a Sermon for Palm Sunday A
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Something to Say
What would you say and how would you say it?
That was the basis of the writing exercise we did Wednesday night.* Imagine that you have a prime time block on TV on Thursday night; 50 million people are watching, you have a nearly unlimited budget, and freedom to make the program the way you want it to be.
- What concern would you address? What change would you hope to see?
- How would you communicate that message? A drama or a comedy? A reality show or documentary? A benefit concert or an update of a classic musical?
With this exercise, we were hoping to unlock our passion and purpose. And, of course, our creativity.
The root of Christianity is communication; communicating GOD’s purpose in the world and in our lives. Often, our problems come from our unwillingness to hear or see what GOD is doing, dreaming, or hoping for us. Or from our unwillingness to share what we hear or see. Our pain and our will so often get in the way.
Palm Sunday is all about communicating. Jesus has a message about GOD and about the Kingdom of God. He presents it as a visual contrast:
- Pilate, entering Jerusalem at one end of the city with the visual reminders of political power: the flags, the soldiers, the warhorses. The city receives the might, dominance, aggression, supremacy of a Roman official who comes to the great city to oversee order during the Passover.
- Jesus, entering Jerusalem differently, with the visual reminders of humility: the peasant clothes, the unwashed fisherman disciples, the donkey. Jerusalem receives humble, weak, patient, hope in the Jewish carpenter-turned-rabbi who comes to expose the world’s greatest power for its true weakness.
Jesus has a message that contrasts with Rome’s. A message that is understood only when Roman and Jewish authorities are exposed. Only when the great city’s turmoil is revealed as sin; as not of GOD; as preventing the people from being in a healthy relationship with GOD.
When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, “the whole city was in turmoil”. A city which spent the previous thousand years and would spend the succeeding two thousand years in near-perpetual turmoil. Constant conflict. Virtually never communicating GOD’s mission through a unified voice: the Kingdom of GOD is at hand.
Breaking Rome’s Message
Jesus’s message will shape the coming days. The Temple, the authorities, the disciples, the mission will be the wood of daily devotion, as Jesus builds His final statement, His elevator pitch. He will build the chair that will become His cross.
Still, for the carpenter, His mission, His masterwork is nearly complete.
The message Jesus communicates is so easy to us. Too easy. Peace. Freedom. Love. So often that message is filtered through Rome’s message of Peace (through war); Freedom (through order); Love (through hegemony and oppression). For Jesus to confront Rome on Rome’s terms is to abandon His message of peace, freedom, love. For peace through war is not peace, but war. Freedom through authoritarian rule and the fear of domination is not freedom, but tyranny. Love through hegemony and oppression is nothing at all like love. And nothing like the Good News.
In riding a donkey, Jesus shows the Kingdom of God, communicating the real character of the Kingdom; communicating what a true God (not Caesar) does to care for all the children. Love and sacrifice. Hope and trust.
Even in the midst of turmoil, a great cloud of witnesses forms to receive the Son of David, the unifier. He is a great prophet of humble origins. He is blessed by GOD! He has come to us! The crowds surround and compel Him.
In focusing on the entrance to Holy Week, my hope is that we can stay in this moment longer. This space has Jesus’s hope and humility and purpose. It sets in motion the things that are to come, but these things can overpower the nature of what Jesus is doing. The tradition and the dogma dominate Jesus, turning Him into an object of belief and transform His story into a creed: the Romanizing of our very liberation!
What Jesus is doing instead is communicating a way of being. He shows us protest. He shows us conviction. He shows us what loving GOD looks like, including laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
This time of year, we are called to remember Jesus and live like Him, love like Him, pray and eat like Him. We are called to gather not like Rome or the Temple Authorities, but like Jesus and the disciples. We are called to be apostles, all of us, inheriting the mantles of our ancient ancestors who lived with, loved, and followed Jesus.
Despite His attempts to communicate we often misunderstand Jesus. He came to be with us. To be one of us. He came to learn from us and speak like we do. He came to play with us and help us and love us.
He isn’t a thing to be believed, but the person of our liberation. He is here! We are here! This is our Jerusalem!
*The exercise may be found in Lloyd Edwards’ Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts. It is an excellent resource and I highly recommend it.