Sermon Summary 4.10.22 "Palms and Passion"
It’s easy to join the parade. It’s harder to follow Christ through the week that is coming. Journeying from Bethany, where he had called Lazarus out of the tomb, with a crowd that that witnessed that and some of his other signs singing praises, Jesus makes a deliberate entrance to Jerusalem.
The Passover is approaching. The great Jewish festival celebrating their liberation from Egypt. A dangerous time for a people now dominated by Rome. Jesus rides a donkey down the Mount of Olives, at the foot of which is the Garden of Gethsemene that we will visit later in the week. Across the Kidron valley and up the winding road to the Golden Gate of the Holy City leading to the Temple. He approaches, intentionally claiming and fulfilling the words of the prophets of old. We quoted Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
And what kind of King is this? Zechariah 9:10 continues “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations…”
This parade is an intentional act. It is a political action. It is a theological action. Numerous other prophetic texts are evoked - from Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Jesus knows what he is doing and where it will lead.
See, as I mentioned - the Passover was a nervous time for the religious and Roman authorities. It was a time of frequent uprisings. To counter that, Rome would march a legion into Jerusalem to intimidate and control the population. They would go in near King Herod’s fortress from the west and take up stations around the city, including Fortress Antonia near the Temple. The officers would ride on great stallions, the soldiers pounding their shields, banners and war eagles raised high. The might of Rome on display - proclaiming Roman Imperial theology. Caesar is the Lord and Savior and the creator of peace. Peace comes from violence and war that lead to victory which leads the Pax Romana - the peace of Rome. And indeed, Rome had united much of the known world under that and created a great civilization - roads, cities - the empire can always justify itself, but it was all based on a system of fear and domination.
But Jesus proclaims a different way. Jesus enters, riding a donkey, from the east. "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." "The Son of David." "The King of Israel." See how these titles - words we take for granted, would have been dangerous claims in Jerusalem the days before Passover? Proclaiming Jesus as King, Lord, Savior - these are direct challenges to Roman rule.
Yet Jesus comes in humility. He comes proclaiming a peace not based on domination but on love. Service and nonviolence lead to justice which leads to Shalom. Not just the absence of violence but the presence of wholeness - God’s justice and peace in which the prophets proclaimed each one would have their own vine, their own shelter, and no one would make them afraid. Jesus’ entrance is a rebuke to the Roman authorities and their collaborators in the Temple.
John tells us that some Greeks wished to see Jesus - they are Hellenistic Jews, also come for the festival but differing in language and custom. Jesus uses this prompt to announce that "the hour has arrived." Remember the wedding at Cana when he said “his hour was not yet here.” - Now the hour has arrived! Jesus gives a parable that "unless a grain dies and falls to the earth it remains a single grain - but if it falls it yields a great harvest" God’s abundance is revealed. We - the church - are that harvest and, Jesus says - “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
Again, many prophetic scenes from Old Testament, all the way back to Moses, are evoked - but I want to turn now to our reading from first part of John 12. Before the entrance to Jerusalem - Jesus is again in Bethany, with Martha and Lazarus... and their sister Mary. One of the things I cherish about the gospels is how often the disciples admit that they didn’t understand, that they fell short. But not all of them.
Mary - who we remember sitting at Jesus feet learning - as a disciple affirmed in that role by Jesus - and who professed belief in Jesus’ divinity even before her brother was called forth from the grave - now sees what Jesus is doing. She understands where the path leads and she takes the opportunity to prepare his body for burial. She takes an expensive jar of perfume, breaks it open and anoints Jesus’ feet. It is a spectacle. It is unseemly.
Judas objects - “could not this have been sold for 300 Denari and the money given to the poor?” Now - it’s easy to hate on Judas. He’s the bad guy, after all. John even tells us he’s a thief out for his own gain… but if we’re honest, we habe to admit we have a bit of Judas in us. This is an extravagant waste. A Denari is about a day’s wage. 300 Denari is akin to a year’s salary! What would we give a year’s salary to?
But Mary is giving more than this. Mary is giving her all. She sees her savior, she sees what is coming, and she is all in.
The powers that be are beginning to see what is happening, too - and they plot to stop it. They think that if they kill Lazarus and Jesus that this movement will be stopped. And they are not entirely unreasonable in that assumption. History is full of messianic and resistance movements that scatter once the leader is killed. The Roman practice of crucifixion was developed for just such deterrence. To control populations through violence, fear and domination. But Jesus’ movement isn’t like the others. We gather in worship because in some small way we understand what Mary understood. This is about the fullness of God become flesh, breaking the binds of sin and even death.
While we may wrestle with the Judas part of ourselves - there is a Mary part of ourselves that is ready to give our all, to see the holiness Christ offers, to become children of Light.
This Holy week is an opportunity to sit with Jesus sat the table, to sit at his feet to listen again to his lessons. To walk with him into Gethsemane; into Golgatha; into the tomb, confident that suffering and death do not have the final word. That the holiness of the kingdom of God does. That light and life overcome darkness and death. That’s what I believe. Thanks be to God.
Remember - you have an opportunity to go deeper this Holy Week. Thursday at 7pm we will celebrate the last supper with Holy Communion (using real bread) - and we will hear John 13’s account of Jesus’ call to emulate his humility and service. Then on Friday we will gather again and share selected readings from John 17, 18, and 19 - acknowledging the way the disciples denied and scattered while Jesus’ took our sin upon himself in suffering and death. We do this that we might see every more fully the depth of God’s love and thus truly become Easter people!