Sermons 2003-2004

Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need?
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church
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Palm Sunday C 2004 Luke 22:39-23:56

The journey to Jerusalem is over. Jesus and his disciples have arrived. As Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story. We dont need to see Mel Gibsons Passion of the Christ. We reenact it here every Palm Sunday. We have just read the rest of the story. It is a strange story, ending with a scandal, a scandalous death.

Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday long before Mel Gibson, rides us through a gamut of emotions. Triumphal entry to the closing of the tomb, with the Cross looming over it all, casting its shadow over it all.

About Palm Sunday, the writer Kate Penfield has said, I dont know how you feel about Palm Sunday, but I am here to tell you that for me it is always the most confusing day in the church calendar. It has the festive feel of a prelude to Easter high with its fragrance of spring flowers and stirring sound of trumpets; yet it has the dark and down, old, cold shadow of Good Friday looming on the horizon, with its smell of death and its sound of silence. In fact, the only way to get from Palm Sunday to Easter is straight through the darkness in between shortcutting the pain of this week that stretches before us will only short-circuit the power on the other side. Trying to get from the peak of Palm Sunday to the peak of Easter without descending into the valley of death will not work.

What do you make of Palm Sunday? Is this day good news or bad news? On the one hand, on the first Palm Sunday all kinds of people clearly recognized something about who Jesus was and either acclaimed him or abhorred him, depending on who they were and whether they perceived him as good news or bad news. On the other hand, the very same folk in the very same week came together and colluded to kill Jesus. You almost have to fasten your seatbelt, so abrupt is the transition from celebration to crucifixion, from waving palms at Jesus to nailing him on a cross. (1)

When I graduated from West Point some forty years ago, I was initially stationed in Germany in upper Hesse, not far from the Main River and Bavaria was just across it to the East. Traveling in Bavaria then and much later in Austria, both predominately Roman Catholic parts of German speaking Europe, I noticed that, when one passes local folk on the street, they are likely to greet you not with the Guten Tag (good day) that I had learned from a hasty cram course aboard troopship on the way over across the Atlantic, but instead with Grüss Gott. This means Gods greeting.

My cousin Will Willimon, the Dean of the Duke University Chapel, said this about his similar experience: I suppose that somewhere in the dim past this greeting sprung from religious ground. People first said Grüss Gott from the conviction and awareness that all meeting is holy meeting, that God is somehow present even in the casual encounter of neighbors in the street. But now, I suspect, Grüss Gott is like Godspeed or Adios or a God bless you! muttered in the grocery store to a sneezing stranger. All of these are once godly phrases that have become ritualized expressions of faith that have become simply expressions of cultural convention.

It has been said of some devout Jews that, when they pray the prayer Lord, have mercy, they say have mercy as quickly as possible after they have said Lord, because they are afraid that God would appear in terrifying might before God has heard their petition for mercy. In our culture, of course, people say, Lord, have mercy all the time without fear or even a second thought. Lord, have mercy, this rent just keeps going up! George finally got a date to the dance? Well, Lord have mercy! Hardly anyone expects such a phrase to summon either the Lord or mercy. Its just a saying.

The Grüss Gott and the Lord have mercy of Jesus day was Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. This phrase is from Psalm 118 and was originally part of a liturgy recited when the king returned victorious in war. As the king, grateful to God for success on the field of battle, approached the temple to engage in thankful worship, the priests would say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord (Ps 118:26).

But by the time of Jesus, this phrase had become the standard greeting for pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for a festival. As the travelers streamed into the city, people would say to them, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. It was, in effect, Welcome to Jerusalem. Enjoy the festival. Have a nice day.
So when Luke tells us that the crowds heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem and went out to meet him shouting, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, we can be confident that he was not the only visitor to the city to hear those words. Pilgrims from Samaria, travelers from the Decapolis, even voyagers from Rome had been greeted with the same words. Perhaps, even as the crowds were hailing Jesus, a family from Sychar or Ephraim who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover was hearing the same words, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! It was the conventional greeting. No one really expected anything to come down the road except yet another festival tourist.

If we want to know what the festival crowd was really expecting when they greeted Jesus that day, a better clue can be found in the palm branches they waved than in the words they uttered. The palm branches were a national sign and symbol of a desire for freedom, and the waving of palm branches was something like the display of American flags in the aftermath of a national crises. It was a symbolic expression of hope that this young Galilean who had stirred up so much attention might strike a blow for the nation, a blow against Rome and for the homeland.

So the crowd was doing two things: shouting a ceremonial greeting and carrying a symbol. The greeting? Well, thats just what you say. The palm branches? Now, thats what they wanted, a national savior. Blessed is the one who comes to free us from Roman rule!

The Rolling Stones once sang, You cant always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need. And so it was that day when Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover. The crowd did not get what it wanted, but it did get what they needed, indeed what all of us need. But to their dismay and extreme disappointment, as the mob scene demanding his death a few days later points out, Jesus was no local revolutionary, no national freedom fighter.

Jesus did not arrive flashing a sword astride a war horse, but lowly and riding on a donkey. He did not come in the name of the nation, but came in the name of the Lord. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the crowd did not get a conquering hero; it got a suffering servant. It did not get a politician or a general; it got a savior, albeit a different kind of savior than the mob thought it wanted. The palm branches, which they waved with such serious intent, turned out to represent a dashed hope for restored national power and pride. But the words, with which they greeted him as a custom than as a conviction, turned out to be the truth after all, that God was indeed in the midst of them.

It happens to us, too. When we least expect our prayers to be answered, they are. When we least expect God to be present, it happens. Like those crowds, we walk week after week through worship, saying the prayers, singing the hymns, beckoning God to come and be present. Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. But then, just as on that day in Jerusalem, the one we have so blithely beckoned appears. The one who can truly save us enters our lives. And its not that that wasnt happening all along we just havent been able to see it all the time.

Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The peace of the Lord be always with you. Lord, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus. We say these things all the time, scarcely knowing what we are saying, hardly expecting anything to happen, not sure we really mean it. And then, when we least expect it, there the one for whom we have hungered and thirsted. Then we can put down the palm branches of our expectations and shout with all creation, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is he one who loved us so much he died for us, all of us. (2)

1. Kate Penfield, Doing and Dying in Pulpit Digest,
March/April 1997, p. 45, as quoted in Pulpit Resource, 4 April 2004, electronic edition.

2. The remainder of this sermon is adapted from Will Willimon, Proclaiming the Text, 4 April 2004, Pulpit Resource, electronic edition.