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Sermon for Palm Sunday - March 25 2018

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year B
March 25, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

I don’t usually preach on Palm Sunday, because reading the Passion Gospel is a lengthy endeavor, and there’s a lot to be said for letting it speak for itself.  Today, I am going to say a few things, to set the stage, as it were, for Holy Week – and, perhaps, to entice you to come to other Holy Week services, when I will be developing in greater depth some of the themes I will simply outline here. 

The first thing I want to call to your attention is the fact that Jesus knows what’s going to happen.  Here I’m not just talking about the suffering the Messiah is to undergo, that he’s already explained to the disciples three times. As you know, they didn’t take this idea in; and who can blame them?  It certainly didn’t meet their expectations of the Messiah as a great prophet and warrior king who would free them from the political rule of Rome.  So they rejected it, all three times he told them about it.

More to the point this morning, though, is Jesus’ knowledge of the little things along the way.  He knew there was a foal of a donkey waiting for him, and he sent two disciples (just as he had sent the disciples out two-by-two) to fetch it; and he knew someone would ask them why they were taking it, so he told them what to respond.

He knew that there was a place for the Passover feast – and he sent two disciples into the city to locate a man with the water jar; and they went and found it just as he had said.

In that upper room, he said someone would betray him – and as we know, someone did; and he said Peter would deny him – and as we know, Peter did; and in the Garden, he said “My betrayer is coming,” and, lo and behold, Judas showed up.

All the details attended to, not just the crucifixion, but every step along the way, predicted and fulfilled.

I find myself wondering, how did he know?  It’s a mystery!

The second issue I want to point out to you is the incredible importance of how we interpret the stories of the Passion.  There are implications here we might not realize, even if we let the story wash over us and fill us with images and sounds and prayers.

There are choices to be made in how we read the story, choices that affect how we respond in our daily living.

For one example, there is a long, sad and unfortunate tradition of blaming all Jews for the death of Jesus – even now.  The crucifixion has been and still is, in some quarters, used to justify anti-Semitism.  And that’s just wrong, not just theologically, but morally and ethically.  And Scripture has been used to justify slavery, and to justify the vilification of people who are not heterosexual.

Here’s another example.  We might conclude that, if we identify as Christians but someone points out that our expression of Christianity is harming them, then we are being persecuted.  We are victims.

That’s backwards.  I’ll be explaining more about what it means to suffer for our faith on Maundy Thursday. 

For a third example, we might conclude that God demands punishment for the sins of humankind.  There are certainly passages in scripture that lend weight to this idea.  It was one of the ways that the people who wrote about Assyria and Babylon interpreted the events that led to exile – and in the case of the Northern Kingdom, the eradication of ten whole tribes of Israel, and it goes something like this: God was angry because the people turned away, and forgot the God who had brought them out of exile in Egypt.  So God sent the Assyrians – after sending a long line of prophets who had all failed to convince the kings of Israel to return – to remove the people from the land the Lord had promised to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. 

But in those stories, we also hear hints of God’s continuing care for the people.  When Jerusalem and Judea were conquered by the Babylonians, Jeremiah the prophet described seeing the Shekinah – the Spirit-essence of God – rise up out of the Temple and disappear into the east.  Many interpreted this event as God abandoning Judea.  But … Babylon was to the east.  And while the Judeans were in Babylon, their faith was upheld; their histories remembered; their stories were written down; and their community sustained.  God was still with them.

On Saturday, at the Great Vigil of Easter, I’ll be talking about another way of thinking about the death of Jesus – not as a punishment laid on him instead of us, but as a gift of grace for our freedom.

And on Easter, we will talk about the implications of that gift. 

Think of it as an onion; we cry as we cut through it, but it is only by peeling back the layers we can get to the center.  This week, in the midst of our tears, we’ll be peeling back the layers of these stories and, I hope, getting deeper each day.