PALM SUNDAY // APRIL 5, 2020
Rev. Rachel Freeny
Matthew 21:1-11 NIV
Good morning everyone. It’s good to be with you on this Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week and the last Sunday before Easter.
Our text this morning is Matthew 21:1-11. I’m reading from the New International Version, if you want to follow along. It’s also cool if you want to just listen and soak in this story from the Gospel. Let’s read.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The word of God for the people of God. And God’s people did say, Amen.
This next sentence is a little weird and not something I ever thought I’d say, but here we go. When I think of some of the milestone moments in my life, there’s a parade in the background. In high school, my very first date ever was to Nashville’s Christmas parade. I was so nervous. And very, very cold. In fact, one of the few details about the parade that I remember is that at one point I couldn’t really feel my feet. We were sitting on a curb watching the parade go by, and all I could focus on was how to stand up without falling over and making a complete idiot of myself in front of my date.
After seminary, I moved to small town in Georgia where I didn’t know anyone besides my coworkers. I was so lonely. And then some new friends invited me to sit with them at the Memorial Day Parade, a huge tradition in that town. I remember spending the morning sitting in the grass on picnic blankets, watching the parade go by, and laughing with my new friends. It was the first moment I felt like maybe I could make a life there and it would be okay.
Last summer, I attended my first Pride parade here in Louisville. Even though I’d lived here for a year at that point, I still felt so new to town. So I was at the parade with friends from another local organization. As we neared the end of the parade, I suddenly heard this chorus of voices screaming my name. I searched through the crowd and I saw a whole group of friends from Middletown Christian Church waving and jumping up and down. They had tshirts and signs with words of love and support for our LGBTQ friends and shirts with our church’s name on them. And that was one of many moments when I felt so proud to be part of this church family. Because they took it upon themselves to be there and to put our words of love and inclusion into practice. That was another moment when I knew that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
The parade in today’s story was a significant moment in the history of our faith. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that day marked the beginning of the final leg of his journey to the cross. When we think of this Palm Sunday procession, we may envision something big and magnificent. Streets teeming with people waving palm branches and cheering as Jesus rides by waving like a politician or pageant queen.
The reality is, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was a humble one. Instead of chariots and horses and soldiers in their finest armor, we get Jesus on a donkey. We get a street full of a ragtag group of people who are already living on the margins of society. We get desperation and hope. So much hope.
The desperation is in the cry of Hosanna falling from the people’s lips. Hosanna is word we associate with praise and honor now, but then it was a word that meant, “save us.” So the people were filling the streets and asking Jesus to save them. They were living under the thumb of the Roman empire, suffering violence and poverty and religious persecution. Jesus’ reputation preceded him. He’d been teaching, healing, and performing miracles for three years now. They’d heard the rumors that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised savior and king that they’d been praying and waiting for for years now. They greet him that day desperate for him to be the one to change their circumstances. To make all that is wrong right again.
The hope is in the palm branches and the cries of hosanna. Palm Branches evoke the imagery of the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths is an annual Jewish pilgrimage celebrated during the annual harvest season. It commemorated the Exodus and God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Part of this pilgrimage included waving palm branches, among other things, as the people made their way to the temple, singing in the streets of God’s faithfulness.
One scholar writes, the palm branches signal the people’s joyful hopes that, like Moses, Jesus will lead a new exodus and deliver them from bondage. And likewise, by “spreading their cloaks on the road,” the crowds signal that they recognize Jesus as royalty.”
Hosanna means “save us,” but it is also used to express joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. The people on the street that day were desperate, but they were also hopeful that God would fulfill God’s promises to deliver them once again.
When we read this story today, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know the end of the story. We know that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. That Jesus does make good on God’s promise to deliver the people.
But they didn’t know that, and a few days later those desperate and joyful cries of Hosanna turn to desperate and angry cries of crucify him.
I don’t know how much Jesus knew about what would happen after he entered Jerusalem that day. He clearly did know that things were about to get very difficult. In the days that followed, he was betrayed by a friend, abandoned by his followers, beaten and mocked and killed by the government. He would feel so hopeless that at one point he would ask God why God had abandoned him.
And still, he got on that donkey and rode straight into the heart of suffering and death in order to bring hope and new life on the other side.
Holy Week is going to look different for Christians all over the world this year. Instead of gathering together in our churches, ringing bells, and breaking bread, and singing loudly together that Christ the Lord is risen today, we will be in our homes, gathering online. It’s a Palm Sunday and an Easter unlike anything most of us have experienced and we might be wondering if this week and Easter can still be meaningful without the usual celebrations. I’ve found myself wondering that at times.
But church, I think this Holy Week and Easter are exactly what we need right now. How and where we celebrate and worship is not the point. The point is that we follow a Savior who loved us enough to ride right into the middle of our pain and suffering and be present with us. Who hears our cries of hosanna, save us, and shows us that new life can come out of the most hopeless of situations. Who showed us how to live and love others, no matter how hard life gets.
The invitation for all of us this week is to sit before God with our fear, our anxiety, our struggles, and ask God to be with us, to fill us with hope, to do something new, and to show us how to love our neighbors. We will not be the same after this pandemic is over, so why not start with experiencing Easter differently than ever before. Who knows what God will teach us this week? I guess we’ll have to lean in to find out.
God of Compassion,
We come to you with cries of Hosanna today. We don’t know what the road ahead looks like, but we know we need your hope and your love and your presence to be with us. Hear our prayers, God. Show us something new this week.
With open hands we ask all these things in Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Melvin LeCompte
This week I’ve been thinking about remembering. I remember the Communion Table in the church I attended while growing up.
On the front of the Communion Table there was an inscription that read “In Remembrance of Me”
Perhaps the church you attended had this same inscription as well as.
Of course during communion we remember the last meal Jesus shared with his friends, as well as his death, burial and resurrection, and we remember all he’s done for us, through us and will do for us.
But given the circumstance of the events we are living through today, who is Jesus in our world today. What does he look like, and who is Jesus in the “Remembrance of Me”
I believe Jesus is every healthcare worker, first responder and essential worker who is going to work everyday risking their life to help save others, and help to keep a safe environment; Do this in Remembrance of Me
I believe Jesus is the individual who is sick and is all alone and afraid. The family who has lost a loved during this time and yet could not be there with them; Do this in Remembrance of Me
I believe Jesus is the individual laid off or who business is now closed and worries about how to survive to pay the rent, the mortgage, the bills and buy food, and worries if there will be a job once again or a business to reopen. Do this in Remembrance of Me
I believe that Jesus is every student and teacher out there who is missing their friends and the excitement of school activities, whose school life has totally been disruptive and now every family who is now joggling home schooling and child care; Do this in Remembrance of Me.
I think you get the picture. I believe the presence and face of Jesus is in everyone, all around us. He knows our worries and our struggles.
He remembers you and now wants to share a meal with you just as he did with his friend some two thousand years ago when he took bread and after giving thanks he broke it and said this is my body broken for you.
And he took the cup and said this is cup of the new covenant filled with my love poured out for you.
As often as you share this meal, you recall that my presence is with you always!
May the peace of Christ be with you all.