Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday
April 4, 2004
The Gospel: Luke [22:39-71] 23:1-49 [50-56]
Sermon: "Palm Sunday 2004"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Luke [22:39-71] 23:1-49 [50-56]
Palm Sunday 2004
Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday - April 4, 2004
The lessons of Palm Sunday present us with one of the greatest dichotomies of the Christian faith. We begin the day with readings of the triumphal entry of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem. Yet, we move quickly to the readings depicting the passion of Christ. The question screams from the liturgy how did it happen? Why did Jesus end up being condemned?
To begin to look at a possible response to the question let's delve deeper into the events. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and tells his disciples to go and get a colt from the city. He tells them they will be asked why they need it. All of the events occur just as Jesus foretold. They bring the colt to Jesus. He enters the city. He enters the city with his disciples following him. The disciples are not just the twelve. The disciples are a crowd of people. Some of these people are individuals Jesus healed like blind Bartimaeus. Some of these people have heard Jesus' teaching and feel hope for the first time. Some of these people might even be those who were fed at the feeding of the five thousand. Most of these people are not authority figures. They have no power. Many of them have no wealth. They are common ordinary folk for the most part. As Jesus enters the city someone starts laying their cloak on the ground. Before you know it, many people are laying their cloaks on the ground. Branches are also placed on the road before him. Then someone breaks into song praising God for all the wonderful things they have seen Jesus do. The crowd is ecstatic. The message from the crowd is clear. The Messiah has come. The savior we have waited for so long is now here. We are to be freed from our oppression. We will become great again. The people have found their king.
Yet, while all the parade is entering the city, while the disciples scatter robes and palms and sing praises, the authority figures look on. They demand that Jesus stop the parade. They demand the celebration to cease. For them the Messiah has not come. They do not recognize Jesus' holy authority. They are blinded by their own ambition, power and control.
Let's fast forward to the reading of the passion. Jesus has been arrested by the religious authorities. He is brought to trial and accused of being a false teacher and healer. He is taken to Pilate and tried yet again. Where is the crowd now? Where are the disciples? What has happened to them? One has betrayed him. Another one has denied him. The rest are scattered after the arrest in the garden. Other people, nameless in the Gospel, who were part of the procession into the city, now cry for his blood. He has not brought about the desired changes. He has not made himself the king. The present authorities do not recognize him as the Messiah. They can not be wrong. The people cry for his death.
Are we really surprised at the sudden change of events? Do we not see the very basic aspect of sinful humanity in these events? We are a dichotomy. Each one of us is a living, breathing walking dichotomy. Inside each of us is the desire for God and to follow God's will. And inside each of us is the desire to follow our own wills, our own path, our own ways. This struggle begins when we are children. Bill Cosby tells this wonderful story about one of his children at the age of two. She kept getting into the cookies. So they moved the cookies to a higher location and told her she could have no more cookies. He left her in the kitchen. A few minutes later he hears a noise. He goes back into the kitchen and finds his daughter standing on a chair with a cookie in her hand. He looks at her and he says, "Didn't I tell you no more cookies?" She looked at her father, looked at the cookie, and said, "It's not for me. It's for you."
Our personal wills, our wants and our desires constantly struggle within us over our desire to follow God. We want to follow God. We want to love God with all of our heart, mind and strength. We want to love our neighbor as our self. We want to know God's will for our lives. We follow for awhile and then our own desire gets in the way. All of a sudden we want to do things our way. We want answers to our questions and we want it right now. We want our prayers answered just the way we want them answered. When they are not we lose heart and we decide to try and make them happen our way. We ask God for direction and we get an answer and then we think we know how to do it better. Every one of us can think of times in our lives when we knew exactly what God wanted us to do. We also know what happened when we followed God's will. We also know what happened when we chose to follow our will rather than God's. The end result of following God's will is joy and peace. The end result of not following God's will is often struggle, hurt and sometimes pain. The crowd entered into Jerusalem in joy. Imagine what would have happened if the authorities had recognized Jesus' identity. Think about what the end of the week would have brought. They chose their own path and instead brought hurt, suffering, and pain.
We have a pretty bleak picture before us don't we? This picture is very bleak if we had to rely on ourselves and rely solely on our ability to cope with the dichotomy within us. The Good News is that we don't. God knew we could not help ourselves out of our predicament. God sent Jesus, the Son, to us. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's love and grace. It is love for God and for God's creation that gave Jesus the ability to endure the cross. As a result we are the recipients of God's incredible and bountiful grace. We can not help ourselves. Our free will gets in the way. However, we can rejoice in the times when we do follow God's will and we feel that joy and peace. Most of all, we can come to God when we know we have followed our own wills. We can come to our loving God, ask for God's forgiveness, and receive God's grace. It is not by our own works and our own attempts that we are saved. We are saved by the grace of God. We are saved not because we first loved God but because God first loved us. God loves us so much that Jesus was sent to die for us in order to make all things new. AMEN.