Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday
March 16, 2008
From Mark’s Gospel

From Palms to Passion

The other day Dee and I were stopped in traffic. We were stopped at an intersection here in town that we normally are able to breeze on through rather quickly. We sat there; looking up at buildings we had seen a hundred times and she says to me, “is that sign new?” There was a sign hanging on the side of the building that I KNOW has been there at least a year if not two. “You’ve never seen that before?” I asked. I know you have had this same interaction with a friend or a loved one. Often times we can drive right by something everyday and not truly notice it at all. Until one day, when we have occasion to stop, and really look- and there it is.

I’m afraid that might be the case with the events of Holy Week for many of us. We have seen many a holy week come and go- but unless we stop for a minute and truly look around, we’re going to miss some of it. We know Palm Sunday pretty well; we wouldn’t miss a chance to see our kids wave palm branches that help remind us of Jesus’ ride toward Jerusalem. And Easter- we’ve got covered, Jesus is risen and we are exceedingly joyful. But what about that blur there in the middle of the week- that’s really not much fun to look at.

If we are to truly believe that this is the holiest week of the Christian year, then maybe this morning we can allow ourselves to get stuck in traffic. By that I mean, let’s pause for a moment to truly see this week that we have sailed through- in my case 31 times- for you some other number. Let’s pause briefly at each day, and put ourselves at the scene of Jesus’ last week on earth. Let us go from palm waving to passion, stopping along the way to see what we might have missed before.
Palm Sunday- Plant yourself somewhere in the back of the cheering crowd as Jesus’ rides in Jerusalem on what we call “Palm Sunday.” You probably have been hearing from others the stories of this man who has been teaching, and healing and proclaiming the message of the Kingdom of God. Although you’re not exactly sure how you feel about him- there is a powerful spirit in the air. This is like a parade, people are shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches, and laying their cloaks on the road for Jesus to pass. This is a very humble procession for a man that you sense is of great importance, this one who is rumored to be of the same line as the great King David who ruled this city so well. This method of entry into the city does remind you of the scriptures. You know that the prophet Zechariah, said the king would come riding on a donkey colt. If you were familiar with this rest of the scripture you would remember that this king is to, “command the nations to be at peace.” This is a king of peace, or a prince of peace- bringing God’s reign of love for all people.
As a citizen of the area, you might also be aware that this is not the only parade happening on this day. You might know that Pontius Pilate, the ruling Roman governor of this area is entering the city in quite a different way; he enters accompanied by cavalry and soldiers- demanding respect from everyone he passes by.
Maybe you can sense some tension even, between these two ways of being. If you are to continue to follow Jesus this week, if you are to be one of the few to stick by him during the dark events of this week- you will be following him through a confrontation with this political power that dominates the people, and you will also be following him to crucifixion and death.

Monday- If you are traveling with Jesus on this day- you will see his righteous anger play a role in the day’s events. First he curses a fig tree as he walks by it and it sees that it bears fruit to fulfill his hunger. You are confused by seeing this incident- it is not time for figs to be in season.

Perhaps you are sitting near the entrance to the temple when Jesus enters today. If so, you know that there is quite a commotion- Jesus comes in overturns the tables of the money changers, and dove sellers. Jesus comes to the temple, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the business that is going on at the temple- but just as the prophets before him, he is frustrated by the attitudes of the worshippers there.

This is the week of the Passover, one of the largest festivals of the Jewish year. Pilgrims have traveled from all over to remember that the Israelites were let go from the oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh by the guidance of God. So the temple is crowded with people who have come to worship God. Jesus’ problem with what is happening here is the same problem the prophets before him had. Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah before him all had a problem with people worshipping God with tributes and sacrifices, but not doing justice in the world. Worship of God is about acts of kindness in the world, it is about taking care of the widows, orphans and anyone else who is in need. Love of God is not simply about making it to the temple, and offering a sacrifice. And so if you follow Jesus on Monday, you will see him in a long line of prophets who express the anger of God when the people only worship, but do not act out God’s love in the world.

Tuesday- If you follow Jesus all day today, you will be tired by the end of the day- I can guarantee it. Tuesday is a full day. As you pass the fig tree once again and sees that is has withered. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach about prayer. Jesus spends the day around the temple court, responding to questions from those in power, and teaching his followers final lessons. You will see that those in power are looking for ways to trap Jesus in the questions that they ask him- and each time, Jesus responds with intelligent answers that stun the crowd and outsmart his opponents. Among the other questions he is asked this day, he will respond to a question about which commandment is the greatest. Perhaps this question was put to him to test his knowledge of the scriptures. Jesus responds that you should, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and that it is equally important to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. You mentally take note as you here this- these might well be the most important words to live by.

Jesus continues to challenge the practices of the religious establishment- those in power who are working with the Roman government. You can feel the tension mounting- and you wince each time someone comes to ask Jesus a question. You hear him tell about the destruction of the temple that is to come, and you also hear him speak of the Kingdom of God being close at hand. You can’t possible understand everything he teaches, and all you want to do after a day like this is rest. And yet Jesus instructions are to, “stay awake!” and “be alert!” because the Kingdom of God is drawing close.

Wednesday- Today is the festival of the unleavened bread in Jesus’ tradition and together he and the disciples will be a part of the festival. If you are traveling with him, you may or may not know that the priests and scribes are looking for a way to arrest and kill Jesus, but they feel like they cannot do that on such a day of religious celebration.

If you were celebrating with him in the home of Simon the leper, you would have seen one of the strangest scenes yet. A woman comes with a jar of costly oil and starts to but the ointment on Jesus’ head. Several of the disciples try to stop her- claiming she is wasting the oil. But Jesus allows the woman to anoint him and is grateful for what she is doing. You might notice toward the end of the evening that one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot is missing from the scene.

Thursday- If you are with Jesus’ disciples today, you will be sent into the city to make preparations for the Passover meal which you will celebrate together. Jesus sends you to find an upper room in a man’s house that you can use for the meal. When evening falls, it is time for an intimate meal with Jesus. Love, friendship and tradition are present- and Jesus also makes some remarks during this meal. First the disturbing news that one of the disciples is going to betray him. Then, Jesus speaks of the bread and wine as his own body and blood. The weight of this shared meal is heavy.

Later, it is off to the garden to pray. Just as Jesus said, he is betrayed, not only by Judas, who hands him over to the authorities, but by the rest of his followers, including maybe even you, that deny any involvement with them. It makes sense to deny him, you can tell what is coming- they have arrested him and want to kill him. Charges are brought before Jesus, and he admits that he is the Son of God, the Messiah. He is sentenced to death.

Friday- On this horrible day, that has become known by the church as Good Friday, Jesus death sentence is carried out. Jesus is condemned to death by the Roman authorities, and he does not deny any of the charges against him. He is beaten and mocked as “King of the Jews.” He is given a crown of thorns to wear and a purple cloth- he is beaten again, spit on and led up to a hill to be crucified. You see a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, who is made to carry his cross.

Jesus is led to a hill and crucified with a thief hung on either side of him, also sentenced to death. As he continues to be mocked, Jesus deteriorates from the crucifixion and about twelve in the afternoon the earth goes dark- the darkness remains until three o’clock. If you have the stomach to stay around until three you might hear Jesus cry out- wondering why he has been forsaken. Finally, he draws his last breath. In the evening, Joseph of Arimathea is granted the body from the Romans. He goes to bury Jesus in and rolls a large stone in front of the tomb. If you are seeing this scene, then you must be one of the woman- one of the two Mary’s who were watching this scene- all the other followers are gone now.

Saturday- For this day we will have to use our imaginations, or in the worst case our own experience to know what it is like the day after someone dies. If you were in Jerusalem the day after Jesus died- do you go back to life as usual? What do you do on this Sabbath day- simply rest perhaps and reflect on what exactly happened in the past week? All we know for sure is that on Saturday of Holy Week- Jesus was dead, he was in the tomb. And no one suspected that it would ever be otherwise. If you stop at this point in the journey with Jesus- and go no farther, there is not much reason to hope. For this reason alone- I would encourage you to be here next Sunday to experience the rest of the story. But for now we leave it here.

Conclusion- To be fair to the life and teachings of Jesus, it would take a lot longer look than my whirlwind tour through the last few chapters of Mark’s Gospel. However, I hope that in recreating these events together, we can remember that this week, the one that we call “Holy Week” is about remembering the last week of the life of Jesus Christ.

It is fitting for us to remember that Jesus stayed true to the message and love of God through all the events of this week. He was unwilling to abandon God even though the earthly power- both political and religious thought what he was doing was dangerous. Jesus stirred up a crowd- we know he was able to do that because the message of God’s love is powerful, and he was put to death for that message.

By understanding what happened in the week before the women found his tomb empty, we can understand more fully why there was and still is such joy on Easter morning. Maybe by putting ourselves at the scene each day of Jesus’ last week- we can remember that we are still a part of what Jesus’ is doing in the world- each one of us. I invite you to journey with Jesus as we observe this holiest week of the Christian year. May God deepen our understanding and devotion. AMEN.

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