Palm Sunday // Launch Sunday // Mark 11:1-10 // John 12
Now it’s time for our sermon, our chance to turn to God together and I could very easily make this time all about Salt House. What we’re about, our values, our hopes. But – you can read a lot of that on our website, and much of it is still forming and we’ll continue to discover and form together. Instead, for this time, we want it to be about hearing God, looking to the life of Jesus and what it means for us here and now. And of course in that, you’ll also get a sense of our perspective here at Salt House, too.
So for this time, sermon, we do a full on belly-flop into the middle of Palm Sunday to see what God is doing in all of this. Ok? You ready?
Ok. Picture it. In Jerusalem. It is almost the Passover, the greatest of all the Jewish feasts. People from the entire known world are making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. A holiday that commemorates the first Passover, when God freed the Jews from Egyptian bondage during the days of Moses. Think: the 10 plagues of Egypt, Moses splitting the water of the Red Sea in half. That’s what they’re remembering. …We’re talking about serious holiday traffic: Hundreds of thousands of people were commuting to Jerusalem as they did every year.
But this year as the crowds grew in the city, they had more than the Passover on their minds.... There was a lot of murmuring about Jesus. Word of his miracles had spread and people were looking for him.
In Matthew’s gospel—I find this so interesting—Matthew describes this scene by saying that the whole city of Jerusalem was stirred. The Greek word Matthew uses here is "seismos", which means “shock, quaking, trembling.” From there we derive our word seismic. This city, was quaking.
As Jesus approaches the city, crowds begin to take off their coats and lay them on the ground, they climb tress and cut off palm branches to wave them and throw them down for the donkey to walk upon. The crowd goes wild. …And the people are shouting King, but Jesus does not wear fancy robes, his "mighty steed" is just a donkey. This King’s court is made up of fishermen and hated tax collectors. His parade is nothing but ordinary folks.
Yet no parade, no procession that ever passed through the streets of any city has so set its mark on history as this one. Not even the Seahawk’s parade through the streets of Seattle as Superbowl champions in 2014 has left such a mark – were you there? But only Jesus’ parade, this one, in every detail is known and retold year after year, century after century.
Maybe you are like me and you have heard this Palm Sunday story before. Maybe as a kid. Or maybe you’re new to it. Regardless I know for me, there are a few puzzling things about what is actually happening here, and maybe you feel that way too. The three things I wonder about in this are the donkey, the Hosannas, and yes, the palm branches.
First, the donkey. Because Jesus could have just walked into Jerusalem on that Sunday morning nearly 2,000 years ago. What’s up with the donkey? This is hugely significant.
Israel, God’s people had been waiting to be freed from slavery and domination and abuse from those in power, most recently the Romans. And throughout the centuries, there had been these words and signs and promises that God would come in a final, conclusive kind of way, God would send a Messiah who would throw down the oppressive powers, who would rule as King, and free them once and for all. We hear this woven through the Old Testament. And a donkey would carry this king. As named by the prophet Zechariah 9:9:
“See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The fact that Jesus was riding on this colt demonstrates that He was the Messiah. That’s why our gospel text goes into such detail about two of the disciples going into a village and finding the colt for Jesus to ride upon – seems like Jesus and his disciples are really high maintenance, but really there’s this historic, prophetic significance. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy as the foretold King. So that’s the donkey.
And now: Hosanna! Why are they shouting this word at Jesus? For me, I grew up attending church and Hosanna was one of those churchy words like Halleluiah! A word of exclamation, something we sang a lot. I didn’t think it actually meant anything except maybe a kind of Yay, God! But it actually means something in Hebrew. Do you know what it means? Save. Save us. So we know that the crowd is shouting SAVE US because, yes, they see Jesus as this King who has finally come to save them from high taxes, people taken advantage of, abusive leadership. Help us! Do something! Because they have waited for so long for someone to do something, for freedom to come. And here, here, surely he will do something.
And third, what’s up with the palm branches. Because you’re holding one too right now and why is that? Gives us good reason to ask the question – why?
You see, palm branches are an emblem of victory and restoration. In Revelation 7:9 there’s a scene of what God longs for us to be – all people of every kind together, in one place, wearing white robes, all good, all reconciled and together. And: holding palm branches. The fact that the crowds use these branches for Jesus is to say that he’s the guy to do the job. That’s the branches. Donkey. Hosannas. Branches.
So we hold all of this for us, on this Palm Sunday. Whenever we look at Scripture we put ourselves there in what’s going on – and look around and ask questions. Because we believe that God continues to speak to us, nudge us through the things we find in scripture.
And for us, with what we see going on, if we stand in that crowd one of the questions we are compelled to ask is: for what do we cry out: hosanna? What do we cry out for? What I mean by that question is this: we’ve all got stuff we’d like fixed or taken care of – in ourselves, in our circumstances, in the world. We all are carrying something, living with something that we don’t want. And we each admit that honestly and transparently and not with layers of guilt or shame piled on. But we all need help with something. So for you, where do your deepest hopes lie? What do you long for Jesus to save you from?
This is a huge, vital question. And let’s just name that there are some unhelpful layers of Christian lingo piled on when we use the words, “Save us.” We’re not talking about a God who saves us to follow a bunch of rules and pretend to be something we’re not. That’s not the kind of saving we’re talking about. So. We can take off all the unhelpful layers. And hear this in a fresh, intentional way. That God is love and longs for us to live in that love. If Jesus is who he claims to be – the Messiah, the one who is God come to us in flesh and blood, showing us a way into life and love, then what hopes do you dare to place in him?
I have a friend who is dealing with depression due to the changing circumstances in his life – new job, community, lack of friends. Yeah, Jesus can you save him from that? I have a friend who thought she’d be married and have baby number two on the way by now – but that is not her reality. She’s got a lot of grief right now. Jesus, yes, help her please. Another friend is dealing with ugly stuff in his relationship with his parents. Family stuff is always complicated – so good, but really hard and painful sometimes. Yes, Jesus, let’s save him from that. I got all kinds of stuff I need help with. For example, I am a recovering perfectionist and that gets me into all kinds of problems and self-inflicted anxiety. Yeah, Jesus, can I get a little help with that?
Where is your pain, your grief, your longing? This kind of question is the very kind of thing that we are invited to pay attention to during Holy Week. Holy Week is the final week of Jesus’ life, and we live through it every year from Palm Sunday to Easter. And part of the challenge for us during Holy Week is actually hear our story in this – that it’s personal, the story of all the ways in which we, too, have longed and grieved and hoped (like that crowd) – the pain of our lives and our world – to hear it within Jesus’ story. There are many ways to do this and here is one that I want to suggest for us.
I want you to pay attention to the honest, raw, angry, hurt, longing, dreaming places within you. And name them. Or at least one. Maybe your life doesn’t look like what you expected. Name it. Or you need a new job, or have a broken relationship with a dear one, or there’s betrayal or addiction or grief that is slowly killing you. Name it.
Name it. And let yourself get wrapped up in Jesus’ story as your story. Again, we come, like the crowds on Palm Sunday, with all kinds of hopes and frustrations, with sorrow and fears, and we have a glimmer of hope that maybe Jesus will be able to do something about it. But the only way it’ll happen is by letting our story become enfolded in Jesus’ story during this week. Let this story enfold you.
We also, like the crowds on Palm Sunday we will likely be surprised by what may happen. That Jesus, is not necessarily what we expect him to be. Think about it: what do the crowds cry out for? A political rescuing, political salvation. Freedom from oppression under the Romans. That is not exactly what Jesus gives them. There was no bloody fight, no coup, no display of power and domination.
In fact, if we look at what happens next, immediately after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, what does he do? I like to think he climbs down off the donkey and Judas grabs Jesus for a quick selfie holding palm branches. Yeah, Dawg, that was awesome!
But no. In John’s gospel what happens immediately after this is not a celebration. Jesus says: “…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12 (And he goes on but I want us to hear this right here). Sorry, guys. Jesus says. This is not going to go the way you think it’s going to go. With this seed talk Jesus of course is talking about his own death that is only days away. The shouts of Hosanna will so quickly turn to, “Crucify him! Execute him.” But this seed talk is not only about his death. He’s saying to his disciples then and we hear it for us now: the way to life and freedom from this stuff we carry is not through power and achievement and working harder or even thinking your way out – it’s not about muscling through something. Your grief and pain can only become something if you let it go, falls to the ground and dies.
Alright. Thanks a lot Jesus. That sounds really fun. I’ll get on that. So what the heck do we do with all of that? Well, to start, we choose to walk through Holy Week, this final week of Jesus’ life and find out what this is all about. On this Friday night at 9:15pm we’ll gather here. We’ll start with some appetizers and wine and beer – as we remember how Jesus gathered like that – with his friends that final time on Maundy Thursday, with wine and bread and each other. Then we’ll move in here and live through Jesus’ story – the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Letting it become our story as we come to the cross.
And it is to the cross that we’ll bring these pieces of our story. The longing, the pain, the hope. To get us ready for that, I invite you to write them down: for what do you cry, Hosanna? Sometime this week, just a sentence or two, or even just a word or two, naming the particular grief or hope or frustration or regret you carry.
I have two things for you to take to help you remember to listen to your life in this way. First, I have a small card for you with this verse from John 12: unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. To take with you – It can fit into your wallet or purse.
Second, I have for you grains of wheat. Wheat seeds. Grab a few or a handful and put them in your jacket pocket or in the cup holder of your car. Please put them somewhere that you’ll see and touch them all week. Oh, yeah. Seeds. To keep you in that place.
This card and these seeds can be a trigger to continue asking: What seeds do I need to let fall to the ground and die in order for something new to be born? Then, write it down.
We begin this week amongst the crowds of Jerusalem, shouting out Hosanna, and we walk this week paying attention to our own hopes to be rescued. Then, we’ll fold our own frustrations and grief and dreams into the story on Good Friday itself. I have no idea what God will do with them. But I do know that when we bring things to the foot of the cross, Jesus’ death transforms them in ways we can’t predict or explain.
We must go through death to reach resurrection. We must let our own seeds fall in order to live into life. This is why we walk the road of Holy Week with an open heart and with Jesus at our side.
As we finish this sermon time and as we’re perched on the dramatic events before us, we take time now to ask: God, what are you saying? How have you been nudged in this time? As the band comes back up I invite you to close your eyes, to have a rare moment of quiet listening to your life and the mercy of God spoken into it.
God, we too are people who need help. Cause us in these days to come to notice and name – without shame or guilt – the places of brokenness in our lives. Give us courage to do this knowing that Jesus has walked the road before and will walk it with us now. We set aside these next few moments now to begin this journey, breathing deeply of your love and grace with us now…