When the people greeted Jesus with “Hosanna” (or save us) he reminded them that their salvation lies within them. But they are going to have to change how they view themselves, how they view others, and they have to stop lusting for the kind of power that the world counts as best, but that brings so much hurt. The people, as one, must turn to a different way of being a people. This is perhaps the biggest communal turning we make during the season – the turn towards the power of love.
Palm Sunday Message by Rev. Jenny Carter
March 25, 2018
(Based on Mark 11:1-11; Mark 14:1-10)
I’ve never been totally comfortable with Palm Sunday services. They are rather awkward things. Way back in the early eighties I was the church school superintendent at Trail United Church. So every year, two worship events fell to me. The Christmas pageant and the Palm Sunday parade. We would spend weeks getting the children ready for their big debut in the big room where the adults got to sit. We told the story. We talked about why it was important. We practiced the words, and the actions, and the songs.
Every Palm Sunday, the children were adorable and the music was bouncy – yet you could always tell that everyone felt a little awkward. There was a palpable vibe in the room, one where everyone was kind of holding their breath. The children felt a bit “on display” and not always sure why they were having to wave branches in the air in church. The adults were always supportive, but the kids were kind of noisy and not always doing what some adults thought they should do, and as the superintendent I caught every eye roll aimed at the children. And not every child waved their branches festively, some just kind of dragged them along – and the whole “hosanna in the highest” was often delivered in more of a mumble than a shout of praise.
We did our best. Our little band of awesome little 4 to 8 year olds did the very best they could. They always made me proud. We even did our best the year that someone thought that having two of the big boys wear a shared donkey suit would add a lot to the palm parade. And it might have been brilliant if the boys had practiced beforehand and didn’t keep tripping each other as they careened down the centre aisle of the sanctuary, and if they had not been arguing with each other the entire time. Coincidently, that was the year I learned to say “no”. No, and definitely not.
I think the reason I was never truly comfortable with palm parades has nothing to do with the children, or adults, or even two big boys fighting in a donkey suit. I think what made me feel truly uncomfortable was the expectation that the palm parade should be a bigger than life and twice as happy event. It’s hard to be “happy, happy” when you know what’s coming.
And we all knew then, just as we know now, what is coming. We know the story. The week ahead is a week where our biblical story takes us on a pilgrimage through loss, betrayal, denial, and death on a cross. It will also take us to that marvelous moment called Easter where we are reminded that life can emerge from even the most brutal of circumstances. But that is a story for next Sunday. And until that day, we have a lot of hard things to get through first.
So perhaps Palm Sunday is not the happy day we tried to make it in the eighties. Perhaps it has a deepness and a resonance even more important for us than a moment of delight in the antics of children waving branches in church on a Sunday.
As we follow Mark’s telling of the story, Jesus is very intentional in how he entered Jerusalem that day. In a piece of brilliant street theatre he came riding in from the direction that faith and legend said the messiah would come. So when the pilgrims saw him arrive, they got the intended message. The messiah, the one who would save them, had come.
Yet he didn’t arrive on a big and powerful horse, but on a small colt. He didn’t have a sword in his hand, or an army with him, he had his Galilean friends walking behind him. Clearly, he wasn’t the messiah some of them were expecting. Yet as the people saw him, they shouted “Hosanna” – which is roughly translated as “I beg you to save us” or perhaps an even better translation being “please deliver us.” To the people waving branches and putting coats in front of him, he was their messiah and he had come for them.
We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus came to confront the powers of his day. He chose to ride in to Jerusalem during one of the holiest festivals of the Jewish year. He knew that the Roman governor would be in town, and would have brought with him a huge army in order to not only keep the peace during Passover, but to remind the people, through a show of brute force, just who it was that had the power of life and death over them. He knew that the Temple elites, balancing the dictates of their religion with the demands that Rome made on them, would be wanting to quell any kind of disturbance or unpleasantness that might upset the Romans, and cause some kind of retaliation against them. And then, of course he knew, that King Herod – a puppet king installed by Rome – would be there too, and wouldn’t be at all happy to see him.
So, riding on his little donkey he rides in to Jerusalem, and just to make his point clear, his first stop is the Temple. The messiah has arrived. The people’s champion and saviour has come.
There is such deep resonance and meaning in this simple, albeit dramatic story. And if we’re trying to make this story be a happy one, then we will miss the point of it in its entirety. This is a story about power. It’s about the things the world views as powerful – things like money, and armies, and being a part of an elite group, and how when the love of those things take over, the world and its people are wounded, and death abounds. And it’s about God’s power. God’s power doesn’t reside in riches, or armies, or elites – God’s power resides in and with the people. God’s power is manifested in and through the power of love – and when compassion for others, and justice for all, and the seeking of true peace is evident among the people, then God’s power is unleashed. And when that happens, the world and its people are healed, and made whole. In fact, they are saved.
That is the point Jesus was making that day. He wasn’t asking them, or us, to believe a certain doctrine, or utter any cry of faith other than God’s power of love is with us, and in us. And with that, there is no struggle we cannot endure, and no death we cannot overcome. In so many ways this is a radical and counter cultural way to be in the world. We are used to feeling small and powerless when faced with the events of the world and the times in which we are living. Yet Jesus, in his march into Jerusalem is saying that we are far from powerless, and while the trials and griefs we face might be daunting and even horrific at times, if we keep our hearts and minds steadfast on the power of love, and seek to manifest that in all times and in all ways, we will get through. It won’t be easy, but we will get through, and life will become whole and healed and new.
This is how Jesus answered the corporate cries of the people. When they greeted him with “Hosanna” (or save us) he reminded them that their salvation lies within them. But they are going to have to change how they view themselves, how they view others, and they have to stop lusting for the kind of power that the world counts as best, but that brings so much hurt. The people, as one, must turn to a different way of being a people. This is perhaps the biggest communal turning we make during the season – the turn towards the power of love.
Jesus’ message that day is for us as individuals too. What do we need to be saved from? How has our notion of power and powerlessness affected our living? There is perhaps no better use of our time on a Palm Sunday than to go to those deep and honest places within us – the places of hurt and fear and even anger – that place of unresolved conflict and grief – and ask ourselves whether we are using a worldly form of power – where might makes right, or where there can only be one winner in a dispute – and sometimes we win, or sometimes we lose big time. Or, are we harnessing the power of love that resides in us and among us? Are we bringing a different understanding of what “winning” looks like? A different understanding of what love looks like, in us?
I don’t think there is any better way to commence Holy Week than with palms in our hands and “Hosannas” on our lips. There is no more faithful way to embark on this sacred journey than to ask God, out of the deep, honest places inside of us, to “Save us… please, save us”. Seems like a good thing to do.