Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday     Resurrection Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg

March 16, 2008     Text:  Matthew 21: 1-5;  27: 1-2, 11-14, 27-31, 35-37

Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley            Title:  Palm and Passion

If there was ever a Sunday designed to have a split-personality…surely, this would be it.    Today is not only Palm Sunday…it is also known as the Sunday of the Passion.    And for very good reason.   What began innocently enough as a jovial exercise in parade etiquite for when someone important comes to town…even if that someone comes riding on a donkey…the mood soon shifts to one of  somberness.   With every passing moment…we are reminded that this is Holy Week.    And Jesus has come riding into the city of Jerusalem for a reason that if the truth be known, even his closest disciples do not fully understand.    That image…is what we need to focus our attention on this day…IF we even hope to grasp the meaning of the Easter season (now 7 days away).  

So let’s begin…where the Gospel writer Matthew began on this day…when asked what took place that was so important, that the whole city of Jerusalem was said to have shook with “turmoil”.     Jesus has come to the city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.    But make no mistake, he is not the only one.   There are thousands upon thousands of Jews who have made their way across treacherous landscape just so they could be a part of what was taking place, namely, the recalling once again how God used Moses to deliver the people from out of the hands of Pharoah.    

You’ll recall that the people were told to take the blood of a lamb…and to paint the door frame so that when the Angel of Death saw the blood, it would…pass over the home…leaving everyone safe inside.    Which as the story goes…is exactly what happened and led ultimately to their being set free from bondage in a foreign land.

At the time of Jesus…the people were no longer in Egypt, but they were once again in bondage.   Only this time, to a Roman procurator…who could care less about the Jewish people…and who was only interested in keeping the status quo.   To this end…the Roman official, Pontius Pilate, would do anything to keep from inciting the people, much less fueling their thirst for another “king” to deliver them from their captivity.    

So is it any real surprise…that when the people saw Jesus riding up to the city gate…on a donkey (and a colt, according to Matthew) that their passions began to stir…and just maybe they began to sense that more is at work here than meets the eye.    Perhaps the words of Zechariah were coming true: 

“…look, your king is coming to you…humble…and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

For what purpose, do you suppose?   They could only imagine…but once again, they weren’t the only ones with eyes to see.     Jesus must have known that people would begin to read into his actions what they wanted to believe.   How a king had been promised long ago…one that would once again bring life where only death reigned.   

By the time Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate…the governor had a few pointed questions of his own.   

“Are you…the King of the Jews?” he asked…as if Jesus’ very life depended upon his answer.     What Pilate didn’t seem to understand was that it wasn’t Jesus’ life that lay in the balance…it was Pilate’s.   To Mathew’s credit, his is the only Gospel to inform us that Pilate would eventually use a simple bowl of water to wash his hands of having anything to do with Jesus’ impending death.     It was then, I believe, that the angels held their breath…hardly believing that what was about to take place could possibly be a part of God’s plan.

What happened next, seems like something out of a movie.    Having been exposed to the brutality of The Passion by director Mel Gibson…I suspect that none of us want to believe that Jesus could have possibly suffered in the way that the movie Jesus did.    And yet…all four Gospel accounts tell us…that something happened.  

We know that he was mocked by the soldiers…as they replaced his own clothes with a scarlet robe.   They placed a crown of thorns on his head and placed a reed in his hand before kneeling in jest and saying, “Hail…King of the Jews!”     Once again…the words of the prophet  Zechariah can be heard in full force…only this time…the ones speaking do not even know what they are saying.

Last week, Pastor George Sims said something that really struck a chord with me.    He said…our role as Christians is to keep the “main thing the main thing”.    Could it be…that the “main thing” we need to get our hearts around this day…is precisely what everyone seems to be acknowledging?     From the people who waved the palm branches and danced in the streets as Jesus was passing by…singing ‘Hosanna…blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’…to the more forceful approach of Pilate, who simply wanted a straight answer to a straight question:   ‘are you…the King of the Jews?”     

To even the soldiers…whose mockery at times painfully reminds us of ourselves…when in jest…we half-heartedly exclaim Jesus as “our King”.   Correct me if I’m wrong…but there appears to be a connection: a “red thread” of truth that undergirds what we need to be centering our attention on over these next seven days.

As we noted earlier, today is the beginning of the “holiest week” of the entire church year.   And the reason is now becoming crystal clear.   Jesus…our King…is drawing near.   Through the witness of the Gospel…the Holy Spirit is once again opening the eyes of our hearts to see him as we have never really seen him before.

Torn between the world of palm branches waving joyously…to experiencing being nailed to a tree. To which we read from Matt. 27: 37:  ‘Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus…the King of the Jews”. 

Thanks be to God!    Amen