Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday
April 9, 2006
The Gospel: Mark [14:32-72] 15:1-39 [40-47], Mark 11:1-11
Sermon: "Palm Sunday 2006"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
[They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand." Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him. While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.]
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"
[There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where the body was laid.]
Mark [14:32-72] 15:1-39 [40-47]
Palm Sunday 2006
Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday - April 9, 2006
Today is one of the strangest days in the Christian Church. At one point we stand in praise and dance with exaltation of the coming of the Messiah. We reenact those moments of heartfelt expectation of a crowd who saw Jesus as the Messiah. They were so certain they shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" These words mark the moment of entry into Jerusalem proclaiming the belief of hope and salvation for the people. They see Jesus as the Messiah who will free them from their oppression to the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. Their story is our story for we began this day in exactly this manner.
Now, we stand in a different light. The exaltation of the day is gone. The hope in Jesus as the Messiah is finished. The dream is over. Jesus has died on the cross and the body has been placed in the cold, dark tomb. What is even worse is that we took part in some of the most tragic aspects of the story. Twice the crowd is asked by Pilate what to do with Jesus. Twice the crowd responds, "Crucify him." We repeat the same words. We stand in the crowd watching as Jesus was taken to the cross. We stand and watch and mock one of our own as he dies.
We would like to think that we would have behaved differently from the crowd in Jesus' day. We would have stayed with Jesus and we would have understood. We would have understood the teaching and we would have grasped the depth of the meaning of the healings. We would have seen that Jesus was not going to be a worldly king. We would have understood that Jesus wanted us to live like him so the world could indeed be hanged. Therefore, we would not have cried out against him but for him. We would have asked for mercy and not for death. We would have tried to take Jesus off the cross instead of standing with the others as they mocked him until he died.
But deep down in our hearts we would not have done any different. The people wanted freedom. They wanted physical freedom from oppression in their terms. The elders wanted to keep their authority. They were comfortable with their position and their spirituality. Jesus was challenging the ideas of both groups at the same time. He was not offering freedom in the manner for which it was hoped. He was challenging the comfort and the teachings of all who were in authority. Furthermore, he knew what was going to happen to him if he stayed on this course. Yet, he felt he had to stay this course.
To veer from this course would be detrimental to the message he was trying to bring. He was not interested in being just another worldly king like David or Solomon. He was not interested in following the rules in the way they had been interpreted. His mission, his ministry, was to teach by example the great love of God. His ministry was to save us from ourselves. To save us from our own paths we needed hope. We needed hope in the One who created us. We needed hope in God who loves us. In order for us to see the depth and breadth of God's love, Jesus was willing to place all of his faith in God. He was willing to trust God and overcome the worst the world has to offer. Jesus had hope beyond hope.
The message of Christ is one of hope. Frederick Beuchner is an author and a Presbyterian minister. He has written several books of both fiction and nonfiction. One of his books is a compilation of definitions of words used often in Christian thought and theology. He has an interesting understanding of the word hope. He says, "For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings." This definition of hope places Christ at the center of the Christians' life. If Jesus is not our hope, then why are we here? If Jesus is not our hope, then who or what is?
Another person who struggled with this concept of hope was C. S. Lewis. Lewis was an interesting man who grew up in interesting times. There is a story about him concerning hope. He was part of a debate team as a professor when he was teaching. He was considered one of the strongest debaters and most clear thinkers of his side. He argued for the atheists. Yes, C. S. Lewis was at first an atheist. The debates worked in this sort of fashion. The Christians would present an argument for the existence of God or some theological concept. The atheist group would have a week to prepare an answer and present it at the next meeting. The Christians would then have a week to respond as well.
At some point in this debate club, Lewis became one of the strongest debaters for his side. He argued very well the points he tried to make. He argued them too well. The story goes that Lewis' conversion centered around the concept of hope. In his arguments, Lewis came to the conclusion that he had created a world, a creation, where hope did not exist. Humanity had no hope. Creation could not have hope. Hope as an idea, a concept, a thought could not exist, because hope is not possible to develop by itself. In his world, humanity existed without hope or any concept of the word. He concluded that humanity could not have come up with the idea, the thought, the very concept of hope in and of itself. Hope does not exist.
Now, he looked at the world around him. In the world around him hope did exist. Hope was real. Hope was a fully explored and developed concept. If hope does not exist, then how did hope come to be. Since humanity can't develop this concept on its own, then where did it originate? Lewis had only one answer. Hope was given to humanity from something outside humanity. That something was greater than humanity because it offered something to humanity, that we could not give ourselves. At that point, Lewis turned toward a belief in God. He came to believe in Christ. As a result he is known as one of greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century. It all started with a discussion on hope.
So, here we stand on this fateful day. We see the best and the worst we have to offer. We see ourselves catching glimpses of the truth dimly. We also see ourselves fickle and somewhat dastardly. There is no health in us. We can't seem to help ourselves. It is for that reason that Jesus came and offered himself op the cross. Jesus offered himself because we can't help ourselves. Too often, we see good and do the wrong thing. Too often, we turn away when we should help. Yet, Jesus proclaims there is hope. There is hope in God. There is love in God. At times we can see the glory of God. Jesus' death and resurrection help us to see it more clearly. Frederick Beuchner has some interesting comments about Jesus and the cross. He says, "For those of us who believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead early on a Sunday morning, and for those also who believe that he provided food for worms just as the rest of us will, the conclusion is inescapable that he came out somehow the winner. What emerged from his death was a kind of way, of truth of life, without which the last two thousand years of human history would have been even more tragic than they were. A six-pointed star, a crescent moon, a lotus – the symbols of other religions suggest beauty and light. The symbol of Christianity is an instrument of death. It suggests, at the very least, hope."
We might wonder at these words about hope. We might not see things quite the same way as Beuchner or Lewis. But there is one other piece of the story I hope you will remember this day. After the crowd turned against him. After the crowd harassed him as he suffered on the cross. After he cried out with a loud voice to God and breather his last. One person saw something differently than the rest. He had stood watching everything that day. He was used to crucifixion because he helped carry out the orders. But as he watched Jesus die, the centurion saw something in Jesus. This Roman centurion, whose allegiance was to the emperor, says plainly, "Truly, this man was God's Son." What did he see? In the fateful events of this day, did he experience the wonder of God? Did he experience hope? If we want to experience the wonder of God then perhaps all we need to do is look for the hope, the hope that Jesus made visible through the power of God over and above the cross.