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March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 11:15-19

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

 from the one who subverts our expectations to save us. Amen


Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end.

Jesus’ life has been leading him to this moment,

to Jerusalem, the cross

and three days later the empty tomb.


He has called and taught disciples

sharing with them and the crowds that have gathered

 the good news that the kingdom of God has come near,

 and enacted that kingdom

through healing, feeding, and forgiving those who he’s encountered.


Jesus knows who he is,

 affirmed by the voice of God at his baptism

 and again at the transfiguration.


The unclean spirits he encountered

know who he is too,

though he shushed them all along the way,

it was not time for his identity to be widely known.


 But now it is time to brush off this secrecy,

 it is time to make a statement

 as he enters Jerusalem on his mission from God,


 and he certainly does not come quietly,

 but rather by causing a commotion,

entering the city riding on the back of a colt

over the cloaks and branches spread on the road before him,

surrounded by crowds crying

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


This makes a statement all right,

but what is he saying entering Jerusalem this way?

Is it a political statement?

 a religious statement?


Something else?


Regardless of how we answer this,

 what will become clear over the coming week

 is that Jesus will act in ways that no one expects

 whether it is from a political perspective,

 a religious perspective,

or even from the point of view of his closest followers

 and it is in his unexpected actions where his true power lies.


For those looking on this commotion from a political perspective,

 that is from the perspective of Rome,

they see Jesus’ entry as less of a parade and more of a protest.


 Looking closely they can see that Jesus

seems to be mocking the pomp and circumstance

of the Roman governor’s arrival into the city of Jerusalem,

who of course entered in with all the military might of the empire on display,

 riding a trained war horse,

surrounded by soldiers and weapons,

a display of might to remind the people who is really in charge.[1]



In contrast Jesus comes in riding on an unbroken colt,

an un-intimidating animal if there ever was one,

 ridiculous at least, comic at most.


Jesus is a full grown man

on this still growing animal,

can you picture him sitting on this little creature,

his legs dangling down the sides

so that his feet almost touch the ground?

Not an imposing image is it?


and the fact that the colt is unbroken

means it’s probably not a smooth ride,

 especially with all the shouting and branch waving going on,

unless Jesus uses some of his Son of God

 calm the waves power on this colt,

 it’s probably bucking and weaving all over the place,

not a dignified or controlled method of transportation.

A contrast to the stately intimidating Roman parade.


And yet the crowds go wild

they strip off their cloaks to line the parade route

and cut down branches from nearby trees.


 They cheer this ridiculous character on,

using similar words to the crowds of the more serious Roman processions,

 words that laude the Roman emperor as the son of god

and therefore any of his emissaries as one who come in his name.


 and here the crowds are using this language,

 attributing power that is only for the emperor

to this nobody.


This bears watching from a political standpoint,

but if an uprising occurs,

 Rome will put it down,

 the empire is good at that.


Of course there are also religious interpretations to this entry

 particularly for the Jewish religious leaders

 familiar with the scripture and history of their people.


They know that the prophet Zechariah

 talks of a king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey,

a sign of humility and peaceful intentions (Zechariah 9:9).


And that Cloaks and branches lining the road

 recall the royal processions of old

back when Israel had a king and sovereignty of their own,

 a king and sovereignty God has promised to restore

 through an ancestor to King David.


Is this that ancestor?

 Hosanna! Save Us!

 The crowds cry out,

reminded by the coming Passover

that their God is a God of liberation.


 Could this be the one to fulfill the scriptures?

The one who will throw out the Romans?


 The crowds think it’s possible,

 but for the leaders this bears watching,

 if this is just another rabble rouser

 agitating the crowds with false hope

a lot of people could get hurt

and call into doubt their leadership with the Romans.


From the disciple’s perspective

 this is yet another instance

 of Jesus knowing what will happen before it does.

He tells them where to find a colt to borrow,

he tells them what to say when people question them,

and sure enough, there is the colt

 and there are the questions

which give way to the answer that Jesus provided


and sure the entry is a bit goofy

 but finally, Jesus is starting to get some of the recognition he deserves,

 chanting crowds, this is more like it.


 This bears watching,

 despite what he has told them will happen

 maybe now he will reveal the full power they know he has,

 and they want to be right there with him when he does.


And so Jesus enters Jerusalem,

setting the Romans who are already vigilant

against political unrest on edge,

and stirring up the religious fervor of crowds

who are already excited by the highest festival of the year,

raising the hopes of the disciples.


 And that’s it,

 the beginning of the end.

 Mark tells us he puts on this parade

looks around at everything,

then leaves for the evening.


And the next day

Jesus comes back and makes another statement

 one that is much easier to interpret.


 He comes back to the temple

and begins driving out those buying and selling and changing money,

 disrupting the ritual worship at the high festival,

literally turning over tables and chairs,

 his actions backed by his teaching

 that the temple is to be for prayer and not monetary gain,


he’s putting his teachings into action

with an authenticity that enthralls the crowds

and disrupts the status quo

“and when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for thy were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spell-bound by his teaching.”


 It’s not time to act yet,

but in the coming days,

 as Jesus continues to teach

the pressure will build for the leaders,

 and at least one of the disciples, Judas,

will become disillusioned

and agree to betray his master,


 and the crowds that shouted “Hosanna”

will shout “crucify him”

 and Rome will shrug its shoulders

 and go along with their call,

and the rest of the disciples,

 confronted with their hopes up on a cross

will fall away.


And in this way Jesus will save the whole world.

 In a world which says ‘exploit the power you have’

Jesus, in the words of the Christ hymn from Philippians,

 “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,

  taking the form of a slave,

  being born in human likeness.

 And being found in human form,

  8he humbled himself

  and became obedient to the point of death—

  even death on a cross.

9Therefore God also highly exalted him

  and gave him the name

  that is above every name,

10so that at the name of Jesus

  every knee should bend,

  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue should confess

  that Jesus Christ is Lord,


This is a leader, a savior unlike any other, one who had to borrow a donkey, a room, and even a tomb. “In monarchy, leaders lead by virtue of divine sanction of a particular bloodline. Our fond hope is that leadership is bestowed on the basis of merit, hard work, and authentic charisma. Our cynical fear is that it is bestowed on the basis of money, influence, and cronyism. The witness of Passion Sunday is that Jesus’ credential is innocent blood shed in obedience to God for the sake of the broken.”[2]


Who would ever expect that?


Even now there are times

we have trouble believing

just how much power Jesus gives up,


we hope with the disciples and the crowds

for some pomp and circumstance,

for a grand show of power,

an affirmation of what a good job we’re doing being faithful.


And then Holy Week comes,

and Jesus mocks the pomp and circumstance,

 he critiques the religious institution,

and kneels before his friends and washes their feet,

then is put on trial and sentenced to death,


and all hope seems lost

 even as we know what will happen

at dawn on the first day of the next week. Amen


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