“PALMS…AND MUCH MORE”
-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 4-14-2019 Pardeeville
(Mark 11:1-11 and Luke 18:31-34)
Welcome to Holy Week…a time of many emotions and many events! The week begins with the story of Palm Sunday as it has come to be known. Many of us are familiar with this occasion. Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid the shouts and acclaim of the crowd. Palm branches are ripped off trees, cloaks are thrown down upon the road as a sign of respect and welcome, and the Pharisees are off in a corner somewhere wishing they could stop it all but knowing they are powerless to do so. We tend to focus our attention on Jesus and on the crowd in the story of Palm Sunday. I’d like to look in two different directions today.
First of all, I wonder about the guy who owned the donkey. We heard this morning that two of Jesus’ disciples went into the city of Jerusalem at Jesus’ request to bring back a colt, a young donkey. Now I don’t know how common it was for someone to take an animal that did not belong to them but Jesus anticipated that too. He told his disciples to say, “The master needs it.” How did the man who owned the colt know that it was Jesus who needed his animal? Was there a vision or an angel involved? I’d like to know if it was difficult for him to give the colt to Jesus. And, as the scene played out that day, I wonder how that man felt to see Jesus riding into Jerusalem and being welcomed by the crowd. Was he proud…or surprised? I think I would be honored that Jesus asked to use something that I had. And maybe, Jesus is already using something I have…just as Jesus is already using something you have. Don’t be afraid to share what you have been given!
There’s also a group of people that doesn’t seem to get a very large part of this story. Sure, we hear about two unnamed disciples who bring back a colt. What do you suppose the disciples are doing during Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem? If they thought this was going to be a simple ride into town, they were soon convinced otherwise. The crowd showed up. It grew large what with it being Passover week in Jerusalem. The local Jews were inundated with visitors from many other countries every year at this time. That’s what Passover was all about. It was a time to make the journey to Jerusalem. For many, it was the one time every year when they did so. So there were all these people in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They were excited. They were loud and shouting “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It was a joyous celebration and I’ll bet each of the disciples found a way to tell someone in the crowd who they were and that they had been Jesus’ disciple for three years.
One more detail about the events of Palm Sunday. Biblical scholars say there were two processions into the city of Jerusalem that day. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, entered Jerusalem from the west at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. He rode a horse which, in the Middle Eastern world at the time, meant war. Pilate was proclaiming the power of the Roman Empire at the beginning of Passover week to remind Jews that they were an occupied people and there had better not be any trouble. Jesus’s procession, with Jesus riding on a young donkey which symbolized peace, rode into town from the east and proclaimed the kingdom of God. Not only was this a statement by Jesus but, once the Roman government found out about it, they must have wanted Jesus out of the way. He seemed like a troublemaker that day…and he was.
Our second reading this morning, occurs well before the triumphant procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is Jesus’ own description of what will happen to him when he gets to Jerusalem. It was, in fact, the third time he had predicted the events of this week to his disciples. I’m not sure they got it. And during this week in particular, if we come to church to hear about the events of Palm Sunday and the next time we come to church it’s Easter and we’re all jazzed up by the resurrection (and rightly so), we’ve missed all that happens in between. There is much more to the story of Jesus during the last week of his life. Three times Jesus told his disciples, “We’re going to Jerusalem where everything written about the Messiah will come to pass. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed and mistreated. After torturing him, he will be killed.” Those things are all going to happen.
The events of the following day helped to seal Jesus’ fate. In the account of Palm Sunday, we are told that Jesus got into the city fairly late in the day. He only had time to briefly visit the temple and get a look around. What he saw there did not please him at all. He saw flagrant abuses going on. Yet he sensed that the time was not right so he simply left the temple Sunday evening…but he vowed to come back. On Monday morning, Jesus returned to clean house. His anger was directed as much at the Pharisees and chief priests as it was at the vendors themselves. He wanted the people turning a buck there, out of the temple and he wanted them out right now! This was not a moment to gently persuade the moneychangers and the vendors to take their tables down and move along. Jesus took their tables down for them! And, as Jesus was clearing them out of the temple, he told them their mistake. He said, “My house was designated to be a house of prayer. You have made it a hangout for thieves.” It was then that the Pharisees realized that, if Jesus was not stopped and stopped right away, the power they wielded over the people would quickly disappear.
Later in the week, on Thursday night, Jesus and his disciples gathered for one last meal together. This was probably the calm amid the storm of Holy Week for Jesus. Outside, the buzz of Passover time was everywhere. People were crowding the streets. There was a great deal of activity. But in the upper room, where Jesus and his disciples shared the meal we call the Last Supper, it was relatively quiet and peaceful. The Passover meal itself was familiar to everyone in the room. Then Jesus added something. He took the bread and the cup and shared them with his friends. In doing so, he instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. But I imagine the mood changed when Jesus announced, “Someone here will betray me.” The joy and fellowship that was shared before and during the Passover meal would soon give way to incredible physical and emotional suffering for Jesus.
It started when Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Now is when he begins the toughest part of his last week on earth. Before the end of Thursday night, Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own followers. All of the disciples are going to run away when things get tough. And Peter will deny he knows Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest. Friday is no better. Jesus will be paraded before Herod where something intended to be a trial takes place. The Jewish leaders want Jesus to die but they do not have the authority to put him to death. That takes the whole entourage in front of Pilate. There, Jesus will be sentenced to die, having committed no crime. And he will be crucified, the cruelest form of execution there was.
These things and more occupied Jesus’ mind as he walked out to the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday evening. What lay before him would be difficult. He would have to face it alone…without the least bit of support from his disciples. None of the events that lay ahead for him would be easy. It would hurt when Judas would betray him. It would hurt when Peter would deny that he even knew him. It would hurt to go through a trial and an execution. His disciples couldn’t even keep their eyes open while he prayed. Jesus asked God three times to remove the suffering of the next few hours…but he ended each prayer with the words, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Why do we talk about these things on Palm Sunday…a day of joyous celebration and triumphant entry into Jerusalem? It’s important to remember the events of Palm Sunday and it’s kind of fun to learn that Jesus was having his own entrance, riding on a donkey that signified peace, while Pilate was riding into town on a war horse on the other end of town, telling the Jews in no uncertain terms to behave or suffer the consequences. But it’s equally important to remember that Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple and why. It’s important to better understand the Last Supper and the fact that we still celebrate this meal in remembrance of our Lord. It’s important to realize that Jesus was afraid as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and that, when the crowd came out to arrest him, all of the disciples took off running. It’s important to believe in a God who loves us so much that Jesus accepted God’s will and died in our place. But it’s not the end of the story! We’ll cover that next Sunday. Thanks be to God!