Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

An odd triumph

Readings
Philippians 2.5–11
Matthew 21.1–11

Christ is king in the sense of one who leads the church to march victoriously, nonviolently, and even foolishly (riding two donkeys!) into the centre of politics, offering a different vision of God’s will for the world from what any Caesar, ancient or contemporary, has ever offered. Seen this way, waving those palms in worship is not just something the children do as amused adults watch; it is a political act claiming the church’s allegiance to God’s vision for the world. ― O Wesley Allen Jr, in Connections, Year A, Vol. 2

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It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus comes up to Jerusalem, riding not a war horse but a donkey. It’s a scene that has captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Son of God empties himself, humbles himself, and rides to the cross. 

At fourteen, I accepted Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham rally — in fact, it was 52 years ago to this very day (5 April 1968). When I told my dad what had happened, his first reaction was displeasure. He said that Billy Graham had come to Brisbane in a luxury jet; therefore he wouldn’t listed to him. (You have to remember that jet travel was much less common in 1968 — there was even less than there is in 2020!) Dad went on to say that if Billy had come into town on a donkey, then he would’ve believed him. 

You have to unpack that statement a bit. At fourteen, I didn’t and couldn’t. My dad was confessing deep respect for Jesus, while at the same time he held in contempt Christians who didn’t live as Jesus lived. 

When Matthew tells this story, he quotes the prophet Zechariah from Israel’s past. Zechariah saw a king approaching Jerusalem:

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.             [Zechariah 9.9]

But Matthew changes it slightly:

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.

Matthew omits this line: ‘triumphant and victorious is he …’ 

Did I say that’s a slight change? It’s a momentous change. It’s earth-shaking. 

Zechariah’s king rides humbly on a donkey; but he rides to victory over his enemies. 

Jesus rides a donkey too, yet he rides to the cross, to his death. 

Jesus humbles himself, even to the point of death on a cross. 

Yet he is a king. He is welcomed as a king who comes in God’s name: 

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes
  in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

It’s a kind of coronation, but the ones who are declaring Jesus as king are riffraff. People of no importance. 

When the VIPs, the powers that be, get hold of Jesus, they’ll string him up. 

But even on the cross, he will be declared king. Pilate will put a sign over him, saying 

This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Jesus was crowned, though with a crown of thorns; Jesus was enthroned, though on the cross. 

No wonder Matthew omits the words ‘triumphant and victorious is he …’. Yes, the cross is a victory; yet we cannot recognise this victory without the Spirit of God. 

No wonder we who follow Jesus baulk at following him consistently, and invite the criticism of others. 

Holy Week is beginning. It’s a time for us to recommit ourselves to the way of Jesus. So, I encourage you to look at your own life as Good Friday comes. How are you going in following Jesus? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be asking yourself some hard questions. 

But as you examine yourself, remember this one thing: Jesus is the king who saves. We are his, now and for evermore. He will never let us go as we journey with him. Amen.

Streamed from West End Uniting Church 5 April 2020

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The Mind of Christ

Readings
Philippians 2.5–11
Luke 23.1–49

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…the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. — Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

Jesus’ whole life is a life that moves from action—from being in control, preaching, teaching, performing miracles—to Passion, in which everything is done to him. He is arrested, whipped, crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross. All this is done to him. The fulfilment of Jesus’ life on earth is not what he did but rather what was done to him. Passion. — Henri Nouwen, From Fear To Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

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I once spent a week in Timor Leste, East Timor. A week is not a very long time; I don’t claim any expertise in the culture or politics of Timor Leste. But I was there at a very interesting time.

It was February 1998, just over a year before the East Timorese people won their independence from Indonesia. While I was there for this short time, Timor Leste was occupied by Indonesian armed forces. 

I was there to talk with people of the Protestant Church there about my then congregation’s support for young people in tertiary education there. I was with a man who had made the trip several times before and who spoke Indonesian fluently. 

Because I was with him, and also because I am a minister, I found myself in a trusted position. 

I learnt a few things about living under occupation forces that week. Things that Jesus and his contemporaries may have experienced too. 

I learned that while the Timorese people appeared to be relaxed and happy, this was very much a veneer. Their smiles didn’t always meet their eyes. Under the surface, there was a pervasive anxiety that infected everyone. 

I stayed at a hotel in the capital, Dili. There, the staff all belonged to the Indonesian occupying forces. They weren’t in uniform—it was supposed to be a secret—but everyone knew. One day, we were due to speak with some of the locals at the hotel; I started to head for a table in the dining room. My friend suggested we go out into the garden to talk. Why did we go out into the open air? There were bugging devices in the dining room. We didn’t want our conversations recorded by the occupying forces. 

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Which Procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Mark 11.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.
Confucius

  • Our narrator is Zack, a merchant who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; not a believer in Jesus.
  • There is some conjecture in this sermon. Did Jesus and Pilate enter on the same day? It dramatically heightens the tension if so. But even if not, they entered within a few days of each other and the stage was set for the collision of Good Friday.

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

The procession was really majestic and so intimidating! Pilate looked splendid, so splendid he could have been Caesar himself! And the soldiers in their leather armour and the clatter of their swords and the stamp! stamp! stamp! of their feet! And the horses, and the battle standards, and…I looked all over. No Reuben.

Turns out he was over on the east side of the city, at Jesus’ procession. It was that procession he was inviting me to! I didn’t even know about it.

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Which procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Matthew 21.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.—Confucius

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first, I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

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Which procession will you go to? (Passion/Palm Sunday, Year B, 1 April 2012)

Which procession will you go to?

Readings
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Mark 11.1-11

 

It’s a very special day today. Of course, I’m talking about April Fool’s Day. We don’t know much about the origins of April Fool’s Day, but we all know about it. Perhaps some of you have been fooled already.

This year, Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day come together. And the way Jesus entered Jerusalem does look a little foolish, when you compare it to the other parade happening that day.

This other parade came into Jerusalem through the western gate of the city. This parade was the entrance of the governor, Pontius Pilate. He was accompanied by row upon row of armed soldiers in their leather armour. There were horses and battle standards and shiny brass. It was an impressive show.

Every time there was a major feast in the Jewish calendar, Pilate came in from the place he lived in, Caesarea Maritima, and he stayed in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. The population of Jerusalem was normally around 40 000, but there could be an extra 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. So Pilate made sure there was a show of Roman might, just to deter troublemakers.

The Gospels have nothing at all to say about this parade, the parade everyone in Jerusalem knew about. The Gospels tell of another parade that entered from the north side of the city, a ragtag affair with no weapons, no armour, nothing splendid at all. It must have looked pretty foolish. Yet while most people were coming to Jerusalem as pilgrims, Jesus was riding into the lion’s den. (For any Lord of the Rings fans, it’s like he’s riding straight into Mordor.)

So on one side of the city is glitz, glamour and naked power; on another is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t playing some April Fool trick. There’s a message, and the people would have got it.

They would remember a great hero of Israel, the warrior Simon Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem from oppression over 250 years before the days of Jesus. Listen to this account of the entry of the Jews into the city after their victory, and hear how familiar it is (1 Maccabees 13.51):

…the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

People remembered Simon proudly. He was a hero more like Robin Hood than Ned Kelly. Yet now, they had another conquering power with its foot on their throat. Rome was invincible. Here comes Jesus, mounting a counter-entry to Pilate, so they wave their palms and shout their praise. But Jesus is bringing not the way of the sword but the way of peace.

When Jesus comes the people shout,

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom
of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Soon, we shall say,

Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

These words that we say at our Communion services are taken straight from the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus is coming to town, to us, to our hearts, to stay. Something is happening here. But we know how the week ends. It ends on Friday, with a darkened sky. It ends with Jesus crying

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It seems to be a foolish dream.

Which parade would you go to? The one with the swords and the spears and the power, or the one with a man on a donkey who was riding to his death?

You know which one to go to.

 

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Passion/Palm Sunday (Year A, 17 April 2011)

Jesus: emptied of ‘all but love’

Readings
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 21.1-11

 Last week, we sang that wonderful hymn, And can it be. Recall these amazing words from verse 3:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Jesus ‘emptied himself of all but love’. As I’m saying these words, some of you will be hearing the tune in your heads.

Scholars think that the passage from Philippians we read today was originally a hymn, so the Philippians may have also heard the tune in their heads when Paul wrote these words:

Christ Jesus…emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

We have no idea of the tune today; it would sound like a kind of chant to our ears rather than a song. I’m sure it sounded nothing like the tune to And can it be, but the words certainly inspired Charles Wesley.

He left his Father’s throne above…
emptied himself of all but love…

That summarises the first half of Paul’s words very well indeed.

Paul isn’t trying to give us a stand-alone theological explication of the ‘being’ of Jesus. He has a very practical reason for speaking of the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus. Let’s look at why Paul introduces this hymn. He says,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

So the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus is a mind that has something to do with being emptied for others.

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Glory and shame

 

Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday


Matthew 21.1-11; 27.11-54

 

Remember Michael Parkinson, the Yorkshire-born retired talk show host? In his younger years, he was a cricketer, and thought about making a living playing cricket for Yorkshire—every Yorkshire lad’s dream. He was turned down, and the rest is as they say, history. Parkinson’s dad was a coal miner, and Parkie talked about his dad’s attitude to his work on TV. His dad said to him,

  “Tha’s med some right good brass in that job o’ thine, lad.”

    —“Yes, dad, I make a lot of money,” said Michael.

  “An’ yeh nivver even ’ave teh brek a sweat.”

    —“No, dad, I don’t break a drop of sweat.”

  “It’s a right grand job, int it?”

    —“Yes, thanks dad, it is.”

  “But it’s no’ a patch on playin’ fo’ Yorkshire, is it lad?”

    —“No dad, it’s not.”

I suspect that when Michael Parkinson looks at what journalists do to sports figures, he’s not sorry he didn’t became a cricketer. Take the way Andrew Symonds has been in the news that past few weeks. He used to be reminded constantly that he was born in Birmingham, England, that England A wanted him to play for them, and his loyalty to Australia was suspect. We’ve long forgotten that. More recently, he’s a good guy, defending his right not to be racially vilified; then he’s criticised for for his on-field attitude and for shouldering a streaker. 

Successful sports figures live under a media microscope. One week, they’re the public’s heroes; the next, they’re stabbed in the back.

Now, Jesus didn’t play for Yorkshire, more’s the pity. He didn’t even play for Nazareth. But he knew both adulation and rejection, he went from hero to zero, and in the space of less than a week. 

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