Palm Sunday – 6th Sunday in Lent – 3/24/2024

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Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29  O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.   20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. 27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. 29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Mark 11:1-11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

The Road from Joy to Rejection

I heard a story of a Sunday School class where the teacher was telling the kindergarten class about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem while the crowds shouted out Hosanna, Hosanna.  One little girl, who hadn’t really been paying attention raised her hand and said, “Teacher, I know that song!”  “You do?”, said the teacher.  “Well, why don’t you sing it for us?”  “Oh Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me for I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee…”

In the same way that this little girl thought she knew the song but didn’t; the people who shouted Hosanna when Jesus entered Jerusalem thought they understood the mission of Jesus but they didn’t.  The crowds entering with Jesus are all pilgrims.  They are entering Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, a time to remember and celebrate when God through Moses set them free from Pharaoh.  The word Hosanna comes from the Aramaic language and literally means save us! Those who shouted Hosanna that day seem to have looked on Jesus as the Messiah, as God’s anointed one from the house of David of whom the prophets had spoken. They literally shouted to Jesus, “Save us!” They hoped that all their messianic expectations would be fulfilled.

They thought Jesus came as a nationalistic messiah who would overthrow the Romans.  Three times before in this gospel Jesus has tried to tell his disciples that his destiny is to suffer and die, to be rejected, delivered into the hands of his enemies, condemned to death, and yet to rise again.  But they have not had ears to hear; not about Jesus’ destiny and not about their own.  Instead of a powerful worldly savior, Jesus came as the suffering servant of Isaiah.  He came, in the words of the prophet Zachariah, “humble and riding on a donkey.”  He was their savior but not from political oppression but the oppression of sin and death.  

There is an interesting irony going on here.  The gospels give us the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  What they don’t tell us but what would have also happened at the same time is Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem.  Pilate would have made his own triumphal military entry to Jerusalem — with war horse, chariot, and weapons —to remind the pilgrims that Rome was in charge.  Jesus rode in on a donkey signifying humility and peace; Pilate rode in on a warhorse promising conquest and power.   The stage was set for a clash between kingdoms; that of the world and that of God.

We can see that Jesus carefully planned his entry.  He had made arrangements ahead of time for the donkey.  The custom was for everyone to enter Jerusalem on foot but Jesus deliberately rode on the donkey.  Before he had always told people not to tell anyone he was the Messiah.  Now he allows the crowd to shout out the news of the coming kingdom.  Jesus has set all this in motion deliberately.  Jesus is heading for the cross.  The religious leaders and political leaders will all think they are in control but it is Jesus who has chosen the time and place for his sacrifice.  This is his mission, this is the purpose for which he was born, for which the Father sent the Son to us.  It is important that we see this.

We run the risk of being like the crowd and not understanding the mission of Jesus if we hurry from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the triumph of the Resurrection and, in a sense, bypass the cross.  Many no longer attend a Maundy Thursday service and most churches no longer hold a Good Friday service so we can miss the cross.  We can go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  If we miss the cross, we miss the atonement, we miss the reconciliation with God that occurred through the cross.  The resurrection is real, it is necessary, it is a vital and important part of our faith and one we will celebrate next Sunday but we must never, never look to the resurrection without looking through the cross.  We must be careful not to go from the joy of Palm Sunday to the joy of the Resurrection.  Jesus did not go from joy to joy.  For Jesus there was unimaginable suffering between the two. He was beaten, flogged, humiliated by the Roman soldiers. Crucifixion is an extremely cruel form of execution. Jesus suffered great physical pain during the crucifixion, excruciating pain. Beyond the physical pain also bore the weight of the sin of the world. That is what makes Jesus’ death on the cross unique. We cannot bear our own sin, we would be crushed beneath its weight.  Only Jesus, fully human and fully divine, could bear that weight and on the cross as Jesus died, God the Father placed that weight on His beloved Son.  As the prophet  Isaiah said, “but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Through the most painful death came the greatest gift. Jesus willingly bore that weight, suffered that pain, God the Father allowed his Son to go through this because it was the only way to reconcile us, fallen humanity, back to God.  God the Father suffered along with Jesus that awful and wonderful Friday.  Jesus could not and did not bypass the cross and we must not either.  We were bought at a price, a very steep price and unless we clearly look at it, we will never understand and never be able to appreciate what God in Jesus did for us that day over two thousand years ago.  

Ask yourself, what would you have done if you had been there in Jerusalem all those long years ago?  Would you have shouted Hosanna as Jesus entered Jerusalem and laid down palm branches?  Would you have joined the mob on Friday and called for his crucifixion?  We all want to see ourselves as those who cried Hosanna, not crucify Him, but the reality is that, in a sense, we have all called for Jesus’ crucifixion by our sin.  When we sin, we deny that Jesus is Lord of our life and that God is our sovereign.  It is our sin and the sin of the world that caused the vast separation between us and God, the un-crossable divide between a holy God and a sinful humanity.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.”  Theologians call this the atonement.  An action taken to make amends, to correct a previous wrongdoing. Each culture interprets it in light of their understanding of the world.  For the earliest Christians, those who were first Jews, atonement was understood as blood sacrifice, Jesus as the Lamb of God through whom all sins are forgiven.  In medieval times, God was the Lord whose honor must be upheld.  The Reformers saw a righteous judge who must be satisfied.  It has been described as victory over Satan and the powers of evil.  The Presbyterian Confession of ’67 says the following, “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery…  These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for us.  They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work.”  

Jesus as a member of the Trinity had conceived the atonement before the world was even formed, Jesus as a human saw a loving Father whom he obeyed at the cost of his own pain and death.  The result of the atonement is that we have been reconciled to God, we have been justified, made right, brought back into relationship with the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The entire Trinity and all of humanity are bound up in this wondrous plan to demonstrate for all to see the amazing love of God the Creator for us, his created ones.  

We began with the acclaim of Palm Sunday, “All Glory Laud and Honor to Thee Redeemer King”.  Christ is our Redeemer, our King, our Savior.  We will end with “Ride On! Ride On in Majesty!” The final line of that hymn says, “in lowly pomp ride on to die”. That Palm Sunday crowd was joyous, they celebrated. But Jesus knew what was coming. He knew he was riding to His death. In one of his hymns Charles Wesley asked, “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?” Christ died so we may live. Why? The full answer is beyond our comprehension. As our following hymn says, “But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom.” 

The events in our gospel lesson today, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, happen a few days before Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper. Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheering throngs but the joy of his entry soon will become the rejection of betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Our journey with Jesus has led to the cross.  (pause)

There is a hymn that says, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”  Think of the horizontal beam of the cross on which Christ stretched out his arms in the crucifixion.  That is the wideness of God’s mercy.  Enter in to God’s mercy, the deep, deep love of God displayed for all to see, love that gives instead of takes, love that suffers in order to redeem, love that serves rather than asks to be served.  Let this love humble you and bring you to your knees in gratitude and worship.  All glory laud and honor to thee, Redeemer King.