Palms or Passion?
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, March 31, 2015. The Processional Gospel is Mark 11:1-11 and the Passion Gospel is Mark 15:1-39.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Are we supposed to be happy today or sad? We had our parade and remembered the first Palm Sunday when the crowds cheered Jesus with their shouts of “hosanna”. Just now we heard 39 verses from Mark’s Gospel that tell of the crucifixion. Someone has characterized this day as the most schizophrenic of all holy days in the church year.
Palm Sunday has been observed since the 4th century on the Sunday before Easter. It has become the gateway to Holy Week for many Christians. I love the joy of Palm Sunday and the excitement that is generated with our parade and inspiring music. Please note that we also call today Passion Sunday, picking up the theme of Jesus’ suffering and death. In the midst of the joy of Palm Sunday we know that the young man riding on a donkey is riding to his destination on the cross.
Some have thought that Jesus’ riding on a donkey was all about humility. I would have you consider a different line of thinking today. A parade is a spectacle. Those who participate in a parade want to be seen. Jesus wanted to be seen riding on a donkey on the major thoroughfare of Jerusalem that leads up to the temple. Jesus’ entry on that donkey is not a humble act. One theologian calls Jesus’ act on that day “an attack!” Jesus is publicly doing something that is royal, prophetic, and divine. Jesus, the Messiah, the royal Son of God, enters the very same way King Solomon, the original builder of the temple, did for the dedication of the temple a thousand years before. So in the eyes of the Jews, to see a man ride on a donkey in Jerusalem up to the temple signified that God was raising up a king in the likes of Solomon and his father David.
Rather than being a victim who was surprised by his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus determined when all this would happen by his purposeful and forceful actions in public view of the leaders of the Jews and the people. Theologian Edgar Goodspeed has called Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem “The Great Offensive”. Jesus makes sure that he goes past the point of “no return”... He is forcing the hands of the Jewish leaders. They must act.
What message was Jesus delivering by his actions? Remember that Jews from all over had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. In the ancient ritual meal, a place is set for the prophet Elijah and no one dares to sit there. The cup of Elijah is carefully put in place. It is said that when Elijah return, he will herald the coming of the Messiah. Even to this day, Jews celebrate Passover this was with a meal called the Seder. In the middle of the meal, a door is opened and all rise to see if Elijah has returned. Every year they say “next year in Jerusalem”, meaning he has not come yet, but perhaps the Messiah will come next year at our Passover…
Jesus revealed that he is the Promised Messiah. In his Seder with the Disciples in the Upper Room, that we call the Lord’s Supper, he told them that from on they were to understand that he was giving a whole new meaning to this meal. It is in his body and his blood that he will be sacrificed for the forgiveness of their sins. When they eat and drink this supper, they are participating in the new covenant God is making with them through Jesus.
Here’s a story that helps us understand our role in the ongoing story of Jesus Christ: Corrie Ten Boom was a famous Christian whose testimony of suffering in Nazi concentration camps and God’s grace through it all touched millions of lives. A few years ago, in a press conference following a ceremony in which Corrie Ten Boom was given an honorary degree, one of the reporters asked her if it was difficult remaining humble while hearing so much acclaim. She replied immediately, “Young man, when Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments in the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him? She continued, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”* This day, this week, all the time may be too give Jesus all the honor and praise.
*Mike Hamby, The Triumphal Entry, in e-sermon illustrations