Palm Sunday: The Irresistible Jesus of Holy Week

March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

Mark 11: 1-11

So this week I had one of those mortifying experiences where I was listening to someone tell me a story, but after a few seconds I zoned out and started thinking about myself. I can’t remember exactly what it was that I started to think about, but whatever it was it was one of those self-obsessed kinds of thoughts that totally possessed me… Like, it kinda felt like a possession because on the inside I was totally captive to my thoughts, but on the outside  I continued to nod enthusiastically, like I was still listening. That is, until I threw out an “Oh, that’s great!” at what was clearly not an Oh that’s great moment in the story. The other person froze, I froze. The game was up. They knew I had stopped listening, and so all I could do was cough up the truth. “I’m so so sorry,” I said, “I lost the thread of the story a moment ago. Can we back up?” Now I know this is a totally human thing, that we’ve probably all done, but when it happens to me, I just hate it. I hate when I am incapable of getting out of the way, when I’m not present to what’s in front of me.  


I tell this story because, I confess that throughout this past week I’ve found myself losing the thread of this Palm Sunday and Holy Week story. I’ve gotten wrapped up in my own stuff, in all the planning and work that goes into making Holy Week happen, it’s felt like I’m nodding Uh huh uh huh uh huh to a story that I’m not really listening to. Like I can’t make myself get out of the way. But when I sat down to write this sermon, I thought back to all the Holy Weeks I’ve experienced before and it hit me that the story we hear this week, it’s just so beautiful and so freeing that I’ve never actually been able to stand in its way. And not because I’m such a good Christian or such a devoted pastor that I manage every year to step aside through sheer willpower. But it’s the gospel itself that I cannot resist. Because no matter how wrapped up in myself and my ego I’ve gotten myself, at some point in Holy Week, whether it was washing your feet on Maundy Thursday, or singing Were you There? on Good Friday, or calling down the names of the dead at the Easter Vigil- at some point, the story of God’s love for us has always ripped me away from myself so that God could do her thing.   


Which got me to thinking about all the other people who have been wrapped up in themselves and yet this sacred story got them out of the way in order for Jesus to arrive where he is today.. I’m thinking about how Mary and how perhaps all that she wanted was to have a normal marriage to her fiance, to stay up late, go to concerts and travel, but when she heard that the baby growing inside her would set free everyone who thought that they would never know love, all she could do was get out of the way. And then how John the Baptist built up this huge following, who hailed him as the next great prophet, but when he saw Jesus and looked into his eyes and saw total forgiveness, all he could do was get out of the way. And how Peter desperately wanted for his people to finally have a king who would overthrow their oppressors, but when he heard Jesus talk about a God whose love is for all people and that this God is freeing ALL of us, Peter got out of the way. And how the rest of the disciples wanted to protect Jesus and save him from the demands of the crowd, but when they saw how Jesus touched those with leprosy and ate with prostitutes and junkies and how he never gave up the world’s throw-aways, they couldn’t help but get out of the way.


Because that’s what the story of Jesus does. It’s good news that is so good that when we REALLY hear it, the only choice we REALLY have is to get out of the way. But that part about REALLY hearing the story- that part can be really hard. So often, I am willing to get out of the way so that who I WANT Jesus to be can ride through. But I struggle with stepping aside so that the real Jesus, who Jesus really is, can come through. I see what I want to see instead of what’s actually there.


You know, historians have done a lot of work on the Palm Sunday account to try and figure out what Jesus was really trying to say by riding into town on a donkey. Because in so many ways, this parade seems like such a departure from everything else Jesus does. I mean, Jesus simply doesn’t engage in a lot of ritual up to this point. Until now, Jesus has been a pretty matter of fact prophet who is out in the street, dealing directly with people and he speaks in terms that they can understand: Farmers and farm workers, fathers and sons, wedding parties, birds, flowers, bread and water. But here, it seems that Jesus has staged a parade that speaks instead through symbols and performance. This kind of political theater sounds more like the way you’d expect the Roman leaders and the temple high priests to communicate, but not Jesus. But historians tell us that this was likely Jesus’ precise point. Because they tell us that while Jesus is riding into town on a donkey, on the other side of town Pilate, the Roman governor, would have been riding into town in his own parade. Except Pilate’s parade would have been a massively, unnecessarily expensive military parade meant to frighten anyone who opposed the will of the government. Sound familiar? Therefore, by Jesus riding into town on a donkey, walking along a path strewn with cloaks and Palm branches at the same time as the military parade, what Jesus was telling us about himself was clear. Because the parade that Jesus staged was not a parade meant to puff up the egos of the leaders or the nation. This wasn’t a parade where all the important people got to ride in the limo behind Jesus. This was a parade that led those on the street to tear off their clothes and throw them in the streets. This was a parade that was about everybody else stepping aside, it was about getting everyone’s egos out of the way so that Jesus could show them who he really was. So, that Jesus could show us that our egos are the Enemy. That our egos are what get in the way of us knowing the depth of God’s love and that if we can just let those egos step aside, then we have a chance at true freedom.


But I wonder how many people saw what Jesus was doing. I wonder how many saw Jesus mocking the concept of power, with the donkey and the palm branches, and yet in their heads, they saw Jesus on a chariot. If in their heads they saw Jesus in the kind of parade that was happening on the other side of the city. I mean, I wonder how many folks saw what they wanted to see, rather than what was actually there. I know that this happens to me all the time. Like when someone offers to help me do something, but all I see is someone telling me I’m incapable of doing the task at hand. Or when someone expresses concern for how I’m doing because they know I’ve had a lot on my plate, but what I see is someone who thinks I’m weak or fragile. So often, I see what I want to see, even when what I want to see isn’t what I need. Just like the folks who saw Jesus riding on a chariot when he was really riding on a donkey. Just like the folks who thought they needed a warrior, when what they really needed was Jesus. When what they really needed was a love that would compel them to get out of the way and allow the Peace of God to wash over them.


Which is what all of us need. We need a savior whose message is so clear and so liberating that our only choice is to get out of the way. We need a God who will tell us that we are loved just the way that we are and that there is nothing we have to do in order to earn that love and that the purpose of this love is so that we are free to settle into who we are and get close to who our neighbors actually are. And we need a God so desperate to tell us about that love that she would rather die than us not know about that love. This is the God we need, and this is the God that we have. Which is why we tell the story that we do this week. Because it is the story so good that it compels us to get out of the way, and to make room for the freedom that comes in its wake. Welcome to Holy Week. Amen.

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