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Palm Passion Sunday A Sermon
Matthew 21:1-11
5, 2020


Sermon Archives


Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

If you are like me, you may really look forward to the way we traditionally begin Holy Week. Here at Clinton Heights we usually gather outside of our worship space – in the lobby, or that old church-word, “narthex”. We begin with the reading that Rita shared – the story about Jesus sending two disciples to find a pre-appointed donkey for him to ride from the Mount of Olives, into the city of Jerusalem. We join the crowds in shouting, “Hosanna … Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then, we participate in that ritual, following the cross up the middle aisle, palm leaves in hand, singing “All glory, laud and honor to you redeemer king!” It is one of those Sundays of the church year where we don’t sit in our long-assigned pews, visiting with our neighbors as we wait for the service to begin. We all participate – those who are able join in the procession and fill the pews as you file in – putting flesh onto the ribs that these rows of seats make up. For me, it is a way that we get the whole church involved in liturgy – in the work of the people – as we begin the most holy week of the year. It is a participatory time for us.

Usually, then, our focus quickly turns as Palm Sunday suddenly becomes Passion Sunday. We read the story of Jesus’ passion and death according to either Matthew, Mark or Luke depending on the year. Preachers rarely even preach – not only because the reading itself takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but it is effective enough to share the story of Jesus’ suffering and death and to let it sit on your hearts without any theological expert telling you what it is all about. Sometimes we experience this reading as a dramatic presentation, as we have the last few years, with different people reading different parts, interspersed with music and communion and dramatic pauses and appropriate hymns. Other times it is just the pastor, or two or three people who share it. However it happens, Passion Sunday has become a time for us to experience of how quickly the crowds turned their Hosannas into shouts of, “Crucify Him.” We experience it because we actually do it.

There are many things different about this day- Palm Sunday of 2020. Besides the obvious fact that you are not with us here to march in with palm branches in hand – although maybe you do have a palm, either real or paper. We are also not reading the passion story today. This year, Palm Sunday is sort of standing on it’s own; we have entered into Holy Week, and I invite you back at noon the next five days to hear the passion story from Matthew … but our shouts today will strictly be, “Hosanna,” Oh, we know what is coming – our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an ancient Christian hymn which proclaims our faith in the event of Jesus’ suffering and death. But we will wait until tomorrow to start to hear it.

Ironically, we are given an opportunity in these unique days to break out of old habits and to try something different. As you participate at home I hope you are able to listen and sing and pray along with us – what’s called, “being together apart” through this time … for it is a kind of microcosm of the life we are living right now. We know and expect what is down the road – new life and renewed relationships. We even see signs of that around us as the sun shines warmer and the grass grows greener and the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are bursting forth in beautiful yellows, reds and purples. But we still remain in uncertainty. We still remain in Holy Week. It is not yet Easter. As Christians who take seriously the cross and Jesus’ sacrificial love displayed there, we do something that is most uncomfortable – we dwell in the tension of what is now and the promise of what is to come. We live, knowing that what is now is not quite right, not the way God intended things to be for us, and that one day all things will be healed and forgiven. In the meantime, we look for signs of that healing and forgiveness at work, participating as we are able like when we walk up the aisles with palm branches in our hands – working in grocery stores, clinics and hospitals, sending lesson plans online, going to virtual meetings, volunteering at food pantries, and hardest of all, staying away from the people who we know and love most. It is no wonder the people turned so quickly on Jesus – they expected one type of messiah, the one who would ride victoriously into the city on a proud steed after a military victory. They got a humble, servant king mounted on a donkey. Their expectations are soon to be dashed, and their disappointment will be exploited by the religious leaders of the day to bring about Jesus’ death. Their disappointment is heartfelt … and understandable, for we dwell in disappointment right now … we who would like to celebrate with our children and grandchildren in musical productions, athletic events and graduation ceremonies, we want to shout at the one to whom we so often sing praises: “Why?? How long? Where are you?”

We cannot deny the fact that we exist in disappointing times today in our faith life too. Doing things as well as we are able, we miss the Palm Sunday march up the aisle; I will miss the agape meal on Thursday that has become our tradition; the choir cantata on Good Friday which this year was going to have full instrumentation. Gathering for a delicious Easter Breakfast with church families and watching our young people find their eggs on the lawn; these are highlights of the year for me and I am sure for many of you. Disappointed? You darn right I am!! I can sympathize with the crowds in Jerusalem who turn on Jesus … I can even sympathize with the frustration that folks express today, like those who claim that the government is just trying to control us, and that our freedom of religion rights are being stripped away. I can even understand why some churches are defying the mandates and still gathering for worship. I don’t agree with it, but I know the disappointment from where this comes. Because we see it unfold in Holy Week. We see the pain which people experience at unexpected disappointment.

The gift Jesus offers to us as we enter this great and Holy Week, is to dwell with us in our disappointment. To live in the tension between an imperfect world and the suffering it causes, and the perfect healing that God has promised us along the way. The good news is that Jesus understands the disappointment, for he has felt it toward us and this whole sinful world for so many years … he understands, and dwells with us, even if he doesn’t agree with. His love was still there for those yelling for his crucifixion. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ last week is the only Gospel in which Jesus talks about, “the appointed time draws near…” Jesus knows what is coming. As he rides the humble foal looking at faces in the crowd, he knows that these people putting palm branches and garments on the road are going to want him dead in a few days – and yet, he is there for them, for all of them. He is the emissary and embodiment of God’s profound love for the world – all of the world – the righteous and unrighteous, repentant and unrepentant, religious and irreligious, those who proclaim him messiah and those who reject him as criminal. Just so, he is the emissary of God’s love for those who are doing their parts to flatten the curve, provide food for our nation and world, and reach out in love to those who are most vulnerable in this time … and he is the same emissary of God’s love for those defying orders, stockpiling provisions, and those so disappointed with a perceived absence of God that they might just give up on God and faith totally.
As we enter Holy Week, we hear the story of Jesus’ suffering and death in a different way than usual. But we all still participate in the story as those for whom Jesus shows this perfect all giving love on a cross. May we dwell in the discomfort of this uncertainty that comes with disappointment and promise, knowing that Jesus dwells with us – vulnerable and a little afraid of what is to come; but that there is new life coming, and with it joy and hope. Amen.