On Palm Sunday we both journey with Jesus and welcome Jesus to Jerusalem. We take our place with the crowds and we shout Hosanna! as our Lord, King and Saviour enters into the gates of Jerusalem. The story of Palm Sunday acknowledges the kingship of Jesus, however it also asks us to examine our relationship with Jesus and to understand the way we love God and how that may differ from how God love’s us.
The sermon below is from March 29, 2015. You can read the primer for this service where we ask ‘What is Love?‘
I have never fully understood Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I will confess it is not my favourite Sunday in the Christian year. I suppose that our reading from Mark’s gospel this morning doesn’t help very much. Except for a few verses it doesn’t appear very triumphant. In fact it is a little bit of a boring read and at the end up, perhaps even a touch anticlimactic.
The directions that Jesus gives to the disciples about where to find a colt. The answers they are told to provide when questioned. It is not the most exciting reading. Then we get to read it again as it happens, one has to wonder what Mark was thinking when he wrote this section of his gospel.
The fact is the opening of our reading today reads like a bit of a setup. It all seems very contrived and very uninspiring.
To be sure the appropriate imagery is included. The donkey is a colt, which is significant in two regards. A king rode a donkey when they came to offer peace, which matches our expectations of Jesus. Also, the donkey is a colt that has never been ridden. The status of the colt indicates that it is fit to bear a king. So the appropriate imagery has been provided for the entry of a king into Jerusalem.
Even the crowd that gathers does its part right. They spread their cloaks and lay leafy branches on the ground so that Jesus could enter in. Again, this is only done for royalty.
The high point of the passage comes when the people sing:
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!”
Those words, parts of which are taken from Psalm 188 which we read this morning, are triumphant. It makes me feel good to declare those words.
But, then Jesus and the disciples decide to check out the temple and then they leave. That’s it. Jesus doesn’t stay in Jerusalem, he leaves and heads to Bethany.
The story is a little disappointing. There is a lot of build up, a little drama and then a swift exit.
Why does Jesus choose to enter into Jerusalem in this way? Why make a big fuss about the colt only to slip out by the side gate later that night? I mean they have walked this far, why get a donkey now? I know we have touched on the symbolism of the colt and what it represents, but can you understand where I’m coming from? It all seems contrived. Why doesn’t Jesus stay in town? Is he afraid of something? Are we missing something?
Why is it that the next day, when Jesus returns to Jerusalem that he curses a fig tree and then cleanses the temple? Now there is some drama! There is some action; that is a triumphal entry for the Son of God, the King of kings.
Friends, why do we make Palm Sunday a big event, a celebration?
Why is Palm Sunday the bright spot in Lent that happens just before Good Friday? Do we need to be cheered up? Is it for our benefit?
As we near the events of Good Friday and Easter I have no doubt that it is a cosmic event. I have no doubt that the hosts of heaven are sitting on seats edge to see how the drama will play out.
So yes, I know that Palm Sunday is a big deal. It is important, yet at the same time it is also very puzzling. It is a part of the mystery that we experience on our journey with Jesus towards the cross.
If it seems to you that Palm Sunday has been built up to be something larger than what is written, if the church has made this Sunday a grander event than is intended and if like me that puzzles you as well. Just think about those disciples. If we are asking questions about the colt, what about the two disciples who had to fetch it?
What questions that are not recorded, what conversations that we have not heard occurred when the disciples left Jerusalem with Jesus after all that fanfare? If we are confused by this story, what about the disciples?
Friends, I am going to share with you what I find most disappointing about this story. That which confuses me to the point of bewilderment. It angers me and fills me with profound sadness at the same time.
It is the reaction of those people who are gathered. The people who placed their cloaks and palm branches on the ground. Those same people who sang Hosanna when Jesus enters, fill me with a deep sadness.
Not for what they are doing, but for what we know they are about to do.
Friends, the love that they express towards Jesus here is only skin deep, it is superficial. They recognize Jesus as King, all the signs are there. They do everything right, the words on their lips are appropriate, but within their hearts on a deeper level they are missing the point.
Think about what happens next? Jesus cleanses the temple, Jesus being questioned and his answers. All of which while we accept, were very upsetting at the time to the status quo. The people turned on Jesus, because they did not truly understand Jesus. They did not grasp what the kingdom he was referring to meant. Their focus was on material things and Jesus was not talking about a physical kingdom.
Friends, we serve a God of love. A God who loves us so deeply he came and lived with us. In Jesus Christ we have that love made manifest.
So often we misunderstand God’s love for us as well as our own love for God.
We look at parts of the story in isolation and fail to see how it all works together.
While Palm Sunday may celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, it exists within the shadow of Good Friday. The same people who lifted Jesus in triumph quickly turn against him.
If we want to move past a superficial love for Jesus, then we need to understand the events within the whole story of the gospel. With Jesus we see how radical and different God’s love for us is. How God’s love often defies our expectations and yet in the offering of love God provides all for us. In Jesus we see just how different God’s love for us is compared to how we love one another.
Our task is to deepen our understanding of God’s love for us. To strengthen our love for God. To understand Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry, not as a story where love for God is not expressed. But rather as a story that teaches us how we need to allow God’s love to transcend our fears and transform our lives. Amen.
Text: Mark 11: 1-11