notre dame montreal

Sermon for Palm Sunday Year A

By Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

Palm Sunday – Miss set expectations?

I wonder what Jesus must have been thinking when He saw the crowds and their actions when He rode into Jerusalem

In getting the disciples to go to fetch Him a donkey to ride into Jerusalem on He would know that He was making a statement about who He was and what was His purpose

(It’s difficult to tell in the Hebrew whether the words mean and donkey and a foal or a donkey’s foal depending on how you read it and understand the parallelism of the Hebrew structure. That’s why Matthew has an ass and a colt and John has an ass’s colt)

But Matthew, more than any other gospel writer picks up the echo of the prophet Zachariah

The Jews in the crowd would have also been familiar with the writings from Kings (2 Ki 13 v 9) where the Israelites had laid their cloaks on the steps for Jehu after he had been crowned as King by Elisha. The Jews in the crowd that welcomed Jesus would know what they were doing

And 200 years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Judas Maccabaeus when had overcome the pagan armies oppressing Israel he had been greeted by crowds waving palm branches as he rode into the city. The Jews in the crowd knew what they were doing

They even sang royal chants, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. David has made Jerusalem his capital over 1000 years earlier

Everything that the crowd did gave the message to the authorities loud and clear. Here is another king riding into Jerusalem, another all conquering king, like Judas Maccabaeus or Jehu, would sort out those who oppressed Israel, this time once and for all

Jesus must have looked out on these crowds and perhaps, for once, did not quite know what to say

He was coming into the city, not to be enthroned as David, or in great glory as Judas Maccabaeus but to be killed. He knew it, perhaps the disciples feared it, but the crowds appeared to be oblivious to what was about to happen

Yes He was coming as King, yes, He was coming as Messiah, yes, the rule of Rome and all earthly rulers would be superseded by a far superior code. But it would not happen as they expected

Many in the crowd would be deeply disappointed and disillusioned over the next few days – things would not turn out as they expected

They wanted God to act in a way they wanted. They wanted to be in control and God’s not like that - for them or for us.

The word that is used to indicate that the city was being stirred by the events of Palm Sunday is eseithi from where we get our word seismic – and the phrase is written in some versions of the bible as ‘all the city was moved’, as it would be if something seismic was happening

It’s a good way of describing the events that were happening

There was a movement in the ground and in the air which was far beyond a few people shouting and waving branches in an excited manner and which few people would grasp in the immediate future

Earlier this week we have some powerful storms and strong winds, and not so long ago an earth tremor shook parts of England

We may be able to predict the storms, and to a certain extend earth tremors, but we are powerless to control them

In writing the way he does, and in using the words that he does, Matthew wants to give His readers an understanding that whatever was happening, whatever it appeared like, they were not in control

Cosmic powers were at work and for the next few days they would be observers and spectators, not the main actors on the stage, or even the directors making things happen

Today, just like the crowds who were rightly fed up with being oppressed by the occupying Romans and wanted desperately for something to happen people turn to God when they want something very badly

It’s noticeable that church attendance goes up when there is a national crisis or a war. Suddenly everyone wants to ask the hard questions of God and enquire where He is and why He’s not doing anything

We want Him to ride into our city (whatever it is) and sort things out
- pay our bills
- give us a job
- heal our sick friends and relatives
- take away our pain
- help us in our dire circumstances
all by tomorrow!

The irony is that Jesus does come to answer those prayers, just as He answered the prayers of the crowd. He doesn’t even wait until our motives are pure – thank God!

But He answers those prayers in His own way

The people wanted a prophet and a prophet came – but they did not recognise Him
The people wanted a Messiah and a Messiah came – but they did not recognise Him
The people wanted to be rescued from evil powers and oppression – and Jesus did just that but they did not recognise it

Because He didn’t answer prayers in the way they expected – He operated at a far more fundamental and cosmic level. Creation recognised it even if the people didn’t

The story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem is a great example of the mismatch between our puny human hopes, plans and expectations and God’s cosmic answers

The crowd were disappointed, but only superficially. Once they understood the fullness of Christ unfolding over the days, weeks, months and years ahead they would realise that their prayers had been royally answered

Their praise was indeed justified, but not for the reasons they expected

They were to learn over the years that Jesus operates at a level far more cosmic than we do. And as He does so, we should expect the world to be continually shaken