Sunday, March 28, 2021 ~ Palm & Passion Sunday – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Empowering God, Strengthen our Hearts. Amen.
On that first Palm Sunday, so many centuries ago, the holy city of Jerusalem, the Great Zion, was filled to overflowing. It was the holy festival of Passover (which started yesterday for our Jewish neighbors-Chag Sameach-Happy Festival). Actually, in our reading for today, Passover was still a few days away, and many, many pilgrims had journeyed to celebrate within her holy walls. Jerusalem was bursting at the seams.
On that fateful Sunday before Pesach (Passover) was to begin, on that first Palm Sunday, Jesus’ processional was not the only parade in town. Another processional was entering Jerusalem potentially at about the same time from the opposite side of the city. So if you were a resident or visitor in that holy city on that auspicious day, there were three choices you could make, significant choices that had ripple effects in your life and in the world around you.
Choice #1: The world’s parade, the power parade—Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, of which Jerusalem was capital, did not care to live within the busy, dusty city with all its noises and all of its smells. Pilate had a palatial estate in the country, far from the muss and fuss of urban life. Yet, as Passover approached and the crowd in the city grew, Pilate could not afford to miss the opportunity to make Rome’s power felt, and he needed to be on hand to quell any dreams of rebellion. So, Pilate would make the journey from his country estate into the city to take up residence at the fort which overlooked the Temple precinct. He did so with Roman style. It was a great parade, a showcase of all of the power and might of Rome—marching precision military, war chariots pulled by powerful horses, mounted leaders in pristine uniforms, wealth and power and might. One would be drawn to see such power on display, and intentionally or not, this would lend support to Roman rule.
Choice #2: the peasant on a donkey—In stark, stark contrast, on the opposite side of the holy city, the poor Rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee made his way down from the Mount of Olives and the village of Bethany, across the valley, to the great Jerusalem—all the while mounted on a young donkey. He didn’t have any military or wealth or power or might. The crowds attending his processional stripped branches from the trees to wave in the air for they had nothing else. What they did took great, great courage, for Jesus was making a politically religious statement, or perhaps a religiously political statement, as the quote from Psalm 118 suggests ;“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus was entering Jerusalem as a very different type of ruler than Pilate on the other side. Jesus entered as a king of old, David-style. He was declaring himself Messiah, Anointed One, King without saying a word. To attend this politically subversive parade could put your life at risk. To be seen supporting such an event could have dire, dangerous consequences, but this processional and all it represented had the power to remake, or re-form (last week’s sermon) the world.
Choice #3—Go about your own business and keep your head down. We want to believe that the largest crowd that day was surrounding Jesus. We certainly hope it wasn’t lining Pilate’s parade route. But if we stop to consider, we know where the largest group was. The greatest number of people were not at either processional road. They were going to the market or setting up for Passover or working at their place of employment or doing the housework of the day. They were purchasing animals for sacrifice at the temple or visiting with their neighbors or taking in the sites while they were in town. The largest number of people that day did not lend their support to the Roman occupation, but they also didn’t take the risk of attending the revolutionary alternative either. They were…they are…the silent majority, going about their daily lives, keeping their heads down.
We so often view Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as this party affair, and certainly we do have cause to celebrate so many millennia later. But Jesus’ march/ride into the city that day was an act of rebellion, a symbol of resistance to the powers that be. Jesus was actively offering an alternative to the other parade on the other side of the city, AND an alternative to keeping one’s head down and minding one’s own business. Here, on this simple donkey, surrounded by poor and desperate people crying out for salvation, comes the Lord of Life, fresh from raising Lazarus from the dead, pungent with burial oils, heading to his death on a Roman torture device, and hoping toward an empty tomb at the end. Here, on this simple and powerfully symbolic donkey, comes the alternative to the world’s way of power and wealth and might. Here comes God’s way, subverting the status quo and creating God’s kin-dom in his wake. Here comes Love made flesh, for you, for me, for us.
This holy week before us what choice will we make? Will we choose the world’s way embodied by Rome and Rome’s idea of peace through military might, accumulating wealth, and holding power over others? Will we succumb to the ‘stuff’ that needs to get done and be about shopping and prepping for Easter and working and cleaning the house and going to school and so on and so forth? OR will we make time to walk the donkey-riding peasant’s path, the Rabbi’s path, Salvation’s path, the road that goes to the cross BEFORE it journeys on to the empty tomb. For you see, our choice this week creates powerful ripples in our lives. Our choice this week can leave us crushed and owned by the powers that be, or stressed and overburdened by all that we ‘need to do.’ OR our choice this week can empower us to change the world, to work for the kin-dom, to embody the beloved community.
God’s way is the hard way, but ultimately it is the way of life and love. God’s way is hard, but it leads to black, indigenous, and people of color lifted up as equally beloved to their white siblings. God’s way is hard, but it empowers people of all gender identities to speak up for themselves and for one another. God’s way is hard, but it cherishes people of all sexualities and those they love. God’s way is hard, but it creates a society and its structures that truly treat all humans as equal, precious, and protects all of God’s beloved creation. God’s way is hard…but we can do hard things!
Have courage, my beloveds! Draw on courage, for the root of courage is ‘cour,’ which means heart. Draw on your heart for it is nothing less than the temple of God. Nourish your heart this holiest of weeks. Let us follow Jesus and witness the courage of God revealed in Jesus, for this will give us courage for the work of God’s kin-dom. Draw on Courage, my beloveds. Take heart.
Let us proclaim our faith together!
I refuse to believe I am powerless.
I refuse to believe that injustice and hatred are simply the way it has to be.
I refuse to believe that I am better or more deserving than my neighbor.
I refuse to believe that my self-worth is rooted in my accomplishments or appearance.
I refuse to believe that the Church is dying, because I see God all around me.
I refuse to believe that the traditions of old are the only path for moving forward.
I refuse to believe that I cannot make a difference.
So with hope in my heart, I will strive to live a life of courage, conviction, and compassion,
just as Jesus taught us. Amen.