notre dame montreal


Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday Year A 2017

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Identifying with Jesus…

Our gospel reading today recounts the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem.  It’s one we’re all familiar with, even possibly from Sunday school or our early days at church as a child

As Jesus enters Jerusalem it’s the end of a journey that started after Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus commission to Peter that ‘On this Rock I will build my Church’.  I wonder how Peter must have felt realising the implication of what Jesus had said. 

Did he feel prepared, did he feel scared, and did he wonder what that meant?  Probably all of the above.   Did he feel a sense of awe and excitement, of total inadequacy at what he thought he had just heard?

Earlier in his gospel, (Mt 16 v 21) Matthew tells us that. ‘From then onwards (Ἀπὸτότε) Jesus began to make it clear to His disciples that He was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day…’

He comes to Bethphage and instructs His disciples to find a donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9 v 9 which speaks about the king approaching and entering into a new promised land.

Zechariah’ grandfather Iddo, had returned with the exiles about 20 years before Nehemiah and Zechariah was a priest who was involved with Haggai in the rebuilding of the Temple.  His book dates from the time of 520 BC

Perhaps it was this prophecy that people had in mind when they started shouting Hosanna, laying their cloaks before Him and waving palm branches. 

We know that some of the crowds went before Him and some followed.  Some of them may not have even know who Jesus was but in the religious fervour that there was in Jerusalem around the Passover perhaps they just got carried away in hope and expectation as they saw someone riding a donkey into Jerusalem.

Because it wasn’t just the words and actions that were being fulfilled.  Perhaps it was what they meant.

Zechariah spoke of visions of judgement and of restoration.  Perhaps this is what the people now hoped for.  Was that judgement and restoration now about to happen?  Were they about to be set free?  Was the land to be restored?

The answer is, of course, yes, but not in the way that the crowds might have expected.  Jesus rides on a donkey, a sign of judgement and of peace, not on some great war horse.

But it’s clear the entrance had a great impact, perhaps gathering momentum and significance as the word spread.  This was no ordinary entrance.

The crowds were ecstatic and the whole city was in turmoil.  Something was happening, even if they didn’t know what.  Even the stones were getting excited!

Sometimes when we look at the story of the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday we’re asked to identify ourselves with the crowd, the so called friends of Jesus.  Rosalind Brown has compared some of those with Jesus to Facebook friends. 

A Friendship which seems to indicate some kind of relationship or kindred spirit and support but costs little.  A Friendship which can be stopped at any time as people are un-friended.

At least some of the people who were cheering Jesus and welcoming Him into the city on the Thursday, praising him with shout shouts of ‘Hosanna’ as Friends seemingly had changed their tune by Friday and they were now shouting ‘crucify’ as they un-friended Him.  Friendship perhaps crumbling under pressure.

And whilst we may not be quite a fickle as that in our friendship and relationship with Jesus there are times when we praise Him one minute and seemingly deny Him by our words and actions the next. 

As we look to the actions of the crowds we can indeed identify ourselves with some of the people who welcomed Jesus

But what about the disciples?  Perhaps we should also identity ourselves with them too.

They must have found what was happening truly bewildering.  On hearing that Jesus was about to head off to Bethany just outside Jerusalem to heal Lazarus and where people had tried to stone Jesus to death Thomas had said to the others, ‘Let’s go so that we can die with Him’. 

The disciples, whose own friendship with Jesus would be challenged in the days ahead, especially Thomas’, must have thought. ‘Why can’t we just do this quietly’?  Some of them may have even wished they were in a different place, a place that was less uncomfortable.

Why does Jesus insist on drawing attention to himself they must have wondered – some of them probably didn’t really want to be there but were there out of a sense of loyalty to the man Himself?  Perhaps some of them drew back a little so as not to be recognised.

Sometimes when we are asked to identify with our faith was can be bold and express our belief firmly and with confidence.

But perhaps sometimes, when the circumstances are more neutral or even a little hostile do we want to draw back, wish we were in a different place, a place that was more comfortable for us.  Do we feel a little like Peter must have felt when Jesus told him that he was to be the foundation of the church?

A little over whelmed, a little scared and apprehensive.  Perhaps wishing we were not put in the position of having to say something and defend and even promote our faith?  To say something or do something which puts us in an uncomfortable position.

The crowds may have mixed emotions over the next few days, but so must the disciples as their faith and belief in Jesus were questioned and probably ridiculed.

We can identify with the crowd but we can also identify with the disciples.

But just as we identify ourselves with the crowds and the disciples perhaps we should also identify ourselves with Christ, possibly the way that God Himself identifies us.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem He was simply doing the will of God as best as He was able and as best as He understood it.  (Perfectly in His case!)  He was showing that the way of God was a different way to the one with which the world was familiar.  There was a better and different way of living our lives and caring for each other.

And whilst were never going to be as perfect as Jesus until we meet Him one day, we too often try in our lives to live what we believe, as best we can, to be the will of God.  However imperfect, and however fragmented the image we reflect of Christ in our lives, He is with us always.

We will never have to undergo the kinds of unjust persecution and ridicule that He did but we will have our own small challenges of faith from time to time as we reflect the way of God and a different perspective on many of those in our society.

We can identify with the crowds, we can identify with the disciples, but we can also identify with Christ, because He Himself identifies with us, so much so that he entered into Jerusalem to die and rise again for us so that we could know eternal life.