Message Manuscript for Palm Sunday, 2015 Mark 11:1-11 John Henson
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015
Did you make it to the Peace March yesterday here in Highland? It was planned by Community Renewal as a response to the recent shootings and violence that have taken place in Highland as well as the one the Friendship House in Cedar Grove. Though I was unable to attend, I helped spread the word on social media and was impressed with all the work that the planners were putting into it: putting up posters in the neighborhood, posting about it on Facebook, and beating the bushes to build awareness. It didn’t just happen by accident. It was, rather, pre-planned to make a bold statement about our neighborhoods in Shreveport. It was intended to point us all to a vision for a new and better way of living together in our community.
We see the same kind of pre-planning involved with the march Jesus made into Jerusalem, as we mark the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. The parade of palms for Jesus didn’t just happen. As Mark describes in his Gospel, it was something Jesus had carefully planned based on his familiarity with his people’s longing for a true king of their own. As he gets closer to the Mount of Olives, Jesus picks two disciples out of the bunch and sends them off to get things ready for the parade. They are to move ahead to the next village and find a colt there, one that has not been ridden, and say to its owner that “the Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.” Can you imagine venturing off with such a plan? Off they went, finding one just as Jesus had said, taking it to Jesus for his ride into Jerusalem. The plan was falling right into place, just as Jesus wanted, just as it had been prophesied in Zechariah (9:9) to take place, “Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus was also planning his entrance as a counter to the one Pilate would be making on the West side of the city. One of the best resources I have found about this is Marcus Borg’s book, The Final Week. What Borg points out is that,
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity.(p.5)
Another insightful observation about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is in a recent book about Jesus, Zealot . The author, Reza Aslan writes the following about Jesus’s palm entry,
And since the Kingdom of God is built upon a complete reversal of the present order, wherein the poor become powerful and the meek are made mighty, what better king to rule over it on God’s behalf than one who himself embodies the new social order flipped on its head? A peasant kind. A king with no place to lay his head. A king who came to serve, not to be served. A king riding on a donkey. (p.143)
So, Jesus wanted to make a bold statement, one intended to cast a vision of a new and better way for the world; one that was an emerging and superior kingdom; one with him as king. He not only entered Jerusalem to be that king, he provided the way for everyone to enter his kingdom.
What difference does this make for us today? Why did we gather outside, wave palm branches, and process into Worship this morning about something that happened over 2,000 years ago? Perhaps the best answer to both of those questions is that we are still in a world in need of better way to live. This is evident as we consider events of the week where, apparently, a pilot takes over a plane and intentionally crashes it and kills all 150 people on board. It is obvious as we hear disturbing accounts of ongoing racism in our country and reports of hatred here in our nation like with the lawmaker in California who was trying to make it legal to stone gay people to death. It is apparent as we hear that there are some 23,000 children in Shreveport-Bossier living in poverty and when a mom and dad can’t make ends meet on $7.25/hour It is a given when we hear of yet another town captured by ISIS or Russia. It is unavoidable when we reflect on the sins of others as well as those of our own. Like the peasants who gathered on the side of the road to cheer on Jesus, we have a need for a new way of living; for a new kingdom to be part of; for a new king to govern us. That’s what we are doing with these palm branches today, recognizing our need, acknowledging the one true king, recognizing our need of salvation, cheering for this one who enters our lives as “Hosanna.”
But we are also recognizing the way that Jesus provides into the kingdom. What we are to understand today is that our participation in building this kingdom/new way of living is required. As we have looked at each Sunday in Lent, following in the way of Jesus is not for people on the sidelines, for “sit and soakers,” for people who want to be comforted and comfortable. It is, rather, for those who are willing to do what their king Jesus has done. It means that we are going somewhere with Jesus in this world. It means that we are no longer walking empty handed but now have crosses we are carrying. We will look more closely at his specific actions during the last days of his life during this next week, but you already know what happens to anyone who sets out to change the world. You already know that there will be opposition, soul-searching, encouragement, criticism, betrayal, and even death. But, you also already know that there will be victory as a result, that the progress of love and life continues and cannot be stopped.
So let us now march on with Jesus, following in his way, working his kingdom into this world.