Sermon for Holy Trinity Anglican and Electra St Uniting churches, Williamstown
Palm Sunday – 14th of April 2019
Today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Passover. Like pilgrims throughout time, Jesus’ disciples rejoice as they enter the holy city, praising God for God’s mighty deeds. It is a moment of triumph. Jesus enters on a colt that his disciples are able to take for him from its owners simply by saying that, ‘the Lord needs it’. As Jesus approaches people spread their cloaks on the road under the colt’s feet. At this point I have to make the mandatory remark that in Luke’s version of Jesus’ entrance into the city not only are there no palm branches, unlike in the gospels according to Matthew and Mark there are no branches of any sort. According to Luke today is ‘Cloak Sunday,’ not ‘Palm Sunday’ at all. But while there may be no palms, there is a monarch.
Luke portrays Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the entrance not simply of another pilgrim, but of a king. He enters on a colt that has never been ridden, a colt that has not been used by anyone else and so is suitable for sacred purposes. Jesus’ disciples set him on the colt, an act of homage. The spreading of cloaks on the road for the colt to step on is another act of homage to a ruler. The psalm that the crowd sings as they come into sight of Jerusalem has one small but significant change from the version in the psalter. Rather than singing ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,’ the people sing, ‘Blessed is the king …’
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem the disciples praise God for all that they have seen in the past. But there is no doubt that they are looking forward to a wonderful future in which Jesus will declare himself ruler of the city and the whole nation. The messiah is about to enter his city! ‘Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven!’ the disciples praise God.
But we know what is going to happen in this city. We know that Palm Sunday is the celebration before the storm; the storm is coming. The disciples don’t yet know it, but it is to his death that Jesus is going as he approaches Jerusalem.
In light of this, the warning of the Pharisees that ends today’s gospel reading makes perfect sense. ‘Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”’ It is possible that the Pharisees warning Jesus are friendly towards him and concerned for him. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is seen to be on good relations with the Pharisees, he visits the house of a Pharisee for a meal, for example, and here the Pharisees address him respectfully as ‘Teacher’. And so, uneasy at the commotion, they warn Jesus that it would really be better if he entered the city more quietly. From our post-crucifixion perspective, we know that they are right. If Jesus had wanted to live a long and healthy life, this was not the way to go about it. This was the way to get crucified.
Jesus ignores their warning. ‘He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”’ The messiah is entering his city. This event is so amazing, so monumental, so central to the history of the world, that the world must acknowledge it in some way. If humans were quiet, the earth itself would shout out in acknowledgement. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Jesus has been advised to take the quiet way, the safe route. He rejects it. Whatever the cost, whatever it leads to, Jesus needs to be true to who he is. As we know, being true to his calling will lead to his death. This demand of integrity, the calling to be true to oneself, is our calling too. In this, as in so many other ways, we are called to imitate Christ.
Here in Australia Palm Sunday has now become as highly politicised as it was in Jesus’ day. This afternoon a march will be held in our city, as it has been held for many years, calling for justice for asylum seekers and refugees. Many of the people involved will not be Christian. Many of them will not have heard a Palm Sunday sermon or participated in a Palm Sunday liturgy this morning. So, is there any connection between Palm Sunday and peace marches? Are we diluting the good news of the gospel by connecting our worship here this morning with taking to the streets in the afternoon?
You already know what my answer is. As Christians we are called to work for peace and justice and reconciliation, and that sometimes means taking that call to the streets. Sometimes it means opposing the civil and political powers, who think that the mandatory detention and off-shore processing of asylum seekers and refugees are acceptable. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king, challenging the religious, civil and political powers of his time. We know how those powers responded. We do not face death, but we are similarly called to challenge the powers of own time. Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ own public and triumphal taking to the streets, is the perfect day on which to do it.
And despite the apparent hopelessness of the cause, the years we have marched while our calls for justice have been ignored, we know that there is always hope. This story does not end in despair. The final act is not the cross. We know that this time next week, we will be celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, God’s justification of all that he did. As Christians we know that our story ends and begins again in resurrection. This means that we can work for peace, justice and reconciliation with complete confidence, because God has already won the victory. All we need to do is encourage the world to catch up to that truth; that there is peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven because of the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Thanks be to God, Amen.