Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year A
April 9, 2017
Matthew 21:1-11 Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16 Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 27:11-54
As Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, a crowd of people are not only gathered to see him, they spread their cloaks on and place palm branches on the road for him and shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then, we are told as he is entering the city, people are asking, “Who is this?” And the crowd answers, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
When I was in seminary, I was marked down on a paper because of saying Jesus was a prophet. For me it was a revelation to realize that Jesus would have been seen by the people as a prophet. I did, of course, understand Jesus was more than a prophet, but for the people of Israel he preached and performed miracles like the prophets of old. Elijah made the widow’s jars never run empty. She had flour and oil to last her and her son until the drought ended. When the widow’s son died, Elijah raised him from the dead. Then, there was the show down between Elijah and the prophets of Baal where Elijah called upon God to set the water soaked wood a blaze in order to consume the sacrifice. The wood erupted into fire as proof that Elijah was the prophet of the true God – Yahweh.
So here, in Jerusalem, after countless stories of the miracles Jesus has performed, after word has spread of his message of hope for the poor and the oppressed, the people welcome him into the village as if the late, great King David himself were riding into town. He was not the king, so they announced to others “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus does not live up to their expectations, though. They want Jesus to lead a revolution and throw the Romans out. They want him to restore Jewish control over their land – the land that God promised to their ancestors, the land that was taken from them. Jesus instead enters the temple and throws out those who are buying and selling in the temple – disrupting the temples ability to make money to support the well-to-do chief priests and Pharisees.
A few days later, a member of his own inner circle betrays him and conspires with Jewish authorities who him arrest him during the night when he is away from the crowds and praying. When he is brought to trial, the crowd shouts, “Let him be crucified!” How easily a crowd’s opinion can swayed. How quickly it can be turned.
Imagine the horror his faithful disciples felt. They had come to understand that Jesus was more than a prophet, he was the messiah, the one sent by God to save the people. How did they get it so wrong? Jesus is dead, and with his death hope is lost.
Over the course of our next three services here, we remember the Last Supper, his betrayal and arrest at our Maundy Thursday service, his crucifixion and death at our Good Friday services, and his triumph over sin and death at the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday night.
The stark days of Lent are nearly over, but we cannot skip over the pain and suffering if we want to truly appreciate the gift of the resurrection. Some Episcopalians are fond of saying, we are a Easter people, but we recognize that there is no resurrection without death. In the blessing of the baptismal water we say that in the water of baptism we are “buried with Christ” and “through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
Lent has provided us ample time to reflect on our sins and Holy Week will provide us ample time to reflect on how our sins cause suffering and death. Our experience of Lent and Holy Week are not, however, without hope. Just as our lives are sometimes filled with sorrow, we need not fear the future. Through faith, and with our knowledge of the resurrection we can face our own struggles with hope. We can trust that our creator who has brought us here will sustain us and our church and will provide for our future.
We, like the people of Jerusalem, may be disappointed and feel that Jesus has not provided us with what we need to thrive. Things may not turn out as we want – but what the Holy Spirit and Jesus have to offer is more than we can have imagined. It is the peace that passes all understanding and offers us new life.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we pray for strength that we may not lose faith and be paralyzed by fear in the face of all the struggles of this life. Keep us mindful that you are faithful, and help us trust you to provide for us, so that we might experience the resurrecting power of your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.