April 9, 2017-Palm Sunday

April 9 2017 Sermon

Matthew 21:1-11

“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

  humble, and mounted on a donkey,

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

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed 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 went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!

  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

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

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

For the past several weeks, we have read through parts of John’s gospel attempting to understand who Jesus the Christ is as he encountered Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This morning’s gospel is no different in the question that it presents. Who is this man that gives sight to the blind, raises the dead, and forgives sin in the name of Almighty God?

Is he the Messiah? Is he the branch of Jesse’s tree that will redeem Israel? Will he be the new King of David that ushers in a day of peace and prosperity for God’s beloved covenant people? What type of king will he be?

This morning, on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, I believe that all of us will bear deep questions of faith and curiosity because of what we are seeing and hearing. We are about to witness cosmic tectonic plates shifting right in front us because of God’s decisive act in Jesus Christ. We are about to see the powers of sin, death, and evil unravel because divine love is the most powerful force in the world. This last week of Jesus’ life and ministry is a demonstration so holy and powerful that it ushers in a new way of understanding the world around us. Because of Christ processing into Jerusalem, God envisions the world differently than the misery and suffering that prevails so clearly now.

Right now, we are standing on the threshold about to enter into a story that ushers in life and pours out light into a hope hungry world whenever it is told. Today, the part of the story we hear is one marked by the waving of palms, shouts of ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord,’ and some of Western Christianity’s finest celebratory processional hymns. You can feel Christ the King process through Jerusalem’s city gates with fanfare as his disciples and followers expect an enthronement and service of coronation. There is a readiness for Israel to crown a new king that is not a puppet of tyrannical Rome but a new David or Solomon that will drive out the foreign invader. And it seems like this expectation is nearing fulfillment. A new day is dawning in Israel.

Matthew recalls prophecies from Zechariah to indicate that scripture is being fulfilled in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and to answer that lingering question about what God’s reign will look like. From the 9th chapter of Zechariah, ‘the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations, his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the Earth.’ This is not a foretaste of a violent coup d’etat and revolution. Those following Jesus into Jerusalem would already know that the power of Jesus’ ministry is as a teacher, healer, rabbi, and co-sufferer with his neighbors. While his disciples may understand who he is, the city of Jerusalem, in its turmoil will ask a basic yet profound question, who is this Jesus?

Today he is the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee. Who will he be by week’s end?

Right before Jesus’ disciples go into Bethpage to appropriate a donkey and a colt for the grand processional, Jesus has a teaching session with his disciples on the road to Jerusalem. He speaks plainly to them, almost bluntly as he did in telling them that Lazarus was not asleep but dead. By all accounts, he’s pretty clear when he tells them: ‘The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests, and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’

While still on their way, the mother of James and John, Sons of Zebedee, the sons of Thunder, contrastingly asks Jesus to glorify her sons when he is seated on his throne. Give my sons places of honor at your left and right hand. Before Jesus and his disciples enter through the city gates it is becoming more clear that while some anticipate a glorious rise to power that God’s intentions will lead to Jesus’ willful suffering and sacrifice. There will be no alternative ending so that Jesus can side step the humiliation, torture, suffering, and common criminal’s death.

By the end of the week Caiphas, the high priest, and his council of religious officials has plotted false witnesses and probable cause to arrest Jesus and put him before the council on charges of blaspheming the name of the Most High God. Caiphas will press the matter saying, ‘I put you under oath before the Living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so, but I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest declares blasphemy and urges that Jesus is deserving of death and die he will, unmasking the work of oppression, tyranny, and sin in the world.

I approach Palm Sunday with a cautious and short lived joy because the day begins with joy, laud, and honor of Christ triumphant but like a movie you’ve seen a hundred times, you know where it’s headed. It doesn’t take long for the shouts of joy to turn to shouts of ‘crucify him.’ It only takes a bit of trial and faithful disciples scatter to the wind and fear. We get an intimate glimpse of friendship and love as Jesus breaks bread a last time with his disciples before being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Friday ends with an aching and deadening heaviness in which the weight of suffering everywhere in creation is held in Christ’s body.

For many who keep their eyes on Friday’s cross, it is the place where Jesus pays our ransom fee or suffers the punishment we deserve for our sin. I see in a cruciform body the incarnation that was announced during Advent. God took on flesh coming among us to do the work of making us whole, freeing us from the powers of death, by suffering them himself. Dietrich Bonhoeffer clarifies this: ‘God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross; He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.’-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A cross shaped posture is the form in which God gives up God’s power to share in our suffering and misery. In letting go of power and glory in the form of a servant washing feet and then in crucifixion, God demonstrates there is a holier way to exist than what currently prevails. The crucifixion cuts across the grain of everything we have come to believe as true for the way justice will prevail in the world.

God’s self-giving cruciform posture in Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy that his dominion will stretch sea to sea. Heaven’s king does not rule by force, violence, and oppression. He processes into Jerusalem on a humble field animal and empties himself as Paul puts it in the form of a servant. Christ triumphant is Christ crucified, died, and buried. And because Jesus Christ takes our suffering as his own, “He teaches that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, oppressors resisted without being emulated, enemies neutralized without being destroyed.”~Shane Claiborne

As violence, genocidal acts of war, and rule of force prevail on this Palm Sunday, wait just long enough and you will see a holier way emerge, one in which Almighty God frees us all from the bonds of misery. Wait just long enough and you will see an empty grave.

Bless you in the name of the one who processes with palms. Amen.