Palm Sunday

The Schizophrenic Holy Day


Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, April 9, 2006.  The Processional Gospel is Matthew 21:1-11 and the Passion Gospel is Mark 15:1-39.


Dear Friends in Christ,


Today is Palm Sunday and today is Passion Sunday.  This most schizophrenic of holy days is characterized by emotional extremes – happy and sad. Have you felt it?  We waved our palm branches and shouted our hosannas to Jesus at the beginning of the service, and then we heard 39 verses of the crucifixion story.


Our church musicians wanted to know: Pastors, do we have songs of joy or songs of sorrow?  The answer on this day is “yes” and “yes”.


We call this Palm Sunday because the people of Jerusalem waved their branches, including palms, as a sign of respect for a King.  We also call this Passion Sunday because we remember that Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time and this week he will be arrested…The same folks who shouted “hosanna” will be the very same ones who five days later answer Pontius Pilate with the shout “crucify him!”


If we are honest with ourselves, we know too that each of us has within us the capacity to shout “crucify him”.  For we can be led astray by our worldly concerns and temptations.  Some of the anger we may feel toward those who turned their backs on Jesus has to be fueled by the knowledge we carry that we too are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross.


In the gospel of Mark, Palm Sunday starts with a parade.  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 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 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 their 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 returns, he will herald the coming of the Messiah.  Even to this day, Jews celebrate Passover this way 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 then on they were to understand that he was giving a whole new meaning to this meal.  It is his body and his blood that 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.


This is a true story that took place on a Palm Sunday.  A pastor served a church that decided to have a Palm Sunday Procession for the first time.  The church was located in the middle of a city.  In the midst of their procession, a young man in the apartment house across the street threw up the window and shouted, “What’s all that noise?  You sound like the Salvation Army!” The pastor looked up at him and said, “Son, this is the salvation army!”


What better way to sum up the events of the first Palm Sunday than to call it a salvation army parade.  Jesus and his ragtag army parade outside the city gate and the time has come.  The day of salvation is at hand.