I used to preach Palm Sunday sermons. It’s been so long since I did that I don’t really remember when I stopped. I know that many of you have heard the story of why I stopped already, but I guess I wanted to tell it again.
Early in my ministry I was determined to let Palm Sunday be Palm Sunday. None of this “slash” stuff for me. We needed to focus on the Triumphal entry. The passion of Christ would come during the holy week services - Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. That would get us in the proper frame of mind, the proper spirit to really experience - not to mention, really need Easter. So, The Passion never appeared on Palm Sunday.
Until I started paying attention to what people were actually doing. Or not doing, in this case. The crowd for Thursday and Friday was significantly smaller than the Sunday crowd. Which meant that many folks were going from Palm Sunday to Easter, from a parade to a party without the passion in between. Without walking alongside Jesus as he let his love for us fall like great drops of blood.
So, I gave up preaching Palm Sunday for Lent. And never picked it up again. Many have commented on how moving the reading of the Passion story is for them. And many others over the years have told me that Easter was different for them because of my surrendering of the Palm Sunday sermon in favor of telling the passion story. I don’t regret it in the least. But I sometimes feel like I give Palm Sunday short shrift. So, I decided to dust off a Palm Sunday sermon from the way back machine and put it here for you. It’s a little longer than my usual bible study, but on the other hand it is a full sermon. What I preached once upon a time, and might preach again if you all would promise me you’ll be there on Thursday and Friday without fail. ... Didn’t think so. I understand, really I do. Life is busy, we can’t all the things we want to do let alone the things we think we should do. Besides it is a powerful story that needs to be told.
At the same time, I miss the parade. So, here is a sermon from when you were a kid (not really) about Palm Sunday.
Mark 11:1-11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
I have always wanted to be in a parade. I don't know why really, it's just one of those things. Of course, what I would do in a parade is anybody's guess. I don't really meet the criteria for Rose Bowl or Homecoming Queen or any other royalty for that matter. Although, I can do the requisite parade wave. It is one of my few talents. But I don't get much opportunity to exercise it. Which is why I decided to talk about parades today. Just so I could wave like this for a while.
La Donna came in while I was working on this and told me she had been in lots of parades. Oh, thank you very much, just rub it in. The girl scouts, apparently, used to march in the Memorial Day parade in South Bend. I forgot to ask if she got to wave. She then proceeded to tell me that I couldn't be in the Easter Parade because I didn't have a bonnet. But I told her that I wasn't talking about the Easter Parade because it wasn't Easter yet. I was talking about the Palm Sunday parade. "There's no such thing as a Palm Sunday Parade," she told me and then on her way out of the room she offered to make me a bonnet, if I wanted her to. No thank you.
And there is too a Palm Sunday Parade. Isn't there? Of course there is. In fact Palm Sunday itself is a parade. And according to Mark that's about all there was to it. This little parade down the streets of Jerusalem. No floats, no marching bands, no Spider-Man balloons, no homecoming Queen, no royalty at all, just a guy on a borrowed donkey. Not much of a parade, I guess.
But that was the whole deal. That's all there is to Palm Sunday, a ride into town. Hardly worth getting so excited about, it would seem. It does make a nice entry into holy week, I supposed. It gets us ready for the real show that begins later. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter. Those are the real parades. Palm Sunday is just a road trip, just getting from there to here. There's no such thing as a Palm Sunday Parade.
Jesus always wanted to be in a parade too, it seems. Why else would he orchestrate this one? Palm Sunday was planned. Remember, he tells his disciples to go into town and bring a colt for him to ride into town, and he even tells them what to say if anyone tries to stop them. So off they go, worrying about their reputations as they are about to break into donkey rustling, and wondering why Jesus decided he needs to ride all the sudden when walking has been good enough for him up to now. But they do as they were told being experts at not quite understanding what was going on. And sure enough there is the colt, just like he said. They untie it and start to lead it back to him, when someone, maybe the owner of the animal says, "hey, what're you guys doing?" And the disciples look at each other and back at the donkey like they were trying to remember how it go there, and then one of them remembers what they were supposed to say, "The Lord has need of it and will send it back here as soon as he's through." With the emphasis on sending it back. Borrowing always sounds better than stealing. They wait to see whether the owner of the colt is going to call the cops or raise a fuss or shout for the neighbors. But he doesn't. He just says, OK, and let's them go. Now, I don't know. Maybe it was the way it was said, or maybe he decided that they looked too simple to be pulling a fast one, or maybe he was a secret follower of Jesus and would have done anything to help, or maybe Jesus had arranged the whole thing ahead of time. But off they go, with this unridden donkey, casting a few backward glances to make sure the owner wasn't drawing a bead on them as they left.
They got it back to Jesus, made a saddle out of their clothes and off they went. One unridden donkey, now carrying a rider, a rabbi from the country, and twelve guys wondering what in the world was going on. What a scene it must have been. And yet as they drew nearer to the city, a crowd began to gather. A big crowd or a small one, we don't really know. But either way it was a loud one. They saw him coming and they began to shout. And not just shout, but to pull off their coats and jackets and began to toss them onto the road, to make a red carpet of many colors to welcome this parade. And that wasn't enough they ran to the trees and pulled off branches and waved them around and laid them on the road, all the while shouting, shouting at the top of their lungs, shouting their hopes and their prayers and their joy in the recognition of the answer to that prayer riding on a donkey. What a scene it must have been.
Because this was the moment, you see, where Jesus decided that it was time to make his claim. That's what was going on here. It wasn't that Jesus though riding would be a pleasant change from walking. There was something more significant going on here.
I remember once talking to a young man about faith and church and after listening to me for a bit he finally said, "well, I don't do religion." You know, like "I don't do fish" or "I don't do country music." "I don't do religion." Oh.
Well, Palm Sunday was when Jesus decided to do Messiahship, or Messiahdom. It wasn't enough for him to say "Hey, by the way, I am, you know, the one." No it was time to make that claim in a way that everyone would understand. It was time to risk his life by telling the world who he was.
By choosing a donkey to ride on Jesus was not humbling himself in the way that we would suppose. The donkey was not the symbol of slow, stubbornness that it might be today, fit only for grizzled prospectors who have been out in the sun too long. No, in this culture the donkey was a noble beast and a ride fit for kings. But, you see, a king would ride a horse only when he was going off or returning from war. The king on a horse was a sign that blood was to be shed and enemies to be vanquished. On the other hand, when the king rode a donkey it was a symbol of peace. So Jesus announced himself as the king of peace. And the people; the poor, the hurt, the lost, the lonely, the hopeless, the sinner, they saw and heard and they got the message and for a moment at least they were moved to praise this king of peace. Blessed is the one who comes, the one who comes was the awaited one, the Messiah. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. But it wasn't just praise that they shouted that day. It was a plea, it was a prayer, Hosanna, they said with as much hope as they could muster, Save us now. Bring us peace, bring us wholeness bring us a way to live that we might join in this parade with you always. That's what the shouting was about - that they might be able to get on board, to march in time, to ride with him in this parade for peace.
We love a parade. I remember watching a parade a number of years ago. It was while we were in Yell County, Arkansas, serving two little country churches for a year. It was an interesting time, to say the least. As La Donna says, Yell county, Arkansas was not the edge of the universe, but you could see it from there. But one fall day, I found myself in the country seat town getting ready to watch the homecoming parade. The whole town was there, either in the parade or watching. There were decorated trucks and wagons, a whole pack of kids on bicycles with paper streamers, some horses and carts, the high school marching band was there, the football team and homecoming queen and her court. And I stood there watching with the parents and neighbors who laughed and waved and pointed out their little darlings as they rode by. It was a great day.
Along toward the end of the parade, there was a small yellow school bus. Before it got close enough for me to see what it was, I noticed that it was having an effect on the crowd. It was as if it was traveling in a little cloud of silence. For was it would pass by the smiles and the laughter would stop and the hands would drop. As the school bus came past where I was standing I saw the words "Yell County Special Schools" printed on the side, and out of a back window was one of the school's young charges. She was leaning somewhat precariously out over the road, and waving her arm as if she was trying to get a plane to land. As she drew even with me, she stopped waving and to all of us standing along the road she shouted with some exasperation "Wave!"
My hand was halfway up before I noticed that no one else was waving or even looking at her. And in embarrassment I let my own hand drop. The parade carried her away from me on down the street. I watched her for as long as I could, she was still waving her palm, still looking for acknowledgment, still needing a savior.
It seems an easy thing to do, to wave our palms and join in the parade. But it's not. For one thing it will make us stand out, be different. Most of the world, most of our community doesn't even realize that there is a parade going on. For us to stand and acknowledge the parade is to take a stand against the status quo, to stick out like sore thumbs by shouting for salvation, by admitting we need a savior. We will be different because our values will be different, because what is important to our society will not be important to us. To join in this parade is let other parades pass us by.
And what is worse is that this parade will take us places we may not really want to go. Jesus made his claim to be the king of peace, but the problem was that he was riding into a war zone. If he had to go to Jerusalem the smart thing would have been to sneak in the back door and keep very quiet. But no, facing imprisonment, the lash and the cross, Jesus rode in as the king of peace. And to share in this parade is to share in that suffering.
But still, we love a parade. Because this parade does have royalty, and we know that this is the only one who can save us. This is the only one to whom we can shout Hosanna. This is the only one who can bring us through the darkness of Good Friday and death, that we might meet the Easter light of the risen Son.
So come on and join in the parade, bonnets are optional.