to be fulfilled by this Jesus of Nazareth. He comes not as a conquering king for his rule is unpretentious and unwarlike. In fact the story will quickly unfold to show how the worldly powers take his humble servant’s life.
Jesus born in a stable among animals comes into Jerusalem as sovereign of all of creation for he is the Lord of Lord and King of Kings. A cousin of the donkey that witnessed his birth carries him in this triumphant entry into Jerusalem. There is a strong connection between Jesus and the natural world that goes beyond the connection with the animals on the night of his birth.
Jesus was very much aware of the natural world and the nature wisdom tradition of his people. As a carpenter he spent a great deal of time in the out-of-doors and like most carpenter of his day was involved in the harvesting of the lumber with which he worked. He and his disciples walked about and spent nights camping out. In fact even when he was in Jerusalem he went out to the Mount of Olives to spend the nights. His connection with the natural world is demonstrated with his parables and preaching examples. Many of them are drawn from the natural world and events which were very familiar to the people he addressed. These down-to-earth examples had the effect of awakening the people to the truth of the Kingdom of God.
As followers of Jesus we can learn a great deal by awakening to the natural world around us and reading with new interest the nature wisdom teaching of Christ.
Let us pray that we might be outdoor people like Our Lord and open to the teachings of God’s natural world.
Matthew 21: 7-11
The people cut branches from the trees and spread them in the path of Jesus to welcome him.
The waving of the palm branches and myrtle are another connection between Jesus and Creation. It is not just the people who acclaim Jesus but all of Creation – the donkey on which he rides, the waving tree branches, and even the stones themselves who would cry out if the people were silent for Jesus redeems the whole cosmos.
The trees giving their branches to proclaim the Lord remind us of the many important connections Jesus had with trees. He was a carpenter and worked with wood. In a few short hours in the Garden of Gethesame, deserted by friends, he would pray to his Heavenly Father with only the trees witnessing his agony.
It would be thorns ripped from a tree fashioned into a crown that would encircle his head tearing into his flesh and drawing blood as he was mocked by people. It would be a tree perverted by humans into an instrument of death that he would drag to Calvary. Finally it would be that tree on which he would be hung to give life to the world.
Christ’s tears water the trees of the garden and his life-giving blood is first mixed with the wood of the thorns and the cross. Thus the sin of the world begun with the misuse of a tree in the Garden of Eden, is reconciled, and all of Creation is given new life in Christ Jesus.
From the moment Jesus enters Jerusalem and the branches are waved over his head and placed on the ground in front of him, trees would be his companions witnessing his compassion and love for all of Creation. They, too, would be victims of human greed and lust for power as they are used for torture and for killing the Lord of Creation. They remain as reminders to us that we often are fickle in our witness. One moment we proclaim Christ ,and the next we crucify him.
Let us pray that God may grant us the grace to be constant in our faith and witness to the love of the Lord of Creation who died on a tree.
Matthew 21: 7-11
Today many will receive palm branches at church as reminders of the palms that were waved as the people cried out, “Hosanna!” The palm branch is a good example of how a natural object may teach about the Kingdom of God. In the nature wisdom tradition, look to the palm for learning.
The fan-shaped palm branch is a symbol of kingship. Its many points are like the points of a crown as they are held high to proclaim the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Its fan-shape is made up of many parts which are stripped and passed out in churches. Each one of these stripped palms can represent a person, for each individual is a jewel in Christ’s crown of glory paid for by his blood.
The palm crown can take on more meaning. Each person stands alone as a jewel of God, but it takes everyone working together to actualize the Kingdom of God as symbolized by the crown. Like the people in the Gospel story, we need to answer the question, “Who is this?” with all our heart, soul, and being as we proclaim Christ as King of our lives. Christ’s kingship is proclaimed by loving our neighbor as ourself, by working for justice and peace, by respecting the dignity of every human being, by reaching out to others in love, and by sharing the Gospel with others in word and deed.
The palm when placed in a significant and prominent place in the home stands as a reminder of God’s love for each individual, for Christ bought each jewel with his sacrifice on the cross. The jewels sparkle only when they reflect the Light of Christ in the world. The palm can also be a reminder that individuals are called to come together to support each other and to work united to further the witness of the Gospel in the world.
Let us pray that we might be shining jewels in the crown of Christ reflecting his light into the world as we awaken and listen to Creation which surrounds us.