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Palm Sunday, Just the Beginning

KathyEscandell, John Leedy, and San Williams

April 1, 2012
Mark 11:1-11

04-01-2012 Sermon Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Kathy Escandell)

11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 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.

Why are you doing this?  We get an unusual amount of detail from Mark here about the preparations for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Mark’s Gospel is the concise, no-frills one, but here he slows down long enough to provide an exact location for this episode, long enough for Jesus to give precise instructions to his disciples, even extending to a hypothetical conversation the disciples might have with people they might encounter.

And that conversation centers on the question, “Why are you doing this?”  In the immediate context, the question and response pertain to securing a colt for Jesus to ride as he enters the city. Jesus tells the 2 disciples sent on this errand what they will find and how they are to justify their actions to anyone who questions them.  Has Jesus made arrangements with the owner to borrow this colt? Does he instead have prophetic knowledge of what the disciples will find? None of that interests Mark.

The question Mark cares about is “Why are you doing this?”  And that is a question which escapes this context and confronts all of us who follow the One we remember this morning with palm branches and loud hosannas.

In the immediate context, the disciples were prepared to explain why they were untying a colt and leading it away. But under that explanation must lie a larger, stronger one – why were they there at all? Why had they left behind families, jobs, homes to travel with this man? Why had they stayed with him, even as he said, and said, and said again that he was traveling to his death?  What compelled them to join Jesus? What held them to him?

What compels us to follow Jesus? What holds us to him? As we wave our palms and sing our hosanna’s, we should consider this question for ourselves – Why are we doing this? Jesus tells the disciples to reply that the Lord has need of the colt. The Lord has need of us too. We are members of the Body, tasked with serving the Kingdom which Jesus has proclaimed throughout his ministry. May we, like the disciples and the humble colt, serve faithfully.

John Leedy — Mark 11: 7-10: 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Two worlds crashing together. We stand dumbstruck at how stark the present realities are. The crowds gather, shout, cheer – Hosanna! This ancient cry, Hosanna, the ancient pleading of the people, shouted, wept, and sighed throughout the course of human history. Hosanna – Save us! This cry must have struck a nerve with the on-looking Romans stationed in Jerusalem.  The crowd of Jews proclaiming “Save Us” to their rumored Messiah – the one known all too well as a threat to the Rome’s occupation of Israel. It had to have been clear to both the Romans and to the gathered Jews, that this Messiah had come to liberate them from the government’s oppression. This mighty king of the Jews, riding triumphantly into the city, had come to topple the powers that be.  Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!

Yes, Jesus has come to Jerusalem to liberate the people. Yes, Jesus has come to free the people from oppression. Yes, this king of the Jews has come to topple the powers that be.  But Jesus has his eyes set not on the throne, but on the cross.  You see, throughout the scriptures, we witness what happens to those who “come in the name of the Lord.”  The prophets of Israel came in the name of the Lord – and they were pursued, tortured, and ruthlessly killed by the people they came to save.  John the Baptist came in the name of the Lord, and he was imprisoned and publically beheaded.  No, those who come in the name of the Lord do not sit in thrones of earthly power. Those who come in the name of the Lord come to die.  Jesus knows that the liberation he has come to enact is not freedom from Roman occupation, but liberation from the bondage of sin.  The powers that Jesus has come to topple are far beyond emperors and Caesars, but the powers of darkness and death.

While the cries of Hosanna coming from the mouths of the people are misunderstood, they could not be more profound.  The joy that overflows on Palm Sunday is shocked and rattled by the reality of the coming crucifixion and death of their Messiah, their anointed one, the one who came in the name of the Lord.  Their jubilation at the sight of their savior entering Jerusalem is rocked by the execution of the one who they thought would save them.  It isn’t until these two worlds, these two expectations crash together that the full message of Jesus’ ministry becomes clear. The one who comes in the name of the Lord comes not to save Israel in the immediate, but to save the world throughout eternity.  This is why in our Great Prayer of Thanksgiving before we take communion, we proclaim the Sanctus – Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of Power and Might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Although the true meaning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday was misunderstood by those gathered, we understand today in utter clarity.  So today, we make our cries of hosanna – save us, not in the vain hope of an earthly ruler, but in the hope in an eternal savior who’s kingdom shall have no end.

San Williams – 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.

The word of the Lord…

Talk about an anti-climactic ending.  A day that begins with such intrigue, mystery and fanfare ends inconclusively, unsatisfactorily.  As the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem draws to a close, the parade route has grown quiet, the shouts of “Hosanna” are now silent, and the crowds have dispersed.  As the sun sinks below the horizon, Jesus walks into the empty Temple. He looks around, and then he leaves. Lights down. End of scene.

Of course, we know the events of Palm Sunday are just a prelude.  The day ends without incident, but we get the impression that much is about to happen. In fact, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter morning are the most poignant, action-packed days of Jesus’ entire ministry.

Yet in truth, these last days in the life of Jesus are seldom closely observed by contemporary Christians.  In recent years, churches have experienced sparse attendance at Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.  Some say attendance is down because people today are simply too busy.  Others suggest that the story of Christ’s final days is too much of a downer, in a culture that savors a more upbeat religion.  Whatever the reason, many Christians prefer to go from the parade of Palm Sunday directly to the party of Easter without journeying along the rocky trail of Holy Week.

But why is this a problem?  What’s lost if we pole vault over the events of the Passion—arching from one celebratory Sunday to the next?  Well, what may be lost is a faith that can endure even through conflict, challenge, suffering and loss.  After all, life is not one long party, and if we don’t have a faith that can show us how to cope with defeat, disappointment, and trial, we probably don’t have a faith that will last.

In recent years, churches have tried to address this issue with a kind of compromise.  Facing the fact that most people aren’t going to show up at Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, churches will begin worship on the Palm Sunday theme and then move into the Passion story.  The rational is that since most people aren’t going to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, they can at least hear the Passion on Palm Sunday. For several years we’ve done just that at UPC.

But this year we’re letting Palm Sunday be Palm Sunday, the prelude to the beginning of Holy Week.  And in so doing, we’re raising our expectations of the congregation.  We’re expecting you to read the daily scriptures and prayers that have been prepared for Holy Week.  We’re making an earnest plea for you to join us for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.

Granted, the events of Holy Week are full of conflict, suffering, betrayal and death—all of which we’d rather avoid.  But we can’t avoid these things.  They are part of the reality of our lives and world.  Without identifying our faith with the suffering of Jesus, we’ll never be able say with Paul:  “Nothing in all creation, not even death, is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Friends, Palm Sunday is only prelude.  It’s the first day of Holy Week.  Please stay tuned for the rest of the drama.  If you do, Easter morning will burst forth with unspeakable joy.