Palm Sunday Sermon for March 28, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for March 28, 2021

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     We began today with palm branches in our hands as a way to remember Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem with crowds welcoming him as their King. It was customary to wave green, leafy branches and welcome their heroes. The people welcomed Jesus with shouts of Hosanna, a demand meaning “Save us, NOW!” King Jesus has arrived! The conqueror has come! Victory was expected. Victory over what? There were some who thought Jesus would gather his followers and lead an armed rebellion against the hated Roman forces. The empire of Rome had taken over their land and many wanted their harsh rule to end. The people were very excited and it was expected God would act to usher in a new kingdom free from any foreign rule. Notice Jesus and his followers were not brandishing weapons as a show of force. Jesus was not arriving in a chariot but on colt, and tradition has this pictured as a young donkey. Jesus wanted to be recognized as king, but not the usual show-off violent kind. Jesus told his disciples earlier that he came to be a servant. But no one understood.

But there was an exception. Jesus was a guest at the home of Simon the Leper when an unnamed woman came in with a jar of very expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head. She understood Jesus as a servant king and anointed him, but also a funeral preparation. Her action was one of tenderness and compassion, but some of Jesus’ followers had a conniption fit. The ointment was costly and could fetch a tidy sum in the market. The argument ensued that the money could help the poor. But now it was all wasted on Jesus’ head. Shame on that woman! Jesus intervened immediately telling the critics to stop bothering her. She understood. Jesus said “She has performed a good deed for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness whenever you wish. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” She has done what she could to bring comfort to Jesus. When it came time for his agony on the cross there will be no one to bring him any comfort.

Jesus commanded that we remember her. We don’t have a name but that does not matter. We remember her when we are kind in small but important ways. Jesus did not diminish the importance of helping the poor when he said “The poor you will always have with you.” Churches are very good at helping the hungry, for example. But Jesus gave those important words “but you will not always have me.” May we not take our family and friends for granted. We will not always have them. People close to us may be dealing with problems and dearly wish someone to anoint them with listening and understanding. Such ointment is priceless. Life has a way of becoming busy and it is tempting to have only good intentions but no actions. May we continue to show and share love for those close to us. May we learn how to sustain the weary with a word.

The scene in the garden of Gethsemane revealed the anguish in Jesus’ soul. Jesus told his followers he was deeply grieved, even to death. Please remain with me and keep awake.” Another translation puts it this way, “He plunged into a deep sinkhole of dreadful agony.” Jesus knew what was ahead. He knew the authorities wanted him dead and were plotting his capture. On top of that Judas, one of his followers, was ready to sell him out for money and serve as his betrayer. So Jesus prayed. Jesus asked for the cup, the cup of suffering be removed from him, but concluded “Abba, Father, your will be done.” Jesus did not want to be nailed to the cross. But if that was to be, Jesus would be obedient. Prayer would strengthen him. But when Jesus expected support from his followers he found them asleep. Three times they failed to keep awake. But Jesus showed understanding telling them why prayer is important, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Judas will betray Jesus with that infamous kiss. As Mark gave the account you get the impression that Judas led a crowd armed to the teeth with swords and clubs. Judas was the one giving the orders, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” There could have been a great deal of bloodshed for when you have a well-armed mob you never know what might happen. Jesus told them “why are you treating me like an armed bandit, a dangerous insurrectionist? I never tried to hide from you, skulking around trying to escape. I was always out in the open teaching daily in the Temple. I was teaching the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Justice and peace, not kingdom of killing people.

As Jesus offered no resistance all his followers deserted him and ran for their lives. Only in Mark’s gospel do we have the strange detail of a follower losing his clothes and running away naked. Maybe this detail showed the full exposure of the disciples’ failure, their pledge never to desert him.

Jesus was brought before the religious authorities. All kinds of false witnesses tried to accuse Jesus of crimes deserving death. All the while Peter is outside lying that he ever even knew Jesus. He even swore and oath that he be cursed if he was telling lies. But as Jesus knew and predicted the rooster crowed after Peter denied him three times. Peter could no longer deny the truth about himself.

When Jesus told the High Priest and the Council that he indeed was the Messiah, the Son of God, they accused Jesus of the crime of blasphemy, calling himself divine, and they condemned him to death. But they needed the ruling of the military governor, Pontius Pilate, to sanction the death penalty, death on the cross. Pilate was amazed at Jesus’ silence, his refusal to defend himself. Pilate did not find Jesus’ guilty of crime deserving death, a good whipping would do. But the noise of the crowd became deafening “Crucify him!” Pilate gave the order, but not before the soldiers had their amusement: putting a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, putting on him a purple cloak, the color of royalty, and mocking him and hitting him. The whole purpose was to humiliate Jesus.

On the cross the taunting continued with the mockery, “He saved others, he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of the Jews come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Jesus cried out. “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me.” Jesus died with a loud cry. Strange happenings were witnessed: darkness covered the land for three hours. Some thought Elijah would come down from heaven and rescue Jesus. Even in the Temple the curtain was ripped in two; earlier Jesus had complained about what was going on the Temple saying, “This is a house of prayer for all people, but you have made it a den of robbers.” At Jesus’ death, the centurion, the commander of the execution detail said of Jesus, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

We heard today the entire Passion according to the Gospel of Mark. What are your thoughts as you heard and contemplated the meaning? It struck me how Jesus was deserted by just about everybody, especially his closest followers, who ran for their lives. Even one of his followers completely turned against him and ordered Jesus’ arrest. What about the priests, elders, and Bible experts at the Temple. Were they not guardians of God’s Word? But they were preoccupied with plotting Jesus’ death. And where was justice from the Roman governor? He ordered Jesus’ crucifixion to please the crowd. Jesus even lamented being forsaken or deserted by the heavenly Father. We might say all of this was supposed to happen to fulfill God’s plan: Jesus’ death would mean the sinless one died for sinners. But I think this text reveals the truth about our human natures: we criticize and bother people; we break our promises and turn against friends, and we know the pain of people turning against us; the church and those in government may be untruthful and self-serving. Jesus was right, “You will all become deserters” and indeed “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

But the reading from the second lesson tells us that the one on the cross was not just the man Jesus. Although he was equal with God, he did not claim special privileges, but became a human being, taking the form of a slave, a servant. He was obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Although Jesus did not want to die, he went to the cross because of his love for the world, his love for each one of us. Jesus experienced human suffering: physical pain but also the emotional pain of feeling alone, and the spiritual pain of wondering why. So we know in our suffering, Jesus understands, Jesus is not aloof but with us to anoint us with his steadfast and hope-filled love. And when we sin and fall short of the glory of God, this does not mean we must be cursed. No curses. No condemnation. Jesus died so we can yes to forgiveness, yes to salvation, yes to the assurance that sins forgiven are taken away and remembered no more. May the story of Jesus passion sustain a weary world, sustain us in our weariness, sustain us with good news of God’s love, forgiven and never forsaken.

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