April 17, 2011: Palm Sunday – Passion Sunday

Posted on : Apr 14th, 2011 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This Sunday we begin the holiest week in the Christian tradition.  That’s why it is called “Holy Week.”  The week begins with a deep division between Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus had more than “worn-out-his-welcome” in Jerusalem.  It had reached the point that if he were found there, he would be executed.  So, the logical thing to do would be to stay away from Jerusalem.  But Jesus wasn’t willing to do that!

Jerusalem was not “just” a city for the Jewish people; it was “the holy city.” But it’s not just “the holy city” as say, the Vatican is to Catholics; it is even more than that.  Jerusalem is the “holy city” because it is the place where the Temple was, and even more, the Temple is the place where God was believed to dwell on earth.  Today, we might think of Jerusalem as “sacred space.”  The Jewish people came to Jerusalem on religious pilgrimages not just because the city was considered “holy” but because they believe they could or would be closer to God there than anywhere else on earth.

Jesus was a royal thorn in the flesh or pain in the butt to the religious authorities because he had a different idea.  His idea was that God wasn’t confined to the Temple in Jerusalem, but in fact that God lived and dwelled within him and all people.  That was not only an unpopular idea, among the religious rulers – that was out and out heresy!  So Jesus knew that if he dared enter the city of Jerusalem, he would be arrested and put to death.  And the disciples knew the same.  They did not want Jesus to ever go to Jerusalem again.

But there was a problem.  Jesus knew that what the religious authorities were teaching and doing was hurting people.  It was keeping people away from God, not bringing them closer.  What they were doing gave certain people privilege and access to God that others didn’t have.  He was not about to sit by quietly as the feast of the Passover drew near and let the religious legalists or traditionalists do their thing, which hurt people and separated many from the feast of spiritual liberation and freedom that the Passover symbolized.

So Jesus enters Jerusalem in a most dramatic way.  He rides into the city on a donkey and creates a near riot.  This is high drama, with high stakes.  You see in the ancient world, if someone came riding into your city, it had meaning.  Most everyone walked in those days.  Those who rode into the city conveyed a unique message.  When a city was under attack or siege, the warriors came riding on horses.  When someone came riding on a donkey, they came in peace.  During the time in which Jesus lived, the donkey was considered a noble animal and was the animal which symbolized peace.   Whenever a King or Ruler came to a city in his or her realm, he or she came riding on a donkey.  That is exactly how Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, “humble and riding on a donkey.”  It was an “in-your-face” kind of entrance, because the religious authorities had told him if he ever came to Jerusalem again, he would be arrested and killed.  But Jesus was not about to compromise who he was and all that he taught about God.

The Palm Sunday experience (as a friend of mine likes to call it) is about that horrible tension we experience when we have to decide whether to stand up and speak up for what we know to be true, or shut up and keep silent when we know something is wrong or evil.

This morning I was watching one of the morning news “shows” and as they were announcing the upcoming segments I had a Palm Sunday insight.  The first headline was “the LAPD declares a zero tolerance policy for violence at Dodger Stadium.”  This of course is after Bryan Stow was nearly beaten to death simply for wearing a Giants shirt at a Dodger’s game.  The next story was Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using an anti-gay slur during a disagreement with a referee.  Now there’s a logical connection between those two stories.  As a society, at least in Los Angeles, we’re not going to let people beat up people because of what they wear or what team they support, nor are we going to let super-star athletes use language that is violent and abusive, even if they are having a temper tantrum.  The sad reality that connected these two stories to Palm Sunday is that my own Presbyterian Church would never think of issuing a zero tolerance policy for violence against LGBT people nor fining anyone for using violent and abusive language against LGBT people.  How can the City of Los Angeles, the LAPD and the NBA (National Basketball Association) be more morally advanced and responsible than the Church of Jesus Christ?

It’s exactly to correct that wrong that Jesus enters Jerusalem.  That’s what we’ll look at this Sunday.

Blessings to you as we prepare for and begin this Holiest of weeks,


This Sunday’s Scripture

Gospel — Luke 19: 28-40

Luke recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Hosanna!, Hosanna!

Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of our God.

Hosanna in the highest!

Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Beth’phage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here.   If anyone asks you, `Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, `The Savior has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Savior has need of it.”

And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it. And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.

As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying,

Hosanna!  Hosanna!

Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of our God.

Hosanna in the highest!

And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”