Take a Deep Breath and Step into Holy Week

Mar 28, 2021

Sermon 3-28-21
Palm Sunday
Text: Mark 11:1-11
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Palm Sunday: we have observed it here at Faith Lutheran Church in a variety of ways. There have been parades around the building, sometimes with a real-live donkey along to catch the eyes of people on Market Street. We have done parades in the building, going from the Fellowship Hall to the mailbox hallway, to the narthex, to the sanctuary to the SJ/SP Foyer, and back to where we started. Once the Welcome Center was built, we went the shorter route, from the sanctuary directly to the coffee and goodies.
     Children have sung in worship, all the time whacking one another with the palm branches. In the Fellowship Hall, there have been video clips of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Hey-sana, Hosanna song. Last year there was no procession because no one was here except me, the Tech Team, and the Antal-Dowling Family Singers. The congregation received a piece of a palm in the mail and had to make do with that. This year is an improvement over that, at least as far as I am concerned, although there is still not a lot of processing occurring.
     Perhaps that is OK because, in reality, what happened that day in Jerusalem may not be as clear as we represent it to be centuries later. In fact, preaching professor Dr. Fred Craddock suggests that what happened the Sunday before the crucifixion was simultaneously a parade, a protest, and a funeral procession.
     So, let’s consider each one of those: first, the parade. It is not just any parade, but a royal one, starting at the Mount of Olives, which was associated with the Messiah. We are given a lot of details about the donkey Jesus rode, but three things stand out. First, his doing so reminds the people of an Old Testament passage from Zechariah 9:9, “Shout aloud, O daughters of Jerusalem! You king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
     Second, it seems that Jesus walked wherever he went. So his riding a donkey a short distance is designed to get people’s attention, as is the careful planning that went into procuring the donkey. Then there is the practice of laying branches and clothes on the road, which was done to smooth the way forward and honor royalty. And, finally, the greeting from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” was used at times of enthronement, a greeting as the king arrived.
     It is interesting, though, that there are no marching soldiers, which would be like not having at least one marching band in a July 4th parade. Also, no officials; can you imagine a parade without politicians or political candidates? There were no rich people in their finery greeting Jesu. Just common people throwing down their own ordinary cloaks and branches hastily cut from the trees. That is a hint that this is a protest too, subtle, but identifiable.
     In a Palm Sunday sermon, Pastor Gregory Knox Jones says this: “Living in a democratic society 20 centuries later, we are so far removed from the conditions of the first century Jews that we fail to hear the defiance in their shouts. We generally miss the fact that this was a non-violent protest against the ruling authorities. The Romans, who occupied Palestine, made it clear that there was no king but the Roman Emperor. The Jews knew that if they defied Roman rule, the emperor would not hesitate to come down on them with an iron fist. But the people were desperate, and they saw in Jesus the leader for whom they had been yearning. So, when Jesus came riding into town, there were shouts of “Hosanna!” (1)
     We might think of shouting “Hosanna” as a joyful cheer, but it means, “Save us, deliver us!” That crowd was calling out to Jesus to deliver them from the Romans, from occupation. And, although we did not read about it, on the following day, Jesus went to the Temple and challenged the leaders there, who were in collusion with the Romans. He turned over the tables of the money changes and proclaimed that his Father’s house had been turned into a den of robbers. So it is that in ways both subtle and bold, Jesus challenged both political and religious leaders.
      That is why the entrance into Jerusalem that day was also a funeral procession. All that he had been saying and doing for three years that challenged the status quo culminated in Jerusalem that week, which we call holy. Before Jesus entered the city, he told his followers three times that he would die.
     His words are clear: he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed.” (Mark 8:31) This protest parade will lead to a funeral.
     As the donkey steps onto the path, and people struggle out of their cloaks to lay them on the ground, while others cut branches from the trees, and the first shout of “Hosanna” is heard, it is a momentous moment.
     Listen to commentator Scott Hoezee’s description: “…the world, indeed, the cosmos, was teetering on the brink of the most momentous event since the Big Bang. The very Son of God was about to be handed over, betrayed, abused and murdered…. The universe was about to turn the corner from endless darkness back to the Light that just is God. What was at stake cannot be overstated or overestimated. The very hosts of heaven, and maybe of hell for all we know, were quite literally holding their breath to see this play out.” (2)
     Perhaps it should be so for us too, even though we know what happens next. It is not a negative thing, I think, to be a bit on edge as we step out into Holy Week. For we who follow Jesus, this should not be an ordinary week. Perhaps you recall, as I do, that businesses used to close from noon-3 p.m. on Good Friday in acknowledgment of the somber day. I know that will not happen now; there is too much shopping for Easter candy and clothes to be done. But, what if we felt about Holy Week as we would if we were about to do anything significant that is about to happen – like taking a test, going to an interview, sharing a plan known only to you, attending a long-awaited wedding? What if a sense of anticipation engulfed us?
     That is the atmosphere that fits this week that begins with a parade, a protest, and a funeral procession, and has an incredible ending – to which there are mixed responses. Even though we have done this all before, in a variety of ways, who knows what the Holy Spirit will reveal to us this time? So, my friends, take a deep breath and step into Holy Week. AMEN
(1) “Who is Your King” by Gregory Knox, Jones, Mark 11:1-11, April 1, 2012, Westminster Presbyterian Church, www.wpc.org
(2) The Lectionary Gospel: Mark 11:1-11, March 22, 2021, by Scott Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu