PALM SUNDAY PALMS, PROTEST, AND PASSION Mark 11:1-11, 14 & 15

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1 PALM SUNDAY PALMS, PROTEST, AND PASSION Mark 11:1-11, 14 & 15 Introduction Today marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, seven days in the Christian year that=s set apart by a pair of parades: The one on Palm Sunday and the one on Good Friday. The same Jesus who was Grand Marshall of the Palm Sunday parade was dropped like a hot potato a few days later when predictions of his death became reality. For sheer tension and excitement, there are few scenes in the Bible that can compare to the one in Mark. Excited crowds of people, surging over the crest of the hill! Joyful followers publicly affirming the divinity of this forceful, outspoken carpenter and miracle worker from Galilee. But, along with the excitement, there=s also drama, intrigue, and ominous protests. We have scheming scribes and self-righteous Pharisees looking on from a distance, plotting how to rid themselves of a man who preached love and commitment to something far greater than laws and the appearance of respectability. Now most - if not all of us - would much prefer to go from the excitement of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter, but the events of Thursday and Friday loom menacingly. And the only way to get to Easter Sunday is to acknowledge an ugly truth: Many of the people who shouted themselves hoarse with endless hosannas! were also in the crowd a few days later, shouting even more loudly, Crucify him! So fasten your seat belts! There=s extreme turbulence on the final leg of our journey with Jesus, as we go straight through the evil and darkness of the cross to the extreme joy of Resurrection. Setting the stage Palm Sunday is officially a day of celebration, but if you were listening to the Mark readings, you ll have noticed there was a lot more going on that day than parades. The scripture tells about excited disciples, a few disgruntled priests and scribes, a colt, of course. What would Palm Sunday be without a donkey. And there was also an extravagant woman with some very strong burial ointment. But, in the midst of all the excitement and joy, there was an undertone of danger that was felt by Jesus' followers, as well as by anyone who understood the very radical

2 message Jesus had been preaching. Jesus= message was so radical, it was only a matter of time before his enemies would find a way to silence him. Now, this is an awful lot to cram into one Palm Sunday sermon, and over the years, I've agonized over how to convey it all. But, as I was listening to and watching the news, God sent me an epiphany. God suggested a perfect example of how to describe the many layers of emotions felt that day. We've all seen images of U.S. soldiers rumbling through the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. We've seen pictures of people shouting and smiling and waving at the tanks. A few even offered flowers of welcome. With all this apparent joy, we might be fooled into thinking that every Iraqi and Afghani was out dancing in the streets, when in fact, it s probably just the opposite. According to reporters on the scene, most citizens of these countries are still too frightened to venture out into the streets. After generations of repression and cruelty, of never knowing who's a friend and who's an enemy, most people stay hunkered down at home. They stay home and wait to see who's going to stay around long enough to make a difference and to see if it's worth trusting again. That's the sort of atmosphere Jesus found in Jerusalem. And, even though he knew his fate, he also knew enough about the politics of the situation to take a few precautions. Of course, you know the story very well. With advice from Jesus, the disciples made arrangements for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And once everything was in place, they led Jesus from the Mount of Olives toward the city where the air fairly crackled with uncontainable excitement. The disciples were shouting at the top of their lungs. At long last they could finally praise God publicly for the miracles and deeds of power that Jesus had accomplished. The disciples could finally praise their God for sending the long-awaited Messiah. At first glance, it seemed to be a glorious day and the march into Jerusalem seemed to be the high point of Jesus= ministry - the moment that God, the angels, and all the heavenly hosts had been anticipating since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, thanks to the Pharisees, the joy was short-lived. Because, even as the disciples and the people shouted their praises. 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! Even as these words hung in the air. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and to kill him. But, they were careful not do

3 anything during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people. The Pharisees appeared to be singing songs of praise right along with everybody else. but their real intent was for something quite different. And they=d already set things in motion to make sure that Jesus would no longer threaten their power and influence. This is Palm Sunday. But today is about more than just parades. There=s excited, faithful disciples, devious priests and scribes, and an extravagant woman with some overpoweringly strong burial ointment, trying very hard to make everybody understand what was about to happen. And then there s today Sounds familiar, doesn=t it? Powerful but misguided people absolutely determined to silence the voices of accountability and integrity. Powerful but misguided leaders who have sold out to the highest bidder: To the culture and the status quo, to lining pockets at the expense of the mission of God=s church. This scene is familiar because it's been playing out in the church for centuries as each new generation of Christians has to learn for themselves the truly radical nature of the gospel, and especially of the job we=ve been given to do. We know the facts, but we continue to misunderstand, misuse, and manipulate the Gospel into a pale, watered down, politically correct version of why Jesus died. In her poem, ABetween Parades," Ann Weems once again hits the nail on the head. We=re good at planning! Give us a task force and a project and we=re off and running! No trouble at all! Going to the village and finding the colt, even negotiating with the owners is right down our alley. And how we love a parade! In a frenzy of celebration we gladly focus on Jesus and generously throw our coats and palms in his path. And we can shout praise loudly enough to make the Pharisees complain. It=s all so good! It=s between parades that we don=t do so well. From Sunday to Sunday we forget our hosannas. Between parades the stones will have to shout because we don=t. I don=t know about you, but this entire scene in Mark makes me very

4 uncomfortable. I=m uncomfortable because I recognize myself in what=s going on. I=m quick to sing praises on Sunday but my words of praise often come to a screeching halt on Monday morning. I accept far too quickly Jesus words to the disciples, You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish. I accept these words at face value, putting off into the indefinite future acts of kindness and generosity I could easily extend today. Just like the Pharisees, I ration my every word and action on behalf of the downtrodden of this world. Try not to rock the boat. Try not to upset too many people in too many high places who have the power to interfere in my own life, myown comfort. In my haste to rush past the ugliness of Good Friday, I allow myself to forget that many of the same people who shouted Hosanna in the highest heaven! just a few days later cried out even more loudly Crucify him! Crucify him! Ann Weems also writes these words, What we=d like to do... is wave palms and shout Hosanna! and then rest up for the Hallelujah Chorus. Trouble is, Keeping covenant means keeping covenant under a cross, as well as by an empty garden tomb. Now I know there=s not a single person in this room who would willing vote to crucify anybody. But, that s exactly what we do every time you and I turn away from injustice; every time we remain silent in the face of misconduct or unethical behavior; any time we allow the church of Jesus Christ to be diverted from its God-given mission. Every time you and I compromise, equivocate, and water down the gospel, our hands become stained with the blood of God s son. As Christian disciples, we must decide each and every day where to place our loyalties. Will we be one of the mindless, empty voices offering praise without commitment? Or will we remember the promise we made at our baptism to join Jesus Christ in a procession that involves pain and suffering and cross-bearing. Conclusion Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, seven days in the Christian year that=s set apart by a matched pair of parades: The one on Palm Sunday and the one on Good Friday. The same Jesus who was leading the Palm Sunday parade was dropped like a hot potato a few days later. When predictions of Jesus death became reality, his disciples had a choice. But the only choice that promises hope is the choice to follow

5 Jesus to the Cross. And, in spite of the joy and excitement of today, the only way to get from Palm Sunday to Easter is straight through the darkness in between. Skipping from celebration palms to the joy of the empty tomb will only shortcircuit the power being offered at the cross. Starting this moment, why don=t we decide to take part in both parades. That way we=ll have a ringside seat next Sunday when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

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