Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday Sermon - April 1, 2012

Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2, 12-29

Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

Closer to Complete has been our theme this Lent.

And each week we’ve been using the Psalms to reflect on different aspects of what it means to be whole, closer to complete. We’ve talked about Wellness, Justice, Faith, Salvation, Wisdom…..

As we do that, I have learned the ways that I am both whole and not. …we become more in tune with the ways in which we are well, and the ways in which are not. The ways we are faithful, and the ways we are not, the ways we just, and the ways we are not.

The point of this journey was not to criticize, or to necessarily cause guilt or blame. But on the journey toward wholeness, I usually do become more aware of how incomplete I actually am.

By the time we get to Palm Sunday we are ready to for some good news. We are ready for the point in the story when everything will break open, when the good will triumph over evil,  when we can find relief because we know that that we are saved from these imperfections.

Without that journey – Easter Sunday is just another feel good story. That’s why we need Ash Wednesday, a day that reminds us of our own mortality and brokenness. That’s why we need the season of Lent, a time of self-examination and personal transformation.

And I think it’s why we need Palm Sunday.

You may have noticed that the theme for today, thankfulness, was in the bulletin. Often when we imagine Palm Sunday it’s a triumphant scene and so thankfulness felt like a fitting theme. But the more I looked at this story and the more I thought about this entire Holy week, I was afraid the triumphant scene would overwhelm what is about to come. All too often we celebrate Palm Sunday, skip the rest of Holy Week and celebrate again on Easter. When we do that we miss the point of the story. And I plan to see you at the Thursday and Friday services.

So let’s start at the beginning of the week. Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem. It’s kind of a strange scene, people are laying down palms, and Jesus is riding on a donkey. There’s a lot of ways you can talk about Jesus on a donkey. J But the one that stood out to me this week focuses particularly on the crowd.

The Parade started with his followers, the disciples. And as they went along other people saw him and joined in. Most likely because they’d heard about him. They had heard that he had healed people, that he was a great teacher, and they had hope that this was the Messiah that their faith told them would one day come. The details of the parade were significant, he started at The Mount of Olives which is where the prophecy said the Messiah would begin his journey into the city.  So you can imagine the crowd’s sense of expectation, building excitement and yes, even celebration.

They saw this guy, riding a colt, a baby donkey, his feet probably dragging on the ground, wearing simple garments, riding silently, alone without chariots or bands or other royal gentry, and he’s riding into the is grand city. And like us at the end of Lent this crowd is desperate for good news, they are desperate for their Messiah. They were filled with hope that this man was the Son of God, and they threw down their coats, and they waved palm leaves …signs that this guy was a king.

They actually could have been arrested for acts of treason, showing loyalty and reverence for someone other than the king of Rome. And they cried: Hosanna! Which is both an exclamation like Alleluia! He has arrived. It also means Help or Save us! Hosanna. Save us now. Please help.

So why wouldn’t we be thankful on this Palm Sunday? Because we know where this is going, we know that Easter comes, that Jesus was that Messiah, the one who came in the name of the Lord, the one who saves.

But there we go again jumping forward – celebrating Easter a week early.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is our call share the Easter story, to proclaim the good news every Sunday, in fact our weekly worship is a celebration of resurrection. But this week, this week is the one time of the year, where we pause and walk through the whole story, that we know ends at Easter. And so let’s give our attention.

This crowd was a motley crew, a word we have used to describe Summit.

And here’s the sucker punch. That very same crowd, the one cheering for him, the one who had great hope crying Save us, also cried out on Friday. They gathered around Pontius Pilate, and as was custom during Passover, which is the Hebrew festival referred to in the scripture that we read on Good Friday, Pilate would let a prisoner free for the Jews. And so he asked the crowd, do you want me to release the King of the Jews? And what did they say? They said no. They had been rallied by the religious leaders none-the less to see this guy as a fraud. And they forgot their cries of Hosanna and they cried out: crucify him!

Some have called this week the holy-horror week. Because it tells the story, it tells our story, that we are a crowd that turns on our own God.

They were fickle. Changing their loyalty and affiliation based on a whim. On a good story, a valid excuse, a slight possibility.

And Jesus became a scapegoat. Do you know where that word came from? In the Jewish faith, the priests would have a goat that they would cast all of the sins of the people through a ritual onto, and they would send it out into the desert to die. It ritually functions in a way that recognizes we have sin, we’re going to cast that sin on this living object and we’re going to send it out. The goat didn’t actually do anything right? It’s a goat. It’s a scapegoat.

We do this today. Only we’ve lost the wisdom to first name that we are the ones who carry the sin, and instead we jump to cast blame upon others. That’s what the word means today – “we didn’t do it”. We create a new kind of scapegoat.  And usually those scapegoats are now people, or a group of people.

And so the crowd moves in a matter of days from praising this man as a possible savior to casting upon him blame for all their fears and all of their brokenness.

The crowd turns on him because they cannot look at themselves. The priests turn on him because they cannot be threatened. And Rome is happy to kill him. He’s a leader of the minority. But remember it wasn’t Rome that made the decision – it was the same crowd that lauded Jesus as King.

I was thinking about all of this as I followed the news this week.

I imagine that many of you have heard about Trayvon Martin’s death. For those of you who have not, Trayvon was a 17-year old African-American boy, in a hoodie, walking home from the convenience story carrying only Skittles and an iced tea, when at some point he was followed by a man George Zimmerman who was part of the Neighborhood Watch team. Zimmerman was fearful, suspicious that Trayvon was up to something. Beyond those details, we don’t know for certain what happened, but we do know that Zimmerman shot Trayvon and killed him.

Zimmerman felt threatened by this young black teenage male because our society often treats young black men as scapegoats. Trayvon was a scapegoat for all of Zimmerman’s fears about safety and crime. And Zimmerman has become our scapegoat, we have cast blame on him in the media. But we cannot excuse ourselves from the reality that we have said it’s ok to make young black men our scapegoats.

In the midst of all the commotion over this killing, you can see a fickle crowd. Wavering over every new piece of evidence. Showing allegiance with one side or the other. Blaming the shooter for his cold blooded aggression fed by fear and racism. How could he? Blaming the young boy for the potential that he attacked, blaming him for the way he dressed, one policeman was reported to have said “you act like a thug you die like one.”

No matter what happened that day, whether Trayvon attacked or not, our reactions, our outcry tell the story. We know racism is at work here. It’s not even about racial profiling, as they say in the news, those are just nice words that make the reality of racism easier to digest. And we know racism is at work here, because we know it’s at work in our world still today. In Florida, in Ohio, in Columbus. We are terrified to see ourselves. To look at the truth that we are the Good Friday crowd that yells crucify! We are willing to cast our own sins on others who can die on our behalf.

That is why, today, as a Good Friday crowd, today we cry as a Palm Sunday crowd:

Save us. Hosanna. Save us now.

Because as Jesus said from the cross:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Welcome to Holy Week – This is our story.