Keeping Up With Jesus: A Palm Sunday Sermon


Keeping Up With Jesus

A Palm Sunday Sermon

Jessica Dixon

Sunday April 8, 2017

First Presbyterian Church

Norman, OK


Matthew 21:1-11 12-17

“All glory laud and honor to the Redeemer king to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas sing.” It's Palm Sunday, a day that we do up with great pageantry and joy, a day that we remember Jesus is triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem. The day we tell the first part of the story of the week of Jesus walk towards a cross on a hill, and an empty tomb. Today we remember that Jesus was acknowledged as the King, as the Son of David, the one sent from God, while he was here with us, this one time by the crowds. Not just his Disciples and those closest to him, but the people of the holy city as well... The day we remember that they understood it all wrong.

Jesus tells his Disciples to go and get the donkey and the colt, so that he might fulfill the prophecy, they make things ready and he enters the city to fanfare. But what comes next? Today’s lectionary text, the first 11 verses of the 21st chapter of Matthew is only the first half of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We leave out the second half because it is far less comfortable, and if we are honest it makes our ‘Hosannas’ ring a bit empty.

In Matthew the rest of the story of Palm Sunday is Jesus enraged flipping tables and calling the sellers of offerings crooks. In the short walk from Bethpage to the Temple, Jesus goes from being a friend and teacher to the disciples, to a long awaited king and prophet to the gathered crowd, to a religious revolutionary in the temple. Can we keep up with that walk?  

In an article from Presbyterian Outlook from 2005 that circulated in my preaching circles this week the author  Kristine Jane Jensen sites  “Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, once wrote that “religion begins in mystery, but ends in politics.”” She goes on to explore how this walk of Jesus that we do up every year, was really a revolutionary act, and not just a religious revolution but a political one. She says of this beginning of the Holy Week story “On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus would have ridden his gentle steed down the Gethsemane Incline, across the Jericho Road, and up the rocky slopes to the city that he loved. He would have entered through the portals of Solomon’s temple and perhaps passed the courts of the gentiles and women, finally coming upon the sight of merchants and bankers exacting exorbitant rates of exchange from the poor. If there had been any doubt of his impending confrontation with Roman and Jewish authorities, Jesus’ scathing rebuke and upending of the money tables sealed his fate. In the few thousand meters between Gethsemane and Jerusalem, the man of mystery became a force that would redefine political power for all time.”

She goes on to say

“Jesus evolves from the patient healer of two blind men sitting by the roadside into a man driven to honor his father’s house by cleansing the temple of those who would debase it by bilking the poor. From the tranquility of the garden he would return to within the week, to the chaotic streets of the city that would break his heart, Jesus was transformed that first Palm Sunday from a man of mystery to a revolutionary.”

In the short space from Bethpage to the Temple, and a thousand feet from Gethsemane to the Temple Wall, Jesus, I am quite certain intentionally or at least consciously, began his walk toward the cross. And his Disciples, the people in the streets, and even the Temple leadership and those he healed there, missed what was happening. The joy and hope of those in the streets, the outrage of the dove sellers in the temple, the righteous indignation of the chief priests, and the anticipation of his closest followers miss that the story being lived out before their eyes, the life they can reach out and touch, is not walking the path of worldly power, kingly privilege, marshal might, or priestly piety as they know it, and as they expect from their Messiah. He has come to be the Lamb of God, he knows what is ahead, and the horror of the coming days.

Would we be able to walk that path with him and know the Truth of God’s way, when those who were there could not?

And can we blame Jesus for flipping tables? He, himself, will be the ultimate sacrifice, supplanting any need for us to have money changers and usurious merchants selling doves and other sacrificial animals in the temple. He gives us what we can not get for ourselves without the corrupting influence of commerce and power. He gives us God’s presence and peace. Knowing what is ahead of him he walks into the temple and kicks out those who make a mockery of what he is about to do. And what do they say? “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they are angry that he would allow children to praise him, even angry that he is living the prophecies.  Missing out at every turn.

If we are paying attention, we realize we know something no one but Jesus knows in this story- we know that he is going to die. Even the Disciples who have heard him say it over and over, hold out hope that it will not happen, and are in denial. But we know, the path he has begun walking begins with ‘hosanna’ and those words on the lips of children and townspeople will turn to ‘crucify him’ before the week is out. They are not able to walk the path he has begun. They become bystanders not to the glory they expect, but instead to simplicity and sacrifice, to peace and justice made out of injustice.

The truth is, we enjoy shouting ‘hosanna’ just like they did. We like it because it is clear. It declares the Lord-hood of Jesus, it makes us feel good to be on the right side of things. But if we cannot bear witness to an upper room, prayer in a garden, betrayal, arrest, torture, and public murder, then we cannot keep up with Jesus. Jesus lives those things alone, for even those closest to him are confused by his words at the last supper, they fall sleep in the garden of prayer, betray him for financial gain and deny that they know him for their own safety. By the time Jesus reaches the cross he really is the Man of Sorrows, but that loneliness, begins for certain by the time he enters Jerusalem to shouts of adulation for they are right, but they do not understand. No one could keep up. We can’t keep up.

So we shout ‘hosanna to the Son of David’ with great joy- and we should, for that is who he is. But we also know the rest of the story once the crowds disburse, once we leave worship. So go into this Holiest of Weeks and remember.

Go into this week and walk the path of Jesus.

Shout ‘Hosanna’ today

      but hear ‘this is my body, broken for you’ on Thursday,

           and shout ‘crucify him’ with the crowd on Friday,

                  and mourn with the women on Saturday,

                         so that you might return here next Sunday knowing the full power of ‘he is          

                              risen’/’he is risen indeed’

Power that comes not only from the joy of God’s redeeming resurrection, but from the whole of the walk of a Palestinian Jew from birth where there was no room for him, to refugee status in Egypt, to Baptism in the Jordan, to teaching and performing miracles as an itinerant Rabbi, to this very moment and shouts of ‘Hosanna’, and on through the horrific, painful walk up Calvary. The grace that comes in ‘hosanna’ are yours today and always, because he walked a path we cannot keep up with, and he did it for us who love him and chase after him even knowing we cannot hope to keep up. Amen.