April 2, 2023 ~ Palm Sunday
Rev. Beckie Sweet
It was Palm Sunday and Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. He was riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rode along. He was looking for trouble. The people that he had passed on his way were in awe of his beautiful white horse but they were even more awestruck by the man who was riding it. As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, “Who is that man?”
There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had come to town to deal with them. A large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. As Jesus rode off into the sunset, you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background. Du du dunt. Du du dunt. Du du dunt dunt dunt.
That makes a great story, and we might wish that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a bit more spectacular, but that’s NOT what happened on the first Palm Sunday. There is no denying that there is a touch of glory in the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was welcomed as a hero. People had heard how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead even though Lazarus had been dead for more than four days. The news had spread about how he had healed people who were incurably sick, how the blind were now able to see, the deaf to hear, and how Jesus restored people to their families after he had driven out evil spirits or cured their leprosy. The news had reached the people of Jerusalem about the compassion and love of Jesus, and how he had shown mercy to tax collectors and prostitutes, and even to leaders whose colleagues conspired to kill Jesus.
The crowd was excited that this miracle-working teacher was coming to town. They waved palm branches; they spread their coats on the road; they shouted:
“Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The crowd welcomed Jesus as they would a king. This was the One who came in the name of the Lord to intervene in the wretched circumstances of their lives and to give hope for the future. This was the One who would give them freedom from Roman oppression, bring prosperity and bring a time of peace to their troubled land.
No wonder they cheered and paved the way with palm branches and clothing. In the eyes of the crowd there was no doubt that Jesus was the promised king sent by God.
But this king was different. There was no white stallion. No show of power and strength. No William Tell Overture or even a John Philip Sousa March playing in the background. Instead, Jesus rode a humble donkey, a beast of burden, a utilitarian animal. This was no ordinary king riding on a donkey. Jesus had come to serve. He’s a servant-king.
In our lifetime, Palm Sunday had focused on the palms, the parade, the 50-75 children leading us in a procession while waving palms. But not this year. What is the question people keep asking as we emerge from the COVID 19 Pandemic? When will we get back to normal? When will Palm Sunday be Palm Sunday again? But the truth is that Palm Sunday, and all of our faith expressions, were already changing before the Pandemic ever started. What we’ve been longing for is the reality we remember from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s… But that’s not what we are experiencing this year, in 2023. Perhaps what WE are experiencing as we embark on this Holy Week can be more true to the spiritual journey of the first Holy Week, providing for us the opportunity for a true transformation of heart and soul.
Taking today’s worship focus away from the palm-waving parade of children, we may be able to experience the quandary of those who heard that Jesus was coming and were blessed to be present on that day. Of course, it was a tremendous risk to be seen hailing Jesus as a King, since it was well-known that he was a “wanted man” – wanted by both religious and secular people of power. Those supporting this Jesus were also at risk of arrest, torture, or death. Supporting this Jesus’ humble, yet triumphal entry, placed one’s self, and one’s family in harm’s way. Although Jesus’ triumphal entry was peaceful, the anxiety level and fear of violence must have been high. And those who turned out to support Jesus on that first Palm Sunday, would soon change their Hosanna’s into shouts of “Crucify Him.”
Perhaps that is where we find some common footing. Have you watched the news lately?? Gun violence and mass shootings every . single . day! You are at-risk if you are a child, a person of color, gay. You are at risk if you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Asian-American, of Middle Eastern decent. You are at risk if you speak out about your political views, seem too wishy-washy, or too bossy! And this is not an exhaustive list. Our shouts for equality, justice, freedom, and security for all, soon turn to silence.
I trust that we all want to participate in God’s caring and just future. The questions we may want to ask is NOT “When will things go back to normal?” but rather, “How can I participate in the world that God is making new?”
It’s still Palm Sunday! I am not being flippant. I mean this in a deep and profound way. Palm Sunday is not just about the palms and the procession. It never was. It has always been about Jesus entering Jerusalem, humble, and riding on a donkey, despite the risk and opposition.
Today, we are all in Jerusalem. The gospel writer Matthew tells us that all of Jerusalem was in turmoil. Likewise, today, we, our nation and world, are in turmoil! It’s on the news. It’s in the air. It’s in our hearts, and the hearts of our loved ones. We are part of what is commonly called “an anxious system.” Today, we’re all in Jerusalem!!
According to Matthew, “The whole city was in turmoil asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.’” AND, there’s more to Jesus than this!!
- This is the One God sent because “God so loved the world.”
- This is the One who promises, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
- This is the One who says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
- This is the One who says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
- This is the One who says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
- This is the One who says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” and calls the sheep by name.
- This is the One who says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the light of the world.”
- This is the One who comes that we may have life and have it abundantly.
- This is the One who says, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I hope you hear the echoes of Easter in the list of who this One, Jesus of Nazareth is, because I am going to ask you to do something. I want you to look around at everything that is happening. And I want you to look at what is happening within yourself. Pay attention, be alert and aware. It will likely be difficult and painful this week. Holy Week always is.
Whatever your Holy Week is — whatever it brings you, takes from you, or asks of you — it already resounds with echoes of Easter. That is the tension of Holy Week. It is the tension in our lives, and it is the tension in Jesus’ final week. So, keep alert and ready. Do not for one minute turn away from Jerusalem or Holy Week, even though it will different. This One who enters the turmoil of Jerusalem, this One who comes in the name of the Lord” — this is the One who will rise to new life on the third day! And Jesus plans on taking you along. Hosanna!! Save us Now! “How will we participate in the world that God is making new?” Hosanna!
 Gerhardy, Vince; 2013; sermonsonthenet.com