Palm Sunday Sermon 2011
Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Palm Sunday – Just like every other Sunday?
For many of us today probably has started like any other Sunday, we get up and come to church. For the crowds coming into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, the day would have started off in the normal way that a day did when they were going up to Jerusalem for the Passover. They were walking along with the crowds, some of whom had palm branches to wave, going into Jerusalem for the Passover. As was normal, some would be singing the Passover Psalms, shouting Hosanna and there would be noise and a sense of anticipation all round. So when Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid all the noise and excitement, some people probably didn’t even notice. Shouting and singing were all part of the normal Passover experience.
But this was to be no ordinary Passover season.
The disciples and followers of Jesus are coming fresh from the raising of Lazarus. If they did not know if before, they knew it now, the man they called Jesus was different. Amazing, miraculous and things which could not be explained happened when He was around. In the passage before today’s reading Jesus has just restored sight to two men who were blind. So whilst for many people coming up to Jerusalem nothing was different, for the disciples of Jesus they probably knew in the heart of hearts that something was going to be different. They would reflect together on Jesus’ determination to get to Jerusalem. Not just the regular determination of a devout Jew to come to Jerusalem for the Passover, but truly the determination of a man on a mission.
With Jesus, ‘normal’ didn’t seem to happen anymore.
And as they group with Jesus got nearer to Jerusalem people began to come out to meet them. They laid their cloaks on the ground as they had done for Jehu (2 Ki 9 v 13) and other King of Israel, as a sign of their loyalty to Him. They waved their palm branches in front of Him, not just in the general crowd, just as they had done for Judas Maccabaeus 20 years earlier when he had led the Jewish revolt. Rather than being a normal pre-Passover day, the crowd were indicating that the person now coming into Jerusalem was the king that they wanted, could this be the Messiah. And when they were in the city, the whole city was stirred, something seismic, cosmic even, something far beyond their control was happening. You can imagine the disciples thinking that things were rapidly getting out of hand. They hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place and this was hardly a low key entrance!
And as the events of the next few days would unfold, they would realise how seismic and cosmic the change would be. The Messiah had indeed come, but not as a triumphal King, His throne would be a pagan cross. Not as a revolutionary leader who would take on the occupying forces and lead His people to victorious freedom, but as a servant leader who would hand Himself into their hands.
And yet out of apparent and abject defeat and humiliation, victory and freedom would come.
Jesus’ challenge was not primarily at the outward and visible signs of political or religious authority and rule; it was at the inward often hidden desires and motives which govern individual’s lives. Over the years to come political leaders would change, invading armies would come and go, religious leaders would rise and fall. Jesus’ challenge was not about ‘what’ people were, it was about ‘who’ they were. What lay at the centre of their lives? How would they accept the Messiah who had now come? In going into Jerusalem when He did, Jesus was laying down a challenge to the authorities. The authorities had begun their plans to bring His mission to an end, plans that would see Romans and the Jewish authorities collaborating together in an unprecedented manner.
What had started out as a normal and possibly mundane Passover celebration was transformed for ever as Jesus came ‘full on’ into their lives. As we’ve travelled through Lent with Jesus we too have seen that He is no ordinary human being. Thinks happen when He is around. What He asks of us is to let Him a little further into our normal everyday lives as we walk along the road, just as the crowds did, so that He can take that normality and transform it.
Jesus made no demands of the crowds or His followers, other than to be faithful to Him and His Father. Jesus did not give complex rules and regulations for the ordering of society, other than to love one another. Jesus rode gently along on a donkey, hardly an aggressive signal to anyone. But the message was clear. It was time to meet with the Messiah and let the normal and the mundane be transformed.