Year B, 6th Sunday in Lent
Palm and/or Passion Sunday
Heading into Holy Week our scripture texts are full of vivid sense imagery. The scripture stories of this week are the core stories of Christian faith. Telling and embodying them straight from the scripture text without embellishment is powerful this week. In the past I have told texts from Luke and Mark that begin with the entry into Jerusalem and follow the events of the week through till Holy Thursday as a sermon. The episodes were spaced with musical interludes from the choir or congregational hymns. My intent was to help the congregation get the entire story of the week so as to heighten the power of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services. I followed the wisdom of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, The Last Week. Perhaps many of you have done something similar yourself.
Telling the texts from the words of scripture as story instead of reading them is a very different process for the performer. Not only in the technical act of memorization or internalization but in the act of embodying the action of the text. Not only is it a great communicating for the listener, it can be a life-changing form of Bible study for the teller. The text is experienced throughout the body, in muscle memory and emotion as well as in intellectual thought. It evokes sense memories from the teller’s life thus inviting a higher level of meaningful bonding with the text.
I hope that you will try telling a Holy Week text directly from scripture this year or in future years. Even after Easter! If you are unfamiliar with this process, I am available for workshops at your church in the coming year. It is a delight to share powerful communication and Bible study process with other. And you can go to the Network of Biblical Storytellers website, http://www.nbsint.org, to learn more. There may be a local NOBS learning and sharing group in your area where you can learn the process of internalizing scripture with others.
At the other end of the communication spectrum….Another way to tell the texts is using one’s own words embellishing their imagery and action with your imagination. Psalm 118 introduces imagery from the Palm Sunday gospels with pictures of gates surrounded by the whole of Israel shouting, maybe singing, praise to God. Throughout the psalm we hear the people chanting thanksgiving, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” We are invited to visualize a “festal procession with branches” moving into the temple sanctuary of God.
As we move into Mark’s text we are prepared to hear the sounds of a crowd. At first they may be the murmurs of the disciples as they hear Jesus’ strange instructions in Mark to go find the colt. We can imagine the dialogue exchange between the two disciples sent on the mission. Are they curious, puzzled? Or are they excited knowing that this means a triumphant entry into Jerusalem as foretold by the prophets? Maybe Jesus is finally claiming the role as messianic leader they have expected. We can wonder about their conversation with the bystanders on the streets. What else might have been said?
The colorful cloaks and leafy branches create a vivid scene to describe along with the colt, the dusty road, the shouts of the crowd. What other senses could be evoked – are there particular smells or even tastes you might imagine? One could take on a character in the scene and tell the story from their perspective – one of the disciples, one of the crowd, the bystander asking about untying the colt, the colt itself? Could you tell the story from the standpoint of Jesus himself looking back over the day? Verse 11 has three interesting moments.
- “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple;
- and when he had looked around at everything,
- as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Each moment might evoke a different story from Jesus as he reviews the day and anticipates the week ahead. He knows he is walking into a hotbed of controversy in this Passover week. Whether he knows the outcome at that moment he must have some intuitions, some prayers, some wonderings about following God and continuing to preach the coming of God’s Kingdom.
John’s telling of the entry into Jerusalem is much briefer. There is still the crowd, the leafy branches and the young donkey or colt. How might you tell the story from Jesus’ point of view in this text as he is the one to find the donkey? Or maybe it begins with one of the crowd who is already anticipating the great Passover festival and hears that this man proclaimed Messiah by many is coming into town. Maybe it is a reminiscence of one of the disciples who do not understand until after the events of the week. Could there be a child in either one of texts telling the story from his or her point of view?
If your church tradition is to choose the texts for Passion Sunday I invite you to use the process of entering them through sense imagery to tell the stories in your own words. Can you find similar imagery in the Hebrew scripture, psalm or epistle? Or perhaps you will choose to learn a portion of the long gospel passages to tell and embody from the words of the scripture.
If you are looking for a story to enhance the imagery of the Palm Sunday texts this year I suggest “The Herald of Peace” told by Robert Bela Wilhelm. It is a story from the epics of Estonia. It tells of an Estonian king who wants to wage war on Finland and send his four sons out to the corners of Estonia to gather an arm. The youngest son is sent to the cities in the north with the official call to arms from the king. Along the way to the first city he encounters a cast of characters that teach him of war. By the time he reaches the first city he is ready to be rid of his warhorse and his armor. He does not read the proclamation from the king in the city square. Instead riding on a donkey he goes on the border where he enters Finland as a peasant. To everyone he meets in this new country he gives a greeting of peace and he makes a life for himself as a farmer. The king is never able to gather the army he needs and war is never waged. Instead peace prevails.
This a beautiful and gentle tale that holds the imagery of the servant Messiah and the power of one person’s actions for a realm of peace, which after all, is the Kingdom of God. You can learn it by listening to Bob Wilhelm at http://www.storyfestjourneys.com/tales-from-the-peoples-of/european-tales/baltic-republics/the-herald-of-war-estonia.html.
Blessings on your story journey as you enter the journey of Holy Week,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos may by used only by permission.