Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, (Year A), April 13, 2014
Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wow, the readings for today are really an emotional rollercoaster, aren’t they? But then, that’s the story of Holy Week. It starts on a high—Jesus riding into town on a donkey as the crowds cheer—and then it gets really dark, really fast. Jesus is arrested, subjected to a sham trial, tortured, and executed. It ends well, with Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation of the world, but the path to Easter is dark and pretty scary. I hope you will come to the midweek services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, because each part of the story has an important part to play, and none of the pieces can stand on its own.
Take today, for example. Today is Palm Sunday. It’s a parade! Everyone loves a parade! People cheering and celebrating. But think of what Jesus is going through. This parade isn’t just happening at a random time. Jesus’ popularity in Judea and Galilee had been growing; ever-larger crowds had been coming to hear him teach, to be healed, to be fed, to see miracles. The buzz and excitement had been growing, and this is its peak. I have no doubt the disciples were on cloud nine, as they participated in and led this parade, this celebration of Jesus and his ministry.
But consider it from Jesus’ point of view. Jesus, after all, knew darn good and well what was going to happen. He knew how fickle the crowds were. He knew that when he failed to live up to their expectations—when he didn’t give them what they wanted—they would turn on him. The crowds loved Jesus only so long as they thought he would do what they wanted. When they realized that Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill their wishes, things were going to get really nasty, really fast. And there Jesus is, knowing that he’s riding to his death, listening to people shout praises and knowing that in just a few days they will be calling for his death.
Everyone expected Jesus to be a great prophet, a righteous king like David who would create a political and religious revolution which would put them firmly back in charge. They thought they knew who Jesus was, and they knew what they wanted him to do: fight a war for their nation and create a new golden age. For the crowds made up of ordinary people, that was a great thing to be celebrated. For the political and religious leaders, it was a threat. So the leaders wanted him out of the way, and would do anything to discredit and remove him. And when the ordinary people got disappointed in Jesus, they would let the leaders manipulate them into calling for his death.
And the crowds were guaranteed to be disappointed in Jesus, because he didn’t come to lead a political revolution; he didn’t come to provide a temporary fix for one small corner of the planet. He didn’t come to give them what they wanted. He came to give all creation—all of us—what we need. Salvation, healing, hope, and life, that’s what Jesus came to give. That’s what Jesus had been trying to teach them about all along, but they weren’t listening. They heard what they wanted to hear. They needed salvation, but they wanted free food and miracles on tap. Given a choice between the peace and life of God, and a political and social reform, they would choose politics.
I say “them,” but really, it’s “us,” isn’t it? That’s the way the world works. If you look at Jesus’ arrest and trial, nothing in the world has really has changed in the last 2,000 years. Look at modern politics throughout the world. People still look for easy answers and quick fixes, and will follow anyone they think will help them achieve it—and if that person falls short of their expectations, it doesn’t take us long to turn on them. People still use religion as a tool to try to set up a society that benefits themselves, and use God’s word to attack those they don’t agree with. Powerful people still feel threatened by those who work for change, and they still manipulate and cheat and use their power to get rid of inconvenient people. That’s how the system works. And most people, by and large, go along with it and just accept it as normal.
That’s the reality that Jesus came to change. But it can’t happen by using the same tactics. It can’t happen by political or social revolution. Revolutions come and go, and sometimes they make things worse and sometimes they make things better. But even in the best of times, that fundamental brokenness remains, and in this world no good thing lasts forever. The only way to break the cycle is to heal the brokenness, and that’s what Jesus came to do.
That’s why Jesus rode into Jerusalem, knowing it would mean his death. Because that death would break the cycle. That death would nail the whole stinking system to the cross and provide the cracks for God’s kingdom to break in the world. And the resurrection that followed would widen those cracks so that when Christ comes again all of creation will finally be free from sin and death. We will be free from sin and death. But it comes at a cost, a cost Jesus paid willingly. It comes on Maundy Thursday through Jesus’ feeding his disciples—feeding us—with his own body and blood and commanding us to love one another. It comes on Good Friday, when Jesus was tortured and executed on a cross, abandoned by everyone. And it is shown on Easter, when Jesus rose from the grave, the firstborn of the dead.
Knowing all that, Jesus chose the salvation of the world. He rode on towards his own death, while the fickle crowd cried Hosanna. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ love and sacrifice.