Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

John 12:1-19

Mary Anoints Jesus
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The Plot to Kill Lazarus
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Well there is a lot going on in our Gospel text today. 

  • We have Mary washing Jesus’ feet and Judas scoding her for it. An early example of a man trying to telling a woman what to do with her property.
  • We have the Chief Priests wanting to kill Lazaus because Jesus raised him from the dead and got more followers. An early example of guilt by association.
  • Then we have Jesus coming in on a parade that he doesn’t even want. Jesus wanted to be a good Jew and attend Passover in Jerusalem like everyone else and everyone else wanted Jesus to be their King so he should act like it accordingly, more on that in a moment.

I never thought much of the big implications this had on Jesus when I was growing up. I heard this story on Palm Sunday services in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. I was just excited that we got palms to wave around and then we had something to do during service as we made crosses out of them and took them home.

That is until I had 2 experiences that changed how I will forever see this event of Palm Sunday. Feb 5, 2006—My Ordination Day & June 10, 2017—My Wedding Day. These are 2 days of my life that will have everlasting memories, but they are also days filled with really high expectations. 

I’ll start with the wedding- certain people are invited; things go in a certain order; certain things are said; certain people speak…it’s just a whole lot of this is done this way, that is done that way. 

Since I had been married before and officiated at many weddings I made it a point to ask Laura along the planning process…is this what you want to do? This day is about us so let’s make it as much about our love for each other as we can. Hopefully those were wise words.

My Ordination was a whole different situation. I was the one being ordained but there were a lot of people there for the show. I was getting frustrated with all the planning of my Ordination service at my home congregation in Logan, OH. I felt completely lost in what this day was going to be. I’ll finish the rest of this story later, but let’s just say I know what Jesus was feeling like with other people’s expectations.

The crowds have been trying to make Jesus their king for a long time now. The crowds by the side of the lake started it all. When that crowd saw the sign that Jesus had done—feeding five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish—they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

This word spread as the crowd’s enthusiasm for Jesus grew. They decided to coronate him on the spot, and Jesus knew it. “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15). The crowd wanted to make Jesus their kind of king, and Jesus wanted no part of it.

In our reading, the crowd came up from the country to purify themselves for the Passover festival has the same idea. They want to make Jesus their kind of king. The crowd hears that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem. And they are preparing for a Davidic-like fight with the Romans.

We know that the chief priests and Pharisees have already decided to kill Jesus, because Jesus is drawing crowds. They’ve decided to kill Lazarus too, because they need to eliminate the living evidence of the sign that Jesus performed by raising Lazarus from the dead. So the word is out that the religious authorities are looking for Jesus. For Jesus to show up would be a direct, in-your-face challenge to their authority. And the buzz on the street is that Jesus is coming.

So the crowd arms themselves with palm branches and goes out to meet Jesus, singing his praises. Once again, the crowd wants to make Jesus their kind of king — their expected, national, political messiah. 

And once again, Jesus will have no part of it.

But before we move on to what Jesus does, let’s take a moment and reflect on how we seek to make Jesus our kind of king. If we take this narrative seriously, that’s what we are doing when we wave palms on this Sunday. No one waving branches in the crowd wanted or expected Jesus to go willingly to the cross. If they had come up from the lake or over from Bethany, they were looking for a miracle-worker. If they were waiting for Jesus’ showdown with the authorities, they wanted and expected a revolutionary to overthrow the status quo.

This crowd is not the only one to lay their expectations on Jesus. We are happy to wave palms and sing his praises as long as Jesus is our kind of king. So, what expectations do we lay on Jesus? Perhaps that he will—or won’t—be political. Perhaps that faith will lead to earthly success.

A bishop once told me, one of the expectations of Jesus that I hear most often is that, though Jesus may not save every ELCA congregation, Jesus will certainly save ours. There are some people in here and listening today that have had their churches close, or in my case my home church in Logan—where my Ordination was held—left the ELCA and went to another branch of Lutheranism. So what are your expectations of Jesus? We need to be clear that, as we wave the palms and sing hosanna, we are joining the crowd in celebrating our expectations. The least we can do is to know them and name them.

And guess what?…Jesus will have no part of meeting our expectations. Jesus will have no part of being our kind of king, because Jesus is committed to being God’s kind of king. And it may not sound like it, but Jesus being committed to being God’s kind of king is great because humanity has never known what it truly wants.

No, Jesus doesn’t withdraw to the mountain. He knows that his hour has come to die. He said so in Bethany, after Mary anointed him. Jesus said, “She bought [the costly perfume made of pure nard] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). Jesus does not flee from the crowd’s acclamations. He enters the city.

But Jesus enters the city with a twist. Jesus enters the city seated on a young donkey (12:14). Jesus corrects the crowd’s expectations—and ours—using a prophecy from Zechariah (9:9). “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15). Jesus comes seated on a donkey, not riding or mounted on a war chariot. Jesus comes humbly, not dolling out miracles. His gesture makes clear that Jesus is a king, but not the king we expect. And the disciples only understand this after Jesus is glorified on the cross (John 12:16). 

I wonder. As Jesus passed by, seated on a donkey, did the palm waving stop and the crowd go silent as they breathed in the sight? Or did the crowd wave even more furiously and cheer even louder in an attempt to convince—even will—Jesus to be their kind of king?

And what of us? As we wave our palms, would we dare cease our waving and allow our palms to fall to the ground, as a way of releasing our expectations of the kind of king Jesus should be?

When we do, we are free to enter with joy upon those mighty acts by which God has given us abundant, eternal life. Perhaps the best thing we can give up for Holy Week is our expectations.

One of the last times I was home between Christmas and New Years was 2005, right before my First Call. I was whining to my mom about all this hard work I’ve put in and Ordinations don’t happen every week, but it wasn’t going to be about me. When she quielty, calmy said “you’re right it’s not about you.” My mom is called the Queen of Perspective, but this was even kind of harsh for her. She went on, “this is a huge deal for a lot of people; your dad and I, your family, your friends, congregations you have served, your home congregation…because these don’t happen every week.” “You are a part of something so much bigger now and you’re going to have to learn to share. Your time, your heart, your love of Jesus, all of it.”

So I decided to have little pieces of that day be mine whether other people knew it or not. 

The Steelers were in the Superbowl so I had friends that were Steeler fans wore black and yellow; I had a Reformed Anglican Bishop and a Methodist pastor in my clergy section before we made Communion Agreements with them. I did what I could to make those events feel like me.

These were both wonderful days, and they gave me some insight to what Jesus was going through with meeting other people’s expectations. But in the end what made them so special was sharing them with God and the company gathered physically and in spirit. Events do make memories, no matter who they are intended for.