A Sermon for Palm Sunday:
The Palms: Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:15-19 The Passion: Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]
We don’t often get to hear the two stories together. They are part of the same story within Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus’ unexpected journey to Golgotha. It just might raise awareness of the unexpected journey that you that we are on. It is a story fraught with mystery (Hoezee). It invites you to confess what is disturbingly mysterious in your life right now.
Jesus’ journey begins on a borrowed colt. Roman soldiers’ commandeered animals for their use, all the time (Keener and Walton). The promise to return the colt makes Jesus’ request different, so, we know this story is different (Perkins). Animals that have never been ridden are often preferred as dedications to God (Keener and Walton). It also reminds Jesus’ disciples of Zechariah’s return to Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9) which draws on Jacob’s last words to his sons assuring them the scepter, the staff of office will never leave Judah (Gen 49:10) (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen, Zech.). Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is deeply steeped in Israel’s history, full of promise.
The people are perhaps aware of the stories. Even if they are not, they shout “Hosanna” they shout “Save us” (Gaventa and Petersen Mark) they shout “Savior” (Lose). Their shouts express their hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations. They are worn out by continual occupations. They want to be welcomed as friends in the promised land. They hope to improve day to day life. There hasn’t much hope for a long, long time. So, they turn to Jesus.
Their expectations are also steeped in history. Throwing their garments in front of Jesus is a reflection of religious festivals and the army commanders throwing their cloaks on the bare steps for Jehu as he had been anointed King over Ahab (2 Kings 9:13) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Perkins)
We are used to this being a triumphal entry. But not so much for Mark. He avoids this sense by keeping the celebration on the road and out of the city (Perkins). A reason that at this early point in the story there is an air of uncertainty (Epperly).
When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes directly to the Temple, takes a look, and then goes to a nearby town because it is late in the day. This is a curious decision given all the effort to get there and it adds to the air of uncertainty. The next thing we hear is that Jesus is at the Temple. Temple is huge covering more than a quarter of Jerusalem (Keener and Walton). It is also prominent in the life of Jews. It is where God lives; it is the only place where you can offer required sacrifices. It is intended to be a house of prayer for everyone (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus’ “house of prayer” is a reference to Isaiah’s proclamation that the foreigner, the eunuch, all those who choose to keep Sabbath and God’s ways, all those who love the name of the Lord, who are God’s servants God will bring to God’s holy mountain, give them a place, a name. God will make them joyful in God’s house of prayer, accepting their offerings and sacrifices because God’s is a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:3-7) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).
Unique to Mark is Jesus keeping anyone from carrying anything across the Temple grounds, probably meaning through the gentile court, which was open to anyone. Not much written about this verse. Still, it strongly suggests that Jesus has authority in/over the Temple (Perkins).
Our story ends with Jesus leaving the city at evening. The prior verse And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). leaves the air of uncertainty even more uncertain.
As we heard, Jesus’ entry captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation. What has worn you out? Where or to whom do we look to save us; to be our savior? Do we, like ancient Israel did, ask for a King “to fight our battles for us” (1 Samuel 8:20)?
Jesus and his disciples are not the only visitors in the Temple. It is Passover, Israel’s biggest festival. Jerusalem is crowded, they had to leave town to find lodgings. Would you leave home, journey across the county, the state, the country, the empire for a Holy Week or for an Easter pilgrimage (Perkins)? Jesus’ presence in the Temple assures you that you are welcome, there, or where ever you are, whoever you are, just as you are. It is an extension from Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the 1st Temple (2 Chron 6:32).
Bruce Epperly notes that Philippians invites us to look at our all our decision-making in terms of relationships rather than power (Epperly). Do you, do we seek salvation on our terms, or are we willing to be transformed by our relationship with God? Are we willing to acknowledge that Rome, or China, or Russia or whoever they are is not the threat to our lives? Are we ready to confess that we ~ are the threat to our lives (Lose)? Even as we seek safety from the many forms of harm others may do, or seek to do us, will we confront our own complicity in violence and injustice, so that our relationships with them may be healed? Will we accept the need for our own thoughts, known and unknown about other people, money, and social bounds to be transformed, so that we don’t give in to demonization and so that our relationships with the others may be healed (Epperly)?
Since the moment of our baptism, our confirmation we have been wandering through the wilderness. We call our journey many things. We seek all kinds of individual, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual forms of shalom to make us whole. We have just heard the story of one pilgrimage to a point of shalom. We have witnessed through holy writ the first step of the final commitment. Today begins Holy Week. Today you are invited to commit to entering the shadowed valley (Ps 23). The goal is freedom from the continual devilishly appealing whisper that You too can be like God. The uncertainty challenges our wisdom, our belief, our trust. Today the beginning of your pilgrimage is right here, right now.
Cox, Jason. Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday (B). 25 3 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 11:1-11. 25 3 2018.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lose, David. Palm/Passion B: Cries, Confusion, Compassion. 25 3 2018.
Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.
Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.