“Making an Entrance” Colchester Federated Church, April 5, 2020, (Matthew 21:1-11) Palm Sunday (**Virtual Worship)
Today is Palm Sunday—the start of Holy Week for Christians the world over. On this day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. How Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem and came to the top of the Mount of Olives. There Jesus gave two of his disciples a concrete (albeit strange) task, to go into the village and find a donkey tied up and a colt with that donkey. To untie these animals and say to anybody who questions their actions that the Lord needs them. Imagine someone showing up and borrowing your car sitting in your driveway and when you ask them what in the world they’re doing—they just tell you—oh, well the Lord needs this! Apparently that was an acceptable thing to do back then because the disciples return to the group with no problems.
Jesus sat on the donkey and the colt. He rode down the Mount of Olives and up into the Temple itself to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah had said about the king coming to the people, humble and riding on a donkey and on a colt. Crowds gathered before Jesus shouting their “Hosannas” and “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Matthew tells us that the whole city is stirred up because of this Palm Sunday parade. When some people understandably question who’s doing all this the crowds answer, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
So we see the crowds and the palm branches and the parade and the donkey and colt and Jesus and the disciples. It’s the familiar cast of characters we probably know by heart. Though what we don’t see in today’s story (but we will if we read just a little further in the Gospel according to Matthew) is that Jesus dismounts and goes directly into the Temple. He throws out everyone who is selling and buying there. He pushes over the tables that were used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. (You see doves were the only animals that the poor were able to afford to buy to have sacrificed, so that’s an important detail Matthew tells us since we know that Jesus himself came from humble origins in Galilee.) Jesus yells that it’s written that God’s house will be a house of prayer, but you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.
Jesus makes a huge scene as Jerusalem is all stirred up and knocks over tables and passes prophetic judgment on the whole Temple sacrificial system which took advantage of the poor. And then (in front of the chief priests and the legal experts and the Romans who were inevitably around because this is all happening near Passover) he heals the blind and the lame who came to Jesus for help inside the Temple itself. Once he’s railed against injustice, created a scene in the most holy place in all of Jerusalem, and heals the blind and lame Jesus returns that night to Bethany to get some rest.
But the die is cast. It’s Jesus’ actions on Palm Sunday with the processional and causing a scene with his prophetic judgment in the Temple and healing people in front of those in power again inside the Temple that sealed his fate among the human authorities. This man named Jesus—the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee as the crowds had just identified him—was dangerous and needed to be gone, out of the picture, erased in the minds of those who held power over the people.
Some churches make today Palm/Passion Sunday and won’t just focus on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The suggested text to be read in addition to the short reading from Matthew Chapter 21 we heard is Matthew 26:14 all the way to 27:66. The reasoning is that churches are often empty on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday if we’re honest. Those mid-week services are hard for people emotionally and logistically for people who may be working and/or have young children at home. So while you have people in the pews on Palm Sunday might as well make sure that they hear the Passion of Christ before Easter comes is some of the reasoning.
It’s easy to see both sides and understandable why this Sunday has become Palm/Passion Sunday for some churches. Though one could argue that if we fully understand Palm Sunday and what happens right after the processional in the Temple, we will leave worship with the knowledge that Jesus just sealed his fate with the religious and civil authorities today. His actions will have consequences and we know what those consequences will be—betrayal, arrest, denial, trials, punishment, abandonment, and ultimately death by crucifixion on a Roman cross. Palm Sunday has never been a day that’s only happy because we may leave with a pit in our stomachs knowing what’s to come on this holiest week of the year for Christians.
In our tradition this is the day that Christians often wave palm branches and shout “Hosanna!” We sometimes walk outside or around the sanctuary for a Palm Sunday Processional. You make crosses out of palm branches during the sermon (don’t think I don’t see you out there in the pews doing that by the way most years, remember the pulpit at CFC is quite elevated so I can see you!) Though it doesn’t actually bother me—because even people fidgeting with their palms in the pews is part of the tradition of Palm Sunday.
Though this year everything feels different. For many Christians (me included) this is going to feel like a particularly heavy Holy Week because we’re not experiencing many of our traditions together in person. Perhaps this is the year to engage with that bit of foreboding we feel on Palm Sunday if we continue the story past the processional down the Mount of Olives and into the Temple.
Yet we’re determined that some of our traditions for Holy Week continue in virtual ways. Kim and I are doing our best to offer Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services virtually for you. For those of you who regularly worship with us at CFC on these holy days you will experience familiar elements. And we are so thankful to members of our congregation who were able to take part in reading scripture and providing special music that all of us can appreciate together as we worship God separately in our homes though still together as a church family.
If you’ve never been able to attend some of our mid-week Holy Week services (no judgment, I am your Pastor and not the Church Attendance Police believe it or not) consider this an invitation to experience some of what we offer and how we worship together here at CFC on Holy Week. We’ll all look forward to doing so in person next year. And if you have family Holy Week traditions, especially on Easter Sunday itself, don’t necessarily give up on them entirely. Maybe this year they will look different and you will have to adapt, we’ve certainly realized that in planning all these services here at CFC. Nevertheless, the invitation to walk with Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Temple to the Upper Room to the Garden to the Cross and to the Tomb and beyond remains the same. The invitation to walk with Jesus and with one another on our journeys of faith remains and may feel especially important this year. So we will hope to see you later on for this holiest of weeks. And please stay home as much as you can and healthy and safe and well. Thanks be to God. Amen.