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 A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at Clarence Presbyterian 
on April 14, 2019.

OPEN TO HIS COMING

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat upon it.
Mark 11:7 


        For me, the celebration of Palm Sunday has often felt a little strange. Taken as a single event, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is a joyful, happy day.  It often takes place on a spring day.  Today, the daffodils are finally up and blooming. Warm weather is not too far away.  The music is upbeat and joyous.  We join the crowds in shouting praise to Jesus.

Yet for all the waving of the Palms, for all the positive feelings, for all the sounds of joy, there is to me a tinny sound to all of it.  For Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are only a few days away.  The disciples who walked with Jesus into Jerusalem will soon be denying and deserting him.  The crowds who shout “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday will by Friday join in yelling “Crucify him, crucify him”

The picture of the great crowd celebrating Jesus’ coming into the city will quickly give way to the bleeding form of Jesus on the cross.   In the context of the whole flow of Holy Week, what are we to make of Palm Sunday?  What does this week tell us about ourselves?

First, let us look at what was happening in this story as told by Mark.  At first glance it seems to be a simple story of Jesus entering Jerusalem and being treated as a king.  My understanding of this event is shaped by images of ticker-tape parades in New York City.  The city has it’s so called canyon of heroes.  Over the years Generals, astronauts and New York’s championship teams have been honored by parades down Broadway.  There are bands and ticker tape being thrown from skyscrapers.  

This is my picture of Palm Sunday.  Jesus enters into Jerusalem like a conquering hero. It would seem to be a festive celebration in which the people of Jerusalem acknowledge Jesus as king and Jesus accepted and played the role.

The words shouted by the crowd of people re-enforces this image.  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!   The use of the name of David is significant.  David was the primary figure in the nationalistic imagination of the people of Israel.  Jerusalem was David’s city.  When Joshua led the entry into the Promised Land after the death of Moses, he conquered much of Palestine.  One great exception was Jerusalem.  It was David who finally was able to capture Jerusalem from the Canaanites.  

David made Jerusalem his capital.  He had his palace built on this high place. He made plans for the building of the Temple.  From Jerusalem, David forged a powerful and wealthy nation.  He was remembered as God servant, chosen to lead God’s chosen people.

When the people shouted Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven they were saying that Jesus was another David. He was God’s servant.  He came to Jerusalem as a conqueror.  He inflamed the hopes of the people.  So the people shouted Hosanna which means “God save us.

        Save us from oppressive Roman rule,
                Save us from taxes which keep us poor,
                        Save us from having to follow Roman law
                                Save us from corrupt Jewish religious and political leaders

        Save us from Greek and Roman culture that threatens to undermine Jewish life
                Save us from having to worship the emperor
                        Save us from our loss of nationhood
                                Save us with your power Jesus Son of David

Jesus would appear to accept all the praise.  He rides into the city as a king coming to his capital.  Jesus does not reject their cheering, but he does not respond.  In the midst of this wild celebration there is one flaw in the scene.  

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  In ancient Israel a donkey was not considered a lowly beast.  Donkeys were considered noble.  The catch in the story is this.  When a king went to war, he rode a horse.  When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey.

Jesus was indeed a king, but he came in peace.  This was not what the crowd had in mind.  They were looking for a martial king, not one who came in peace.  The crowd was looking for a liberating military leader but Jesus came as a peacemaker.  He did not come to drive the Romans out using force, Jesus came to make peace.  He came to bring reconciliation between warring parties.  He seeks peace among nations, peoples, families and individuals.   He came not to claim the world for God’s chosen people, but to claim all people for God.

It was great symbolism for Jesus to ride on a donkey instead of a horse.   By riding on a donkey Jesus is proclaiming that he came not in power, but rather in love. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was accepting the role of a king, but a different kind of king.  He came in peace and for peace.  The crowds greeted him as the Son of David, but they did not understand him.  The actions of the next week were a contradiction of all that the people hoped and expected of him

I think the events of the next week help us understand why the crowd might have yelled “Crucify Him” on Good Friday.  We are not completely sure of the time frame of all the events that followed Palm Sunday.  Mark had a lot of material to deal with in telling the story of Jesus. Some writers have speculated the Mark might have compressed the material in to a short time frame.  They believe that he might have telescoped the events of Jesus’ days in Jerusalem.  Some scholars believe that for reasons such as the time of year that Palm branches would have been available and the dates of Passover that Jesus may well have been in Jerusalem for several months.  This would have meant there might have been several months between the events of Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

During whatever amount of time that Jesus was in Jerusalem, the crowds would have heard Jesus speak and seen him in action.  During this time he spoke of love and forgiveness and not of military power.

        They saw him attack the Jewish religious authorities,
                Not the Roman governor
        They witnessed that he cleansed the temple of merchants
                He did not cleanse Jerusalem of the occupying forces

Jesus just did not fit their expectations of the Son of David so they turned on him.  They joined their voices in chanting “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Jesus failed to do what the people wanted.  He disappointed their hopes and dreams.  He entered Jerusalem raising their expectations and did not follow through.

So what we can learn about ourselves from this story? First we can acknowledge that we, like the crowd, have our own expectations of God.  Each one of us has needs, wants and desires that we project onto Jesus.  We each have our own private vision of what Jesus should be in our lives.

There are some who expect Jesus to be a guru of success.  They see God as the power behind positive thinking.  Many believe that if they put trust in God then all will go well for them in search for a new job or a big raise.  Trust in God is thought to be the way to secure one’s future.

Others want Jesus to help them in their personal lives.  They have a poor marriage, or they are unable to communicate with their children, or they feel unlovable.  They want God to change these realities in their life.  They feel the king who paraded in Jerusalem can mend all the frayed relationships of life.  

There are others here that picture Jesus as the king who can give them the gift of personal growth.  They know that they are not the kind of person they would like to be.  They believe that real growth comes in having one’s character molded by a higher power.  So they come hoping for the gift of wholeness.

        Some hope for healing.  They have some problem of the mind or body that limits them.  Or maybe it is a member of their family who has come down with some potentially fatal disease.  So they come hoping that God will give the gift of healing.

I could go on and on in naming the types of things that we as humans would like from God.  They are all real needs.  These are possible gifts that God can give us if we open our lives to him. The problem comes not from the content of these expectations, but rather these expectations whether good or bad are just too small.  Jesus comes seeking to be the Lord of all our life. He comes to us as Lord and not merely a fulfiller of our hopes.

It is not always his will to fulfill our expectations.  He comes as a king who desires for us to love and serve him on God’s terms.  We might want material success and he might tell us to serve the poor.  We might want justice for ourselves and have Jesus call us to forgive. Each one of us has expectations of Jesus that he will not fulfill.

When this happens our natural human reaction is the reject Jesus.  Do we not feel the most contempt for someone who lets us down?  This is why so many divorces can become bitter.  You trust someone with your life and they betray you.

When God’s actions do not live up to our expectation or desires, we often show our anger and turn our backs on Jesus just as the crowds cried “Crucify Him.”

When a loved one has a serious illness and we expect God to heal them and the person dies, we often react with anger.

If our marriage or the marriage of someone we care about is on the rocks and we pray that Jesus would set things right and still it falls apart, we may react by turning our backs on Jesus.

I could go on listing times when life disappoints us and we blame God.  Our anger towards Christ at various times in our lives is natural.  If you and I had been present in the first century we may well have shouted Hosanna one day and crucify him another.

As humans we cannot help but have expectations of Jesus.  We cannot help but feel anger and disappointment.  When we feel this anger we join in the eternal throng that yells “Crucify him.”

The important question for us is how we react to Jesus when the deed is done.  Most of the crowd hailed him on Palm Sunday, called for his death on Good Friday and forgot about him on Saturday.  Only a few came to know him after the resurrection.

Two of Jesus’ followers reacted in two different ways. Judas and Peter are both believed to have been zealots.  The zealots were a party of the Jewish people who were committed to prepare themselves to fight the Romans.  They hoped Jesus would be a military messiah.  When Jesus rode the donkey and not a horse they both betrayed him. Judas by handing him over to the authorities and Peter by running away and denying he knew Jesus.  

Judas rejected any other understanding of Jesus and killed himself.  While Peter is present to experience the coming of the Risen Lord.  He received forgiveness from Jesus and begins life anew with a new understanding of Jesus.

How do we react when we are disappointed and angry with God?  Are we like Judas and give up on Jesus and turn our souls into stone. 

Or are we like Peter, embarrassed and ashamed and hurt, but still open to receiving Jesus again.

On this Palm Sunday may each one of us ponder the ways our expectations of Jesus made us reject him.  Are we able to open our hearts to his coming again to us in new ways?    

        Let me close with a poem by Loyd C Taylor

        What Have We Learned? 

        They shouted with praises, reaching the sky,
        Pushing and shoving to see Jesus pass by.
        Crying, 'Hosanna, hosanna, glory to the King!
        He comes to us today, great joy He doth bring.'

        They threw down palm leaves, covering the way,
        Clearing the way for His entrance that day.
        Raising joyful voices, as praises filled the air,
        The day had come, God answered their prayer!

        But, in a short time they changed their chant,
        From joyful noise, to a mob's hate-filled rant.
        From Hosanna, hosanna, as when He was praised;
        To crucify Him! Crucify Him, as their anger blazed!

        In disbelief we might question why they turned?
        But maybe the question is, 'What have we learned? '