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3/24/24 Sermon - Palm Sunday

This service was cancelled because of bad weather. Pastor TJ's sermon is below.

Matthew 21:1-11 – Wilda C. Gafney translation

Now they had come near Jerusalem and reached Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village before you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; release them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Son of Woman needs them.’ And they will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, 

‘Look, your sovereign is coming to you, 

humble, and mounted on a donkey, 

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 

The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that were going before him and the one following were shouting, saying: 

“Hosanna to the Son of David! 

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Holy One! 

Hosanna in the highest!” 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shook, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Psalm 118:19-29 – Wilda C Gafney translation

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness,    

that I may enter them    

and give thanks to the Living god.

20 This is the gate to the holy presence;    

the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me    

and you have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected    

has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is our god’s doing;    

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the font of creation has made;    

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25  Ah! HOLY ONE, help, save us!    

Ah! HOLY ONE, haste, deliver us!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the most high god.    

We bless you from the house of the holy one.

27 The faithful one is God,    

and she has given us light.

Bind the festal offering with ropes of branches,    

up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;    

you are my God; I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the holy one, for she is good,    

for her faithful love endures forever.

Our Matthew scripture makes space for us to paint a vivid picture through use of  the simple words, “The whole city was shook.” 

How could that be? How can a display of humility, a man riding into the city on a donkey, be disconcerting, or even dangerous?

Remember our Godly Play language from this morning? Jesus knew he had to become a parable… his riding into Jerusalem in this way made a statement against the usual displays of power and might. I am to be a king, he said, but not that kind of king. 

Let us begin by imagining a scene on the other side of the city in order to understand what Jesus is parodying. 

Because the Roman government always made a show of force during the Jewish Passover, when pilgrims thronged  into Jerusalem to celebrate their centuries old political liberation from Egypt, New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan imagine not one but two political processions entering Jerusalem that morning in the spring of the year 30 C.E.. Every year, the Roman governor of Judea would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the West, specifically to be present in the city for Passover — the Jewish festival that swelled Jerusalem's population from its usual 40-50,000 to at least 200,000. The governor would come in all of his imperial majesty to remind the Jewish pilgrims that Rome was in charge of their holy city. They could commemorate an ancient victory against Egypt if they wanted to, but real, present-day resistance, if anyone dared to consider it, was futile. Rome was watching their every move and would squash the least resistance with lethal force. Through the West gate of the city came a military procession meant to demonstrate this dominance.

(This all still happens in our world. We see it play out on a daily basis in various scenarios, on both small and large scales, in this country and abroad.) 

The scholars Borg and Crossan argue that Jesus, in a bold parody of this military parade, descended the Mount of Olives from the East into Jerusalem. They agree with the later conclusions of our gospel texts, that this was in fulfillment of Zechariah's ancient prophecy: “Look, your sovereign is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” 

I often wonder… What in our scriptures are hind sight and retrospection, and what truths were realized in the moment? I find it helpful to suspend time in order to stay with the immediacy of the text.

It is easy for me to assume that most of those present for Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem understood the connection between the palm branches and their Jewish faith heritage. Harder to believe that the throngs of people grasped his subversive message staged as street theater, or understood him to be fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy. Those realizations would come later. 

“The whole city was shook.” There was tension in the air. Some had first-hand experience of Jesus’ healing miracles and others were familiar with his reinterpretation of scripture and resultant clashes with the Temple authorities. The crowd was expectant. They were saying, asking, hoping that this peasant, healer, teacher Jesus was their messiah, their king. He was there to overthrow the oppressive Roman government, right? That was the energy surging through the crowd. 

Jesus’ procession into the city announced the coming of  the much misunderstood kingdom of God. Pilate’s procession reminded all visiting the city of the power of the reigning empire. These two opposing spectacles, one of power  and the other of humility, set up the eventual clash that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. 

Crowds of people lined the road that Jesus’ borrowed donkey clopped down, and they laid their cloaks before Jesus and also stripped trees of their branches and placed them on the road ahead of him. Other texts describe the crowd waving palm branches and shouting, Hosanna! which means, Save us! It must have been a frenzied scene. Jesus’ reputation preceding him, expectations running high. Some in the crowd were seeing Jesus for the first time, hearing the stories for the first time, and were carried along in the fervor. If this prophet Jesus could overthrow the oppressive rule of the Roman government they were all for him. 

But when the Roman emperor was not overthrown as they expected, and Jesus was arrested, all of them abandoned Jesus. A very few returned in the days that followed to witness what was to take place.  

(This all still happens in our world. We see it play out on a daily basis in various scenarios, on both small and large scales, in this country and abroad.) 

Two thousand years later, crowds large and small are re-enacting this ancient drama, still waving palm branches and exclaiming Hosanna! Save us! And yes, re-enacting the painful events of the days that followed. 

There is still far too much that needs saving. Our world is “shook.” Our world is in turmoil. Jesus was opposing the dominant culture that rewarded brutality and forced submission of the status quo. We can do the same. We do not need to look far for a place to start. Ending oppression of Indigenous and black and brown people. Speaking out for the dignity and worth of all people. Working to ensure reproductive justice is a reality across our nation and across the globe. 

Two thousand years after Jesus saved us, it is up to us to continue saving others. 

Riding into the city on a donkey beautifully summarizes the theology of Jesus. A deep humility and opposition to any power that tramples the rights of the poor for the benefit of the rich, or the powerful over the powerless.

As we enter into Holy Week let us consider the sacrifices made for us. And consider the sacrifices that we in turn are called to make for others. 

“And then…” in the poetic and prophetic words of Judy Chicago, “everywhere will be called Eden once again.”


Rev. TJ Mack – March 24, 2024

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