First Congregational Church
March 28, 2021
From all Four Gospels
“The Palms and the Passion”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In all the world, there is really only one Palm Sunday joke. So apologies for repetition. It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Annie stayed home from church with her mother. When the rest of the family returned home, they were carrying palm fronds. Annie asked them what they were for.
“People held them over Jesus’ head as he rode by on a colt,” her father explained.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” Annie fussed, “the one Sunday I’m sick and Jesus shows up and offers pony rides!”
Before we get into the weeds of this morning’s scripture, a couple things. The first one is to draw your attention to the half-page bulletin insert this morning - the side with the map. As we enter into this holy week, I’m thinking that we don’t always get a grasp of how things related to each other.
So on the map, there are two cities that sound very much alike: Bethphage and Bethany. Not only do they lie so close to each other, they are within walking distance to Jerusalem, as in one way - was halfway - from here to Benzonia. The reason I point this out is that at we may not get all the back and forth walking that accompanied all that transpired that last week, which, of course, required additional energy for all involved.
The second part of of the insert is the timeline of Christ’s last week - beginning on the other side - with what would have been this past Friday in our week. Just days before this timeline began, Jesus had raised his best friend, Lazarus, from the dead.
Not on this insert is the description that the Greek author Plutarch gave us on how Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, who won a decisive victory over the Macedonians, returned to Rome - a triumphant procession that lasted three days.
The first day was dedicated to displaying all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had plundered. (Interesting that art was so valued even then.) The second day was devoted to all the weapons of the Macedonians they had captured. The third day began with the rest of the plunder borne by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. This included more than 17,000 pounds of gold coins. Then came the captured and humiliated king of Macedonia and his extended family.
Finally, Aemilius himself entered Rome, mounted on a magnificent chariot. Aemilius wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold. He carried his laurels in his right hand and was accompanied by a large choir singing hymns, praising the military accomplishments of the great Aemilius.
That, my friends, is how a king entered a city back in the day. But the King of Kings? That’s a different story. There was a crowd, like that for Aemilius. But beyond that, not so much.
Scripture J11:55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. J11:56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” J11:57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
K11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, K11:2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. T21:2, with her colt by her. T21:2b Untie them and bring them to me. 21:3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
K11:4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, K11:5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” K11:6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
T21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: T21:5 "Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
J12:16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
J12:12b The great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. T21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
L19:37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: L19:38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
K11:10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
L19:39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” L19:40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
J12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 12:18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. J12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
L19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it L19:42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. L19:43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. L19:44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
T21:10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” T21:11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
K11:11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Thank you, Jim. As much as we get a slightly different mental view of that day with what has been read, there is still so much more underneath the surface, beginning with the palms. Because we don’t always grasp the political electricity of that time, we don’t necessarily appreciate the palms as part of a rebellion against the sitting king Herod. In fact, they are far more like placards of resistance without words. Hosanna doesn’t mean horray. It means “Save us!” It’s not a cry of triumph but a plea in desperation. Aimed at a leader who can protect us, it becomes an affirmation.
Putting cloaks and other clothing down for the underdog donkey to walk on was much more akin to people underwriting their support of the leader who carried all their hopes of change and betterment. Those very acts were as much joy as life-threatening to their own selves. There is far more passion with those palms than we really understand.
I can’t tell you what the video was about, but sometime on March 18th, I watched a high school student who was appearing before some legislative body, making a case for whatever the subject matter was. Obviously the subject was secondary to this viewer, because what caused me to make a note about that day was this young lady’s passion. She said that her passion was to be a civil rights lawyer because her father’s passion was that whoever wanted to be an entrepreneur should be able to do so. She was well spoken, bright, and you could just feel the energy coming from her for wanting to help people.
This past Thursday I got to attend my first high school basketball game in person in a really long while. So I’d forgotten how Frankfort’s Blake Miller is a real-time video of passion when he gets keyed up - for winning and being part of a team. With March Madness all around us this weekend, there is no shortage of opportunities to see passion in action. Just this morning, Rick Steve’s was interviewing Wade Davis, author of Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Columbia. His passion for the South American country put visiting it on my bucket list.
The question then becomes, what is your passion? What is mine? With just the fleetest of glimpses, I realized that whatever passions I have, they’ve been a little less energetic lately. As always, I say this not to gain any sympathy, but to give space and even permission for others feeling the same way to admit their situations. In any other time, teachers and medical staff, performers and travel industry workers can struggle in day-to-day situations. Throw a little pandemic on them, and it becomes almost a different scenario. There are more than a few folks wishing for the merry-go-round to stop for three seconds, just to take a breath.
And then we are reminded about Christ, and his last week, which he could have avoided with some divine loophole or other, I’m sure. But his passion was people, us, you. He wasn’t necessarily going to slap the gym floor before sprinting from the bench into the game, but he went where he knew he needed to go, even when that path didn’t seem all that bright and sunny.
For some individuals, life hasn’t been all that tough as of late, so for Christ’s passion and last week, there is great gratitude and appreciation for all that he took on on our behalf. For others, hopefully there is some encouragement to keep on keeping on, because just as it was for Jesus, so will it be for us, that it will get better - even better than we can earthly imagine.
Sometimes we need to ask for help with our passions, as Christ did when he asked the disciples to pray with him in the garden his last Thursday night. Okay, so the disciples didn’t do well in their help, but that didn’t stop Jesus from asking. And as he hung on the cross, understandably, potentially a little caught up in his own pain, Christ saw an opportunity to help not only his mother, but the disciple whom he loved. When no one would have blamed him for keeping his mouth shut or focusing on something completely different, Jesus went about his passion for the hearts and souls of people in joining his mother and her new son.
So what’s your passion? Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. “I have but one passion; it is He, He only.” What is it that you are willing to “put down” in your support of that thing/person that you know is right and good? What is it you would wave palm branches at? If that passion is flagging a little, take Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem as your palm branch this week, and allow his determination and passion to inspire yours, as we begin with prayer.
Passionate and Encouraging God, thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for giving us an example of your passion in our Savior. Forgive us when we’ve thrown down towels and tantrums of frustration. Forgive us when we’ve been short-sighted. Empower us in this coming week to meet the challenges that come before us, with the calmness of heart you gave Jesus - and the passion to follow him - that you’ve got all that is needful in your hands. As you are lauded and glory given to you, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.