Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Processional Gospel: John 12:12-16

A reading from the Gospel of John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Five days before the Passover] 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.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Gospel: Mark 11:1-11

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark.. Glory to you, O Lord.

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples 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. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “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!” 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.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


Palm Sunday as the start to Holy Week has never made a whole lot of sense to me. Even as a kid, I got Advent and Christmas—we wait together for the birth of Jesus, lighting candles in the dark; Jesus is born; and we all celebrate. That makes perfect sense.  

But Palm Sunday? In the Roman Catholic Church where I grew up, we would celebrate Palm Sunday, with all the people lining up, each with our palm branch, and we would walk into the sanctuary, waving those palms, as we all sang, “All Glory Laud & Honor” In the moment, it was pretty cool. But that Palm Sunday celebration then led into Holy Week, and back to church on Maundy Thursday, there was this ominous communion service, which led into the outright brutality of the Good Friday story. And then Easter, suddenly, it was time to celebrate all over again.

About the third year I experienced this (maybe 5th or 6th grade), we lined up on Palm Sunday, again with our palms. We marched in, with everyone singing, “All Glory Laud & Honor.” And I thought, “Um, does anyone here remember how this story goes?” Though I wouldn’t have used this word then—the whole experience had a certain amount of foolishness to it. Why would anyone tell a story like that?


In the Gospel of Mark, here’s how the story goes:  This year, we’ve been traveling with Jesus from the beginning—from his baptism and the moment Jesus begins his ministry, saying:  “The time is right. The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the Good News.” And we’re off…Jesus teaching and healing, finishing one thing, immediately moving on to the next.

We pick up the story today as Jesus makes his way and toward Jerusalem, the center of political and economic power—joining the pilgrims who are traveling there for Passover. As he stands on the threshold of Jerusalem, he prepares to enter in. Jesus says to two of his disciples, “Go into the village and find me a colt—a donkey—you’ll find one tied up—one who has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. And if anyone asks what you’re doing, just tell them “the Lord needs it.”  They go, find the colt, just as Jesus said. Sure enough, someone asks them what they’re doing; they tell them the Lord needs it, and they let them take it. Just like Jesus said.

The disciples put their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on. And as Jesus rides in toward the city gate, amid the Passover pilgrims heading into Jerusalem, the crowd begins to line his way with their cloaks. They gather leafy branches that they gather from the fields. And they begin to shout over and over: “Hosanna! (which means “Save us!”) Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” And Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem has—rather strangely—become a triumphant royal procession. That’s what everyone would have seen and known. This is how conquering kings or emperors enter a city they now rule. And here Jesus is—like a king—processing in on a donkey? It’s a strange scene.

And then, the Gospel of Mark says that Jesus enters Jerusalem, goes into the Temple, he looks around at everything, and it’s late, so he heads back out of Jerusalem, back to Bethany where he is staying for the night. That’s it. For now.

And that’s strange too. Jesus makes this triumphal entry. Goes to the temple and looks around. And then goes home for the night. That’s strange for the Gospel of Mark. In Mark, the action is nonstop—one thing happens and then another—Jesus does this, and then immediately does this, and then immediately does this.  But here. Jesus stops the action, and takes a look around. It’s different from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew where there’s no pause—no break in the action—the triumphal entry leads into the clearing of the Temple and then relentlessly on to the cross. But here; Jesus stops the action, and takes a look around.

I’d never noticed that before: In the moment between Palm Sunday and the rest of Holy Week—Jesus stops and takes it all in. And gives us a moment to do that too. As I puzzled with this story this week, it dawned on me, “Oh, Jesus knows exactly where this story is going.” That’s why he pauses to take it all in. He has been telling his disciples and us all along. Remember? Back when Peter is the first disciple to say to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” Jesus responds, saying “The Human One must suffer, be rejected by the chief priests and scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.” The disciples don’t get it (and are too afraid to ask), but as they go on he’ll tell them again and again—the third time, as they are going up to Jerusalem: “See, we are going to Jerusalem, the Son of Man will be handed over, condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed, and after three days he will rise again.”

And in this strange triumphal entry into Jerusalem—Jesus is saying it yet again.  With his whole self. What Jesus does in this morning’s Scripture is a performative act. You’ve heard “actions speak louder than words”—well, Jesus gives that a try.  Jesus has planned this out. And the Scripture says that it all goes according to plan. The donkey. Just as Jesus said. The people who lend the donkey to the cause. Just as Jesus said. Jesus joins the crowd of jubilant Passover pilgrims, and he turns it into a triumphal procession.

What we see here is a special kind of foolishness. Jesus gets up on a donkey—like a king or a general—and leads in triumph an army of jubilant pilgrims living under Empire, coming to the center of power to celebrate the story of their liberation. He subverts the domination systems of their day, takes their conventions and turns them on their head, and proclaims a new order. Jesus proclaims a reality yet unseen, and, in this embodied moment, makes it so.

Jesus takes his body—and invites the bodies of others—to enter into and occupy public space and proclaim—with their bodies—a new order of liberation. It is performative and proclamation and protest all at once. And we know what this looks like—what a constitutional scholar might call “expressive conduct” or “symbolic speech.”


I think of the Civil Rights marches throughout our country led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think of Gay Pride parades and Black Lives Matter protests where people who have for too long been marginalized occupy public space to say that our lives will no longer be hidden or discounted. I think of moments like these—in the corridors of the Texas Statehouse, or in the entryway of a county Board of Ed in Florida, or in a courthouse in Flint, MI.

This is what Jesus is doing on Palm Sunday, inviting us with his body, gathered with our bodies, to proclaim the Good News he has come to make real change. And we’re not talking only about protest.  

We are talking today about the blessing of foolishness: May God bless us with just enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world so that we might go and do those things that others say cannot be done. When we speak of “foolishness” in this way, we are not talking about foolhardiness, and I want to be clear that we are not talking about recklessness that causes harm to others or to ourselves. The “foolishness” of which we speak is the ability to see and live beyond the conventions and constraints of our day—beyond the powers that hold us back—and, the ability to see possibilities for life beyond those constraints—along with the courage to live that out. This kind of foolishness sees the barriers and then transcends them in ways that others think impossible—impossible until they come to life in us.


Now to be sure, Jesus’ performative act on Palm Sunday is a political act—and most of the examples I’ve drawn from are from political movements. This Scripture is about liberation from systems of domination, as embodied in Jesus Christ and in us.

And it is about more. I want to be clear: What we are a talking about here—ultimately—what Jesus is proclaiming as he enters into Jerusalem—what we are talking about…is Resurrection.  I know by saying that I am breaking convention—we are supposed to save Resurrection for Easter Sunday. But Resurrection is always a present reality for us, right here, right now, all the time. What Jesus Christ did in his life and on the cross, entering into death, and bringing us into new life—once and for all has put an end to the ultimate power of everything that would do us harm—including death—and has established once and for all the reign of God—shattering the constraints and conventions of the powers that used to hold sway.  

Standing on this side of Resurrection, Resurrection is our present reality every moment of every day—in every season of life. What Jesus is doing now is inviting us to live that reality.

We bless the world with foolishness by proclaiming Resurrection with our bodies, on those nights that feel like Maundy Thursday, where sorrow and betrayal are thick in the room, and even so we choose to live lives of compassion and mercy. 

We bless the world with foolishness by proclaiming Resurrection with our bodies, on those days that feel like Good Friday, were we see and experience, sometimes it seems everywhere, injustice, violence, and the oppression of people, and even so we persist in the steady work of justice, freedom, and peace.

We bless the world with foolishness by proclaiming Resurrection with our bodies, when we are present in all that, and still have the imagination to see Resurrection, present here and now, in the midst of us.

After Jesus enters into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, to shouts of loud Hosannas, he goes quietly to the Temple, and he takes it all in. He looks out over the Temple, and Jerusalem—and on into Holy Week, and the struggle, the last heartbreaking supper, the agony of the garden, the arrest, the trial, the cross—Jesus looks out on all that, and beyond that, into Resurrection. He takes it all in.  And he gives us a moment to take it all in too.