Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

The Point of Palm Sunday

A Sermon for 25 March 2018 – Palm Sunday


A reading from the gospel of Mark 11:1-19.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and 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.  If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”  They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.  As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”  They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  10Blessed 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.  12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it.  When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”  And his disciples heard it.  15 Then they came to Jerusalem.  And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”  18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


Hearing stories like the ones we heard from the gospels today, do you ever wonder if Jesus was either absolutely fearless or just full of folly?  Or maybe a bit of both?  . . .  In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson does a wonderful job of teaching about the groups of faithful Jews who were contemporary to Jesus.  Likely we’ve heard their names thrown around by gospel authors:  the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots.  Similar to the varieties of Christian denominations today, not everyone then approached God through Judaism in the same way.  (See:  Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way, pp. 206-271.)  One thing they all held in common – though for different reasons – Jesus appeared a threat.  The reactionary Pharisees, who started off about 150 years before Jesus as a protest against Greek opposition to Judaism and grew into a strict following of God’s ancient laws, believed Jesus broke the absolute ways of the Sabbath – and according to certain tellings of the story – he even wanted to include the uncircumcised.  Compassion was of higher value to Jesus than code.  . . .  The Sadducees and chief priests, who had gotten in good with the upper echelons and stopped caring for those right before them in spiritual and physical need, despised that Jesus broke bread with the masses.  They hated that he called crooked tax collectors to repent.  . . .  The Essenes, who simply wanted to escape in order to focus on their own holy lives, didn’t like that Jesus got down and dirty with the people.  He touched lepers and listened to blind men.  He let a woman infiltrate a precious male circle as she anointed his body before burial.  He didn’t stay out of the synagogues and Temple where in the Essenes’ opinion some religious folks worried more about themselves and their own comfort over the will of God.  Rather, Jesus marched right in in order to be present – that he would be able to nourish their spirits with the bountiful bread of heaven.  . . .  As if his every move wasn’t enough to turn the religious leaders of his beloved religious community upside down, Jesus meddled.  He told folks what to do with their money.  How to spend their time.  He made clear the ways God expected them to invest their talents – for the good of the whole.  He spoke of merciful love, justice, and forgiveness when so many craved separation, dominance, and revenge.

Look at him today in the story we call Palm Sunday.  Check out the actions of this foolish – or fearless, or a little bit of both – man.  Who does he think he is, descending from the Mount of Olives?  That was supposed to be the path of the long-awaited one.  . . .  The prophecy from Zechariah told of a day when one would come mightily into Jerusalem – one even mightier than old, beloved King David.  A royal descendant would weave down the path from the Mount of Olives on the east into the city with the Temple mount rising above.  The LORD’s promised one would liberate the Israelites from any other rule and establish forever God’s universal kingdom – an empire that stretched over every nation of the world.  What a wonderful vision!  . . .  It’s just that Jesus didn’t look at all like most had anticipated, what with the way he acted – pretty much standing in opposition to all the religious leaders of his day.  All too often Jesus offended, especially those who were certain that they knew.  And now – at Passover – as the city was jammed packed with those making the annual pilgrimage – how dare he participate in this attention-getting, seemingly pre-arranged parade?  He had to know it would only make matters worse.

No bother, to Jesus.  It’s important for us to remember that had a mission – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, as we say in Renewal Team meetings.  He would not be deterred.  He was centered and focused and ready for whatever would come.  . . .  It was his parade of peace, that day he descended from the Mount of Olives.  He’d been saying all along that the ways of violence would be used against him, as they’d been used against his people for too long.  Those in charge of ordering other’s lives got to such positions through force.  There were no democratic elections in Jesus’ day.  In Jesus’ day the machine of domination rolled over nation after nation.  Person after person – on their way to establishing the Pax Romana:  The Great Roman Peace.  . . .  Was it the Psalmist or the ancient prophet or Jesus himself who chastised those in charge, saying:  “You cry, ‘Peace!  Peace!’  When, in fact, there is no peace!”  . . .  His sign of choosing a donkey – a young, previously unridden colt, as the gospel of Mark details.  Jesus’ choice was a powerful symbolic message.  He was embodying the prophet Zechariah’s oracle of chapter 9:9-10 which promised that a triumphant king will come.  Not on a horse charging in for war with shield and sword ready to go.  But humble – holding nothing in his outstretched hands:  just peace.  Peace pervading every ounce of his heart.  . . .  Here comes Jesus ambling into the city – the victorious king of peace.

It’s why he would tell his followers to put down the sword when in Gethsemane one of them sought to strike.  The One of peace doesn’t fight with those kind of weapons – just acts of kindness, self-emptying calm, and courageous words.  It’s why he would stand silent when both Caiaphas, the High Priest, and later Pilate, the Governor, challenged him to defend himself.  His fight wasn’t to save himself.  But, in love, to offer salvation to the whole world.  It’s why he stayed there on that cross, bleeding in throbbing pain.  His work was to give up his very self, trusting God to show that Life remains forever.  . . .  Here comes Jesus – our Christ – humble as a sign of peace.  Challenging any who would to follow.

It would be easy in today’s Palm Sunday story to keep our eyes on the king of peace – pin all our hopes on him and let it go at that.  But he didn’t enter that city; he didn’t wash his disciples feet; he didn’t hang on that cross and rise triumphant from the grave just for us to think his actions are all that matter.  Holy Week is for us in ways so much deeper than that.  We return to the same stories every year, perhaps from the perspective of a different gospel writer; but we come back round to them as a church to celebrate the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of the One that is not just Savior, but also Lord.  The One who makes a Way for us through death to life again, then beckons us to follow.  This week matters so deeply; these stories shape our faith significantly because they tell us what has been done for us and they lay out the pattern for our lives.  They give us the trajectory for our days.

In The Confession of 1967 of the PCUSA, we hear:  “The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ has set the pattern for the church’s mission.  His life as a human involves the church in the common life of humankind.  His service to humanity commits the church to work for every form of human well-being.  His suffering makes the church sensitive to all the sufferings of humankind so that we see the face of Christ in the faces of those in every kind of need.  His crucifixion discloses to the church God’s judgment on our inhumanity to one another and the awful consequences of our own complicity in injustice.  In the power of the risen Christ and the hope of his coming, the church sees the promise of God’s renewal of humanity’s life in society and of God’s victory over all wrong.  . . .  The church follows this pattern in the form of our life and in the method of our action.  So to live and serve is to confess Christ as Lord.”  (adapted for worship from the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions).  . . .  Here comes our Savior and Lord, O church.  Our amazing king of peace – fearless with a big ole splash of folly, at least according to the standards of the world.  He leads in the way of God – we’ll hear it throughout this week called Holy.  All that’s left to see is whether or not we will follow.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

The Ruckus of the King

A Sermon for 20 March 2016 – Palm Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Luke 19:28-48. Listen for God’s word to us.

“After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


A reading from the prophet Isaiah 50:4-9a. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


We started this service with that beloved reading according to the gospel of Luke of that first Palm Procession down the Mount of Olives, through the garden of Gethsemane, and into the city of Jerusalem right through the Temple gate. And just in case we don’t see you again this week, let me remind you that Jesus is about to get into great big trouble! Trouble that will bring on for him what the prophet Isaiah once wrote about. . . . What a blessed day, Palm Sunday, to rehearse the story of his coming into Jerusalem. I guess we could call it triumphant – though at this point in the story, he’s really not triumphed over anything yet. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus just has welcomed into the fold Zacchaeus. It might have been one of the last straws for the religious leaders of the day because, according to the gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. And he was very rich. But he wanted to see Jesus so he climbed up a tree. Much to everyone’s shock, Jesus called Zacchaeus outta the tree and sat with him at table in his house. . . . Jesus really is starting to meddle. It all was clear before – who was in what place. Tax collectors were out. Unclean as they mingled with the Romans. And not to mention despised for all too often overcharging for their own gain. In the eyes of Jesus’ people, no one’s much lower than a chief tax collector. . . . But “he too is a son of Abraham,” Jesus declares. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If those in religious leadership had no reason to be furious with him before, as Jesus sits at table with Zacchaeus, now they most certainly do!

And he doesn’t stop there! He should’ve stayed out of the city. Kept his mouth shut – as some Pharisees warn when the crowd is going crazy shouting “Blessed! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38). . . . We all do our best to make sense of things. And the gospel of Luke’s got a certain understanding. Here alone the story goes that the crowds shout “blessed is the king . . . peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” . . . This is the gospel writer who alone tells of the night of his birth. Remember at Christmas when we heard of angels singing to the shepherds? It was the in-breaking of a new kingdom. “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they proclaimed. “And on earth, peace among those who God favors!” (Luke 2:14). . . . We miss it because words like king. Peace – often these are common for us when we think about Christ. . . . But it’s believed there was another procession into the city that week. Passover was when all the Jewish pilgrims would flock to Jerusalem. It was time to celebrate their freedom from captivity. The way God made when they were slaves in Egypt. With a merciful hand the LORD their God passed over each home marked with the blood of the lamb – the sign of the covenant. Later that night, their sandals on, their cloaks ready – the people of God escaped captivity behind the mighty staff of Moses. . . . Passover in Jerusalem was the annual reminder that God had set them free! . . . So, just to make sure they didn’t get any revolutionary ideas, each year at Passover, Rome made sure they were ready. Pilate came parading into the city too. Strong. Royal. On a warhorse, surrounded by Roman soldiers, spears in hand. As a sign of the Roman Empire – an extension of Caesar, Rome’s king – they were there to keep PEACE (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2; H. Stephen Shoemaker, p. 153). . . . The kingdoms indeed are clashing!

On one side we have Pilate, Rome’s right-hand man, ready by force to overtake any who get outta line. That’s what peace looked like for Rome. Fear, intimidation, domination, force: that’s the way in the kingdom of Rome, the way of the world. . . . Now don’t get me wrong: the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome, brought with it many good things. Travel suddenly was secure – possible even – on roadways Rome built all over the empire. After all, they had to have a way to move their army around. So it may not have been for the best of intentions, but still it brought movement all over the Empire for almost anyone – and in relative ease and safety. The potential for commerce boomed. Which probably was a good thing for common folks, because Rome had to have some way to pay for it all. Heavy taxes were laid upon the people – for some a crushingly cruel amount. And Rome wasn’t interested in letting you file for an extension if you thought you were going to miss the April 15th deadline. With ruthless force, Rome ensured peace. If followers of God aren’t careful, they too will mistake such ways as acceptable. It appeared as if the end justified the means. Being so deceptively sweet, such ways easily ensnare.

And in more ways than one. In the gospel of Luke’s telling of the story alone, some of the Pharisees are present as Jesus parades into the city. They’re not necessarily adversarial towards Jesus; just insistent. They want the ruckus stopped. It reads as if they represent the voice of fear. You know: that part of us that doesn’t want the boat rocked. Those voices in us that clutch us and keep us from seeking truth. That power that overtakes until we cannot act on faith. . . . Fear is a major force, played upon by any empire wanting to keep folks quiet. The threat of the cross was real in Jesus’ day. It represented execution by the state for any sort of crime against them – including inciting allegiance to One higher than the Emperor. Crosses dotted the land as a fearful threat to stay in line. Maybe these Pharisees know exactly how much trouble Jesus is in for as his followers hail him king and shout out about God’s way of peace. It’s possible they are the very same leaders who’ve warned him once before as he approached the city – sending word to him to stay away because Herod wanted him dead (Luke 13:31-35). . . . No matter. Jesus tells them God’s way will prevail; for if his followers were silent, “the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). No matter the pressure; creation bows only to one King.

It’s we people who quickly forget. The gospel of Luke’s telling of the story alone reminds us even further. For it reports that when Jesus rounded the bend – a bit closer to Jerusalem – he wept over it bitterly. . . . As in the days of old when prophets like Zechariah had warned against living according to the ways of force. When Habakkuk had prophesied that those unjustly betraying God’s Law and God’s people would not last long. As in the days when God’s people fell into living the ways of the world instead of being according to the ethic of Love; Jesus weeps over what it all has become. The peace he knows – the peace he brings is so very different than the enforced peace he sees. The same kind of peace we often see that benefits some and greatly diminishes others. . . . One commentator seeks to explain God’s very different kind of peace by writing: “’Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven’ is more than a song of heavenly rest and hope in the world to come. It is about the ‘kingdom of the heavens,’ as (the gospel of) Matthew called it, which has drawn near in Jesus to challenge and change the kingdoms of this world” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2; H. Stephen Shoemaker, p. 155). . . . O yes! Jesus is about to get into some very big trouble. He’s about to alienate everyone.

But why? Why does he seem to seek out the conflict? Didn’t his parents school him in not rocking the boat? Why won’t he tell his disciples to pipe down a bit – everyone’s listening? Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone – stay outta Jerusalem all together. Or at least keep a low profile and just celebrate Passover dutifully along with everybody else. Why’s he got to seemingly go looking for trouble? Which the gospel of Luke indicates he does as he heads from his Palm Parade directly into the Temple. Imagine the scene as he starts pushing out the Temple peddlers. More ruckus! Even if they just were doing their job in reference to providing proper sacrifices in remembrance to God. It’s not like it was the first time and it certainly will not be the last time the people of God have it bobbled, and what was to be a good and holy thing got turned all inside out and upside down. The church can heed the warning that too quickly can we make the worship of God about something else entirely: our gain, our entertainment, our right thought or feeling over everything else. . . . Why would you march right into Jerusalem, with a whole crowd singing your praises, only to incur further wrath as every interaction from here forward just infuriates the religious leaders even as it threatens the powers of this world?

Because he trusts another Way. For he embodies a very different kind of God. If Rome wants to portray peace as something kept by intimidation and force and even death to any challengers; then Jesus knows a prevailing power. We’d do well to remember. The gospel of Luke emphasizes – especially at the end – that Jesus represents a different kind of King. Here from the cross Jesus readily gives up his spirit. It’s an ultimate act of love – a willing sign of trust. No “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” is here, as in the gospels of Matthew and Mark when the crucified Christ questions why God has forsaken him. . . . This king is of a different kingdom – the kingdom of true peace. Freedom. Shalom. And this Christ shall be victorious over any other power. For God’s ways of justice, mercy, everlasting love shall demolish all other ways forever – though maybe I’ve given too much of next Sunday away. . . .

“Blessed??? Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!??? Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!???” . . . Hold on . . . because all the other ways are going to do everything they can to put an end to this Way. . . . Hold on: it’s a rough ride on the way to resurrection . . .

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)