Preached on 9 April 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Palm Sunday, Year A
“They are so preoccupied with power and fearful of change that they miss the possibility of a world in which love and compassion could become a reality.” [Instead, they turn to violence and murder, to mocking and deriding their so-called enemy. They don’t want to change what they have always believed and done.]
Turmoil, chaos, shouts of “Save us!” Those in power publicly, violently make an example of some as a warning to the rest. Each side proclaims victory. And behind the scenes? – spying, betrayal, treachery.
No, I’m not talking about this week’s news. I’m talking about today’s gospel. It feels chaotic; we ride an emotional roller-coaster. And if you’re hoping that I will create order out of chaos, make it all neat and tidy for you, with a nice clear message? Well, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.
There is nothing neat and tidy about God or Jesus and his life and teaching and death. There is nothing neat and tidy about this story – the central story of our faith (well, half of it – we get the rest next week). Perhaps that’s the point – there’s nothing neat and tidy; it’s chaotic. How do we go from shouts of “Hosanna, Save us, Son of David,” to cries of “Crucify him!” in one short week? There is so much in these events that we can only touch on a couple of them.
What does this story reveal about the human condition? What does it reveal about the character and nature of God?
Let’s start with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
First, note that while we’ve spent the last four weeks in the gospel of John, today, we’ve moved back into the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus enters the capital city mirroring the triumphal entry of a victorious army returning from battle or the arrival of a king.
The city is teeming with people from all over the Jewish world who have come to celebrate the most important festival of their faith, the Passover. Many of the people may not be up on all the latest local news – like this rabbi or prophet or whatever from Nazareth who has been going around teaching and preaching in the synagogues, healing people, and casting out demons. And talking about the kingdom of God. Word gets around quickly, though, and they do know about the prophecies.
And here he comes into the city. It’s an act of protest, resistance; a challenge to Power. It’s claiming the power of a different kingdom.
Many people think that he could be the fulfillment of the prophecies; they are filled with expectations. So, they line the streets, going before him and behind him, shouting, “Hosanna, Son of David!” Save us. That’s what Hosanna means, Save us. Save us from Rome. They have such high hopes. Could this be the Son of David, the Messiah they have longed for?
But the people with power are worried and they begin to plot. In fact the very next thing Jesus does is to go to the Temple where he drives out the people selling doves for sacrifices and Temple coins for offerings.
Then, over the next several days he teaches every day in the Temple. The Scribes and Pharisees and elders come and engage with him, testing him, trying to trip him up. He challenges them and calls out their hypocrisy. Their plans to arrest Jesus take shape and Judas decides to betray him.
People with power don’t give it up willingly. That’s part of the human condition.
Now, Jesus knows that what he is doing will lead to his death. They won’t let this slide. For that matter, his entire ministry has been leading to this.
He is arrested and tried, so to speak. The religious authorities question him. They turn him over to the political authorities and Pilate questions him. He says nothing to try to save himself.
And the people? who just days before were shouting Hosannas? Their hopes of a Messiah to save them have been dashed and they turn on him, riled up by their leaders. Now they shout, “Crucify him!”
Another disappointment. Another false messiah. They’ve been down this road before.
Rome wins again.
The cross reveals to us a God who saves us by not saving himself; a God willing to suffer on our behalf. It’s important, though, to remember that the Cross was the culmination of Christ’s life and his proclamation of the kingdom of God. His death and life reveal a God who enters into the chaotic brokenness of the world and stays with us no matter what; suffering a horrible death like countless others have done and still do, at the hands of the Powers of the world.
It’s important that we remember that Jesus death is not unique or even uncommon. We mustn’t romanticize it. There is nothing beautiful about crucifixion or any other execution or killing.
You see, the cross also reveals the human condition. To quote the commentary I paraphrased at the beginning of the sermon,
“Those who orchestrated Jesus death were so preoccupied with power and fearful of change that they missed the possibility of a world in which love and compassion could become a reality. As a result, they and their followers crucified God’s Son, mocking and deriding him, lest they believe and be changed.”
The human condition – preoccupied with power and fearful of change.
As we journey toward Easter this Holy Week, I invite you to spend time with this story. Read it – and the chapters between the triumphal entry and the crucifixion as well. Meditate on it; pray it. Ask questions of it:
What does this story reveal about the human condition?
What does it reveal about the character and nature of God?