Palm Sunday: From Praise to Passion

Scripture: Mark 11: 1 – 11
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
April 9, 2017

I once had a professor read today’s scripture passage to the class aloud and invite us to imagine ourselves in this story.  “With whom do we identify?” she asked.  Some people imagined themselves as Jesus riding into town; others imagined themselves as Jesus disciples proud of their fearless leader; and still others imagined themselves as part of the crowd waving palm branches, shouting “Hosannas”.  The professor imagined herself as the donkey.  As the donkey, she said, she felt confused and scared – all of these people shouting and screaming, all of these palm branches waving in her face, it was very irritating she said.  But then, sensing her distress, she felt the comforting hand of Jesus on her neck as he quietly assured her, “It’s going to be o.k.; it’s going to be o.k.”  And she, as the donkey, knew that this was a man of compassion, this was a man filled with love and she was willing to carry this man to the ends of the earth. The question for us on this Palm Sunday is, “Are we willing to carry the message of Jesus’ love, compassion, and justice to the ends of the earth?”

During our Lenten sermon series, “The Last Week”, we have been following Jesus each day of his final week on earth.  We have been following Jesus on the way to justice.

Day 1:   As Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem from the east, there is a Roman military garrison arriving from the west.  In order to maintain the huge crowds of Passover, the Romans sent reinforcements to the city during the festival.  There are two parades taking place that day – one on the west side of Jerusalem with dignified horses and Roman chariots, displaying military occupation and power.  The other parade on the east side centers on Jesus riding a donkey, an unimpressive looking animal, a symbol not of conquest, but of peace (Sound effect #1 — donkey).   Many choose to attend this second parade.  Pilgrims remove their own cloaks and lay them on the ground.  Others gather palm fronds or snap branches off olive trees and wave them with delight.  They begin to shout,  “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of The Lord!  Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!”  (Sound effect #2 — crowd cheering).  Many believe that he has come to Jerusalem to overthrow the Roman government.  No doubt, Jesus intends to change the political order, but he will do it by disarming, not by arming for battle.

Day 2, Manic Monday:  Jesus goes straight for the Temple.  He overthrows the tables of the moneychangers, releases the doves and sets loose the oxen.  (Sound effect #3 — money changers).  Coins litter the ground.

Why in the world is Jesus so upset?  What exactly was wrong with the temple?  It is important to remember that the Temple was not just a religious site.  It was the center of government for the Sanhedrin council of the ruling Sadducee party.  It was also the site of the national treasury where economic exploitation took place.    (Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, p. 42).  The  temple was at the center of the local domination system.  

Jesus is not just overturning the tables in the temple courts; he is overturning the domination system of the day.  

Day 3, Tuesday’s Turmoils:  Jesus enters the Temple courts and selects a spot there to teach.  Immediately, the Sadducees and Pharisees interrupt him, interrogate him. (Yes, Sadducees and Pharisees are Jewish religious leaders; however, they interrogate not because they are Jewish, but because there is power is threatened.  This could be any ethnic or religious group who feel that there is power is threatened.)  So, they ask “By what authority are you doing these things?”  they demand.  Jesus replies calmly. “I will ask you one question.  If you can answer, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things…John’s baptism.  Where did it come from?  God or man?”  The religious leaders are stumped.  They talk privately among themselves.  “If we say, ‘From God’, then Jesus will ask, ‘Then why did we not believe him?’  If we say from man, then we are afraid of the people, for they hold that John was a prophet.”  “Uh, we don’t know” a chief priest finally says.  The crowd was awed.  The high priests stunned into silence.  (Bang gavel)  Case dismissed.

Throughout the day, they try to trap him.  “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”  “If a woman marries seven men because each husband has died whose wife will she be in the resurrection?  Of the 613 commands of God, which one is the most important?  No challenge will undo him, no question will deter him.  (Bang gavel)  Case dismissed.  (Bang gavel)  Case dismissed.  (Bang gavel)  Case dismissed.

Day 4, Wasteful Wednesday:  Jesus decides to rest midweek and stay in Bethany (2 miles outside of Jerusalem).  He will need his rest for the next two days will literally take everything out of him.  Martha prepares an extravagant meal for Jesus and his disciples.  Mary enters into the room and she anoints Jesus feet with expensive nard.  She rubbed his heels, arches, and toes until they were dry once more.  It is a foreshadow of preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  Judas, however, expresses revulsion at such a waste of money.  “That nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor,” says Judas.  However, that very same night Judas goes to the palace of Caiaphas in Jerusalem and says that he will help Caiaphas with the arrest of Jesus.  In exchange, Caiaphas gives Judas thirty silver coins (Sound effect #4 — thirty coins).

Day 5, Thursday’s Trials:  Time is running out.  Jesus organizes a last meal to share final words with his disciples. The meal that Martha served the night before  was called, in Greek, deipnon.  The only other time this particular word, deipnon, is written in this Gospel is when Jesus is with his disciples in the upper room.   Martha’s meal prompted the chosen context of Jesus’ last night with the Twelve.  He then washes his disciples’ feet.  Perhaps, Jesus received that idea earlier in the week when Mary anointed his feet with oil.  Using Mary and Martha as role models, he teaches his disciples how to serve.

Following the footwashing and the meal, Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  (Sound effect 5 — Garden of Gethsemane)   Jesus prays, “Abba, take this cup from me.  Yet, not my will but thine be done.”  

Meanwhile, Judas leads a pack of Temple guards into the garden.  “Greetings, Rabbi,” he says coldly, kissing Jesus on the cheek.  

Jesus is led to the home of Caiaphas.  The disciples scatter except for Peter who lingers in the shadows.  While Jesus is inside being tried, Peter is outside warming himself by a charcoal fire waiting the verdict.  A servant girl recognizes Peter.  “Hey, you are a disciple of Jesus.”  “No,” said Peter, “I am not.”  Another man said, “I can tell by your accent, you’re a Galilean, you’re one of Jesus’ men.”  Galileans were considered to be hicks from the country, so I can just hear Peter changing his accent and saying, “No, you must be mistaken.  I don’t know the man.” Another says, “You are a disciple of Jesus.”  Peter said, “I’ll be damned if I know that man.”  And just at that moment the rooster crowed.  (Sound effect 6 — rooster crowing).  Peter the Courageous becomes Peter the coward.  That sound would echo in Peter’s heart for days to come.

Day 6, the day we call “Good Friday”  The crowds have turned on Jesus.  Earlier this week they were shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!”  Now they are shouting “Crucify him!” (Sound effect #7 – Crucify him) We have moved from palms to passion, from praise to crucifixion.  

By noon on this day, he was stretched on that cross. Jesus has not only stood against oppression, he now embodies the oppressed on that cross. Jesus went all the way to the cross in the name of love for the cause of justice.  The Gospel writers say that the earth became dark (sound effect 8 — thunder) and the darkness lasted three hours.  And Jesus called out, “It is finished.”  As he breathed his last breath, the Temple curtain tore into two.  Jesus has finished off exclusivity.  Jesus has finished off deadly divisiveness.  Jesus on that cross becomes a symbol of divine love, radical inclusivity, and abundant grace.

Jesus body is taken down from the cross.  Normally, a body that has been crucified would be thrown into the communal grave reserved for criminals.  But Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and puts it in a private tomb outside the city gates of Jerusalem.

Historians tell us that the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb weighed hundreds of pounds.  The tomb is sealed shut.  (Sound effect #9 — stone sealing)

Day 7, Holy Saturday — Jesus is dead.  The tomb is sealed.  The disciples have fled.  Pain is abundant.  Despair is profound.  Death has had the final word.  It is all over now.  Or is it?

(Sound effect #10 — resurrection morning).  Come back next week as we celebrate the surprise ending, which is our new beginning.