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Palm Sunday: Hospitality and The Holy City

By Barbara Wheeler

Palm Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays in the Christian year. That is, in part, because it’s a celebration! Palms waving, children singing and adults cheering as Jesus enters Jerusalem. It’s a tense celebration today because we have the advantage of hindsight – we know the rest of the story, the week that follows, and the torture and execution of Jesus as his friends and followers look on.
Another reason I have affection for Palm Sunday is the music. In order to set this Sunday to a liturgy of celebration there are exciting, boisterous songs like “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” “The Palms” and my personal favorite, “The Holy City.”
I play the piano and I think it was sometime in high school or college that I learned “The Holy City.” The music is pages of octaves and fast-paced accompaniment. The words in the song tell a story:
“Last night I lay a sleeping,
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of angels
From Heav’n in answer rang;
Methought the voice of angels
From Heav’n in answer rang:
‘Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!’”
The next verse is a journey through Holy Week – the cheers of the crowd turn to jeers and the singing turns to sobbing as Jesus is betrayed, tortured and killed. The last verse of the song is my favorite:
“And once again the scene was chang’d,
New earth there seem’d to be,
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea;
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day,
?It was the new Jerusalem,
That would not pass away,
It was the new Jerusalem,
That would not pass away.”
This verse, based on a vision of the Holy City in Revelation, puts forth a vision for us to live into today – a new Jerusalem – a new world. “The light of God was on its streets,? The gates were open wide,? And all who would might enter,? And no one was denied.?” These lines talk about hospitality. They are welcoming words to “all who would enter.” They are inclusive words: “No one was denied.”
I think of the march on Washington, March 21, for immigration reform. I think of the long – decades long – debate over health care reform and health care coverage for all in the United States convening in new health care legislation passed this week. And I hope that we can continue to live into the verses of this song. We can open the gates wide that all may enter. We can be sure no one is denied their human rights, the right to have a job and support their family, the right to health care. We can make hospitality – welcome and generosity for everyone – a reality.
This Palm Sunday, may we remember not only the cheers and the palms, but the model of hospitality and inclusiveness that comes from the one who rode into Jerusalem, but wasn’t so fortunate as to ride out.
*Barbara Wheeler is editor of Response, United Methodist Women’s magazine.
Last Updated: 04/10/2010

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