3.28.10 sermon notes – Palm Sunday

Luke – Year C

Neal and Susan – picking up palms for today.  Planned for Saturday.  “What if we get there and they don’t have them?”  Well, that would be just fine – there actually aren’t any palms in this version of the story?  Did any of you notice that?  I’ll admit: I didn’t on my first reading.  I was so ready for the palms and the hosannas, so used to them being in the other gospel accounts of this story, that I read them into it without even thinking.  So we have palms here today, and the children and the choir members waved them as they processed in.  And we still call this Palm Sunday.  But there really are no palms in this story.  In fact, that is just one of many differences in Luke’s account.  As one pastor noted: “Palm Sunday with Luke: no hosannas, no donkey, and . . . no palms.  In Luke, it’s more like cloak Sunday.”  Because that is what the disciples place in Jesus’ path – not palm branches.  Perhaps we should have all brought coats to worship this morning and tossed them in the center aisle – not quite as pretty, but that is what happened in Luke’s account.

And really, Palms or cloaks, Hosannas or celebratory singing of psalms, donkeys or colts – none of that really matters.  The point is that Jesus entered Jerusalem with a bit of a rag-tag parade processional – part prophetic fulfillment of what the Jewish people would have expected for the messiah, part public mockery of the political parade that was happening on the other side of town.  And all of it, a strange beginning to this particularly holy week, where we move quickly from the hopeful anticipation of the messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem to the tragic calls for his death.

I mentioned that this was not the only parade in town – and that is important.  Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Last Week, begins its account of Jesus’ last seven days with a colorful description of this procession by the King of Peace into one end of Jerusalem at the same time that the Roman Empire’s representative, Pontius Pilate, full of brute power, enters at the other end. Picture this: Pilate has arrived to “keep the peace” in the city during the turbulent time of Passover, when the crowds always get a little unruly. He travels with troops and flags and weapons, all the signs of empire, very impressive, of course. And he rides in on a magnificent warhorse, in case the flags and weapons and troops aren’t a sufficiently intimidating display of power.
On the other hand, Jesus, full of a different kind of power, makes his entrance riding a humble donkey, surrounded by his ragged group of followers, and we know that he doesn’t keep the same kind of peace Pilate and Rome intend, a business-as-usual peace that benefits the “business” of the empire and the folks on top. No, Jesus brings instead the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it.

But some of the Pharisees, like religious leaders in all times, are worried. They seem to have better instincts than most folks about these things, and they can smell trouble brewing. They know about Pilate coming in the other gate of the city, and they’re not stupid about what can happen if Rome feels threatened even by a ragtag group of religious enthusiasts. Rome steps on people, brutally, and puts them in their place. So these Pharisees fret: “Teacher,” they say, “tell your followers to hush. They’re going to bring down the heel of Rome on all our throats. Don’t be causing trouble now.”

But Jesus doesn’t seem too worried about attracting attention.  He responds to these Pharisees by saying, “I tell you, if these followers were silent, the stones would shout out.”  Jesus knows that God cannot be stopped.  God’s peace trumps any notions of peace we can try to create through military or political power or financial gain or religious self-righteousness.  The whole creation rejoices in the peace Christ brings – and no one can silence that celebration.  Not even the cross can put an end to the ways of God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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