Thursday, April 09, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon

Mark 11: 1-11

Always loved Palm Sunday—parade! Here’s a celebration that we remember by getting actual palm branches and waving around—it really puts us in the story. We’ve started the Easter Celebrations!

However, I’ve also come to see this day as a precursor to the less glamorous occasions and stories we’ll hear about later in the week.

We’ll hear about Jesus gathering his friends together in the upper room and giving them bread and wine and telling them it is his body and blood. We’ll hear him give his final mandate that his disciples should “love each other as I have loved you.” He’ll say this after having gotten on his knees and washed their feet—a task that was usually reserved for slaves.

We’ll hear about his journey to the cross, and his ultimate crucifixion with 2 criminals. We’ll hear him cry out to God with his last breath a passage from Psalm 22, “My God, My God, Why have thou forsaken me?”

We prefer the solace and peacefulness, the sureness of Psalm 23 to the anguished cry of Psalm 22, and so many of us just stay home and skip the holy memorializing of these events during the week. We skip right on over from the promise of Palm Sunday to the Joy and exultation of Easter without registering what comes in between.

This is why it is important for us to acknowledge today—these Hosannas are hollow. This glory is fleeting. The crowd disperses before the processional even reaches very far inside the walls of Jerusalem. Mark tells us that at the climax of this parade, when Jesus is proclaimed and celebrated, he arrives in Jerusalem—then he comes home to the Temple! We are on the edge of our seats!

Can you imagine the elation of the disciples? We’re in this processional of people who have finally opened their eyes to the reality of the Messiah in their midst—when he gets to the temple, what will he do—tear it down and then miraculously build it back up as he promised to do a few days before? Will he gather his followers into a great mob and drive out the Romans who’ve filled the temple with their idols? Will he stride into the Holy of holies and tear down the curtain so that all may be in direct communication with their living God?
Mark grips us, and then snuffs out the narrative tension:

……he “looks around at everything and as it was getting late returns to Bethany with the 12.”

He “looks around at everything??????” What? Matthew and Luke both tell us that after the entrance on a colt (or 2 colts, oddly) Jesus storms into the temple and overturns the tables! Now that’s the kind of radical action we’d expect!

Yes, Mark’s narrative is a perfect preface for the tumbling disappointment that will be felt by all the characters in the upcoming days. It is no wonder we use these palms every year to begin Lent, when we burn them and place them on our heads as a sign of our “fair weather fandom” Too often we’re there proclaiming Jesus when the time seems right—when we get caught up by the crowd, but when we are faced with the one-on-one opportunity to make our witness with Christ, we fall short. We fall away. We deny our allegiance to Jesus.

These Palms make good ashes.

Maybe that’s why Mark focuses so much on the instructions Jesus gives his disciples rather than the parade.

Significance of riding a donkey: Zech 9:9
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king [a] comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This text imagines a king who serves his people—who will work for them. Not Lord his kingship over them. King is humble.

The way Jesus arrives in Jerusalem is how he expects us to conduct ourselves.

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