Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sunday of Palms and Passion: Not What We Expected

Readings for today:  Mark 11:1-10 (Palm);  Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark chapters 14 & 15 (Passion) 
One of the recurring Palm Sunday sermon themes is how the same crowd that cries “Hosanna” on Sunday, cries “Crucify Him” a mere four later.  It’s offered up as a reminder of how fickle public opinion can be and as a warning to us to remain faithful to the end.

This theme doesn’t work as well for Mark’s telling of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.  In Mark’s gospel, there is no crowd.  There are “many people who spread their cloaks on the road” and “others who spread leafy branches” and “those who went ahead and those who went behind, shouting Hosanna.” 

There’s no crowd.  Just the people around Jesus that morning, his usual entourage – disciples, followers, supporters, seekers, hanger-ons.  All hailed the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  A Jesus who they saw as a miracle worker – he healed them, fed them, calmed the storm.  A Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God was here now, that God’s reign of peace and justice would prevail.   On the back of that donkey, they saw a superstar king - someone who would free them from pain and hunger and Roman oppression and bring back the glory days of Israel.  This entry to Jerusalem surely was the start of that new kingdom!

Even the disciples weren’t any clearer about who Jesus was and the significance of this entry to Jerusalem.  They had been with him, sat at his feet, received private instruction from him, were sent out to teach and heal in his name.  After three years they still didn’t really understand who Jesus was.  They hailed Jesus as messiah as he enters Jerusalem, but they have a complete lack of understanding about who Jesus really is and what the Messiah is sent to do. 

The picture Mark paints of that first Palm Sunday so long ago looks remarkably like our gathering today.

Like Jesus’ followers on that day long ago, we wave greenery – in our case palms.  We sing praises – “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  In this crowd, and in crowds all over the world this morning, there are those who are disciples of Jesus, those who follow, those who seek, the curious, and the hanger-on's.

And just like those shouting “Hosanna” that morning, we like this superstar Jesus entering Jerusalem, this one who comes in the name of the Lord to save us – which we often interpret to mean to help us avoid pain, to provide for our every want, to make sure nothing bad happens to us.  Like the Judeans awaiting a return of David’s kingdom, we anxiously await for Jesus to usher in a perfect world, or at least a return to the good old days.  Yes, we like this Jesus. 

But, the Jesus who rides in silently, who just as silently faces his accusers, and who cleanses the temple frightens and confuses us.  We are not so comfortable with the Jesus of five days from now, the Jesus who, suffering and dying, promises new life on the other side of pain, who promises not to end our pain, but to carry us through it, to make something beautiful out of the ugliness of suffering and death.

Like the disciples, we see in Jesus who we want to see.  We see the kind, gentle Jesus holding a child, or gently carrying a lost lamb.  We look questioningly at the Jesus who tells us to take up our cross and follow him and wonder what that could possibly mean.  We marvel at the King riding triumphant on Palm Sunday and miss the real, divine power revealed on the cross. 

We like to contain God, to put Jesus in a neatly defined box.  We pick and choose and create an image of Jesus who is like us.  We forget that we are created in God’s image and not the other way around.  We forget that we are called to imitate Jesus, to follow the example of our brother and master, who stoops to wash our feet and lays down his life for us, his friends.

But that’s exactly what Mark challenges us to do.  He asks, “Who is Jesus?  What does following him really mean?”

So who do you see this morning riding on a donkey? 

Who is this Jesus you see coming in the name of the Lord? 

What kind of kingdom do you think he is bringing with him? 

These are important questions.  These are questions to ponder this holy week as we progress from palms to crowns of thorns, from hosanna to crucify, from triumphant king to condemned criminal, from cross to empty tomb. 

Who is your Jesus?  

What false kingly images do you hold in place of the real Messiah? 

How will God be revealed to you as you kneel at the foot of the cross?  

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