Sermon for Palm Sunday

A Palm Sunday Sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison,

Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields,

21st March 2021

(Mark 11:1-11, 15-18)

So, there’s only one more week to go until Easter Sunday, but what a week.

Before we get to Easter Sunday all of the following happen:

  • Jesus shares his last meal with his closest followers, so instituting what we call the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion
  • During that meal he reveals that he knows that one of them will betray him
  • As they go from the meal he declares that Peter will deny him
  • From the meal, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prays in agony that, if possible, he will not have to endure suffering and death
  • Then Jesus is betrayed and taken into custody
  • He undergoes two trials; one is a sort-of-unofficial examination by religious authorities; the other features all the might of the occupying Roman imperial power, as represented by its Prefect, Pontius Pilate
  • The people are given their choice between saving Jesus or Barabbas – between the ‘Son of Man’ and ‘The Father’s Son’ (Bar – abba); and they decide against Jesus
  • Jesus is mocked, beaten, and led to the place of his execution
  • There, he is crucified – a humiliating, agonising, drawn-out, and fatal experience
  • Then, finally (or maybe not) his body is deposited in an on-loan tomb

In today’s Gospel reading we get a hint of what is to come, when Jesus not only enters the city in a strange, triumphal procession, but then goes to temple, where he overturns tables and their merchandise; driving the merchants and money lenders away; threatening the social, economic, religious – and so, political – orders all in one go.

Later this week, on Thursday at 7.00 p.m., and on Friday at 10.00 a.m. we have the opportunity to follow the Jesus’s story all the way to the cross: Zoom links available via the church’s latest Weekly Update. And hopefully this subtle plug for our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services will encourage lots of you to join in.

Today, we are focusing more one the excitement of Palm Sunday, asking why we should be so. All the same, don’t ignore what’s to come for Jesus in the following week, because the scale of the significance of the resurrection which comes on Easter Sunday is directly linked to the scale of the suffering and the reality of the death that preceded it.

So anyway, for today, just imagine yourself invited to join the crowd that is accompanying and following Jesus into Jerusalem. Consider the colour and the noise of the shouting; the coats and branches being waved about, then laid on the ground in front of Jesus as he rides into town and his date with destiny; our destiny as well as his; the destiny of the whole world. And what is it that the crowd thinks it has to shout about? Well, listen to what they are shouting:

Hosanna!

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!

(11:9-10)

‘Hosanna’: a Hebrew word, meaning something like, ‘save now’! So a ‘hosanna’ from Psalm 118 goes like this: ‘save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!’ And maybe the crowd with Jesus entering Jerusalem knew their psalms, for just as they do on that occasion, so the psalm goes on, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord … the Lord is God … bind the festal procession with branches.’ (11:25, 26, 27)

Hosanna / save now! The crowd are excited because they associate Jesus with being saved; with salvation. And who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect of being saved? Who wouldn’t be excited by the idea that God is acting to save God’s people? But, from what do these people think they’re being saved?

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor, David.

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

David? Well, David was the one they looked back to as the great king of Israel. He wasn’t always great in the individual, personal life choices that he made but he was great in terms of building up Israel as an independent nation-state. And let’s face it, even today, people can get very excited in identifying as part of a powerful, individual nation-state. I suppose that’s behind notions of putting the ‘great’ back in Britain, by flying the flag wherever and whenever possible, or in calls to ‘make America great again’.

And things were far from great for Israel, for Palestine, when Jesus was living there. David was long gone, and so was his kingdom. Instead, they were under Roman rule, and they didn’t like that one little bit. So if God sent a Messiah, a blessed one who came in God’s name, one who might save God’s people and restore David’s kingdom, then that was a cause for great excitement. But would that be a good reason for you or me to join that crowd, walking with Jesus, as he rode into Jerusalem? Probably not!

And yet, there’s good reason for us to get excited; to accompany Jesus in our hearts, minds, and imaginations into Jerusalem. For Jesus had his own understanding of what was involved on the day; intentions that met desires, but which then transformed and surpassed expectations.

So Jesus rides into town. Unlike normal pilgrims he does not walk, for he wants to make a point. He is God’s chosen one – a kingly one, like David – who has come to God’s city. ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! …  your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,’ as the OT prophet Zechariah put it (9:9). But King Jesus, is a different sort of king, who brings a different sort of salvation to that which is expected.

As Jesus put it, and as Mark records it just a few verses before describing this entry into Jerusalem (10:41-45), nations might honour rulers who lord it over them, but followers of Jesus are to be the servants of all. Why? Because that’s how it is with King Jesus: ‘For the Son of Man,’ he says, ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Jesus turns the values and expectations of the world upside down, and in a profoundly good way. He’s riding into Jerusalem, representing life as loving service. If that’s taken seriously, all that’s bad in the life of nations comes tumbling down. He’s come, ready to give himself, not just for one people but ‘for many’ peoples; and not just for the peoples, but for the world.

And in the succeeding week what’s needful for the world was what would happen. It would be brought about by what happened to Jesus. That’s the cause for our excitement, for change is coming; salvation is coming; and Jesus is riding into town:

Hosanna!

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!

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