Why a Palm Sunday? Because Everybody Loves a Parade

given on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

[Sections in italics are to be read as though an eyewitness to the first Palm Sunday parade.]

I am sure you know what is going on.  Everybody is getting ready for Passover and we heard there is a parade.  Are you going?  I think we are going to run over to the gate and watch, so why don’t you come with us.  The weather is great, not too cold.  The sun is shining, and we almost have everything ready for the company.  Let’s go.

Today is the day after Sabbath and the people of Israel are preparing for Passover later this week.  The celebration is filled with tradition:  food, traveling to Jerusalem, going to the temple, connecting with family and friends, listening to the priests lecture, checking out the vendors along the street.  And today, we hear there is going to be a parade.  I do not remember ever having a parade before so I wonder what is going on.  …

We may not be Israelites practicing the Jewish traditions nor making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so the significance of Passover may not make any sense to us.  In order to understand the significance of Palm Sunday today, we must remember the culture, the history, and the teachings of the Jewish priests for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The people had been told year after year that they were to expect a savior to be born.  The constant fighting they were living in made it difficult to hold on to their faith.  All the world around them seemed to put down their beliefs, to eat away at their confidence that their leaders were telling them the truth.

… Besides, all the others (as we might know) are beginning to try other faiths and practices.  The neighbors down the street are making great money and they say there are Jewish yet the keep all those golden idols around their house.  I guess they are bringing them good luck…

In Isaiah 50:4-9, the prophet warned the people of Israel:

The master God has given me

a well-taught tongue,

So I know how to encourage tired people.

He wakes me up in the morning,

Wakes me up, opens my ears

to listen as one ready to take orders.

The Master, God, opened my ears,

and I didn’t go back to sleep,

didn’t pull the covers back over my head.

I followed orders,

stood there and took it while they beat me,

held steady while they pulled out my beard,

Didn’t dodge their insults,

faced them as they spit in my face.

And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me,

so I’m not disgraced.

Therefore I set my face like flint,

confident that I’ll never regret this.

My champion is right here.

Let’s take our stand together!

Who dares bring suit against me?

Let him try!

Look! the Master, God, is right here.

Who would dare call me guilty?

Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare

socks and shirts, fodder for moths!

In our 21st century world, we are so accustomed to immediate results that understanding how a people could wait over 2000 years for a prophecy to be filled is impossible.  Our culture looks for solutions almost as quickly as a problem is identified.  We research, we explore, we discuss, and we seek an answer as quickly as possible—I guess we just do not know how to trust God.

We do not rely on prophets to tell us what is going to happen.  We do not listen to priests who keep hammering at the same idea over and over and over.  In fact, identifying prophets today is difficult and very few understand what is now referred to as futurists.  The futurists study trends, patterns, behavioral changes, and more leading them to make predictions about what may be coming next.  They are today’s business prophets; and what comes out on the store shelves or appears as concept products can be attributed to the insight of the futurists.

The Old Testament prophets were not futurists in business; they were interpreters as much as anything.  The listened for God’s words and then explained what God was saying.  The priests were trained in the scriptures and the traditions of the faith.  Families of priests persisted in carrying the knowledge and traditions of the Israelites from generation to generation.  Prophets were different.  The prophets could see the flaws in the priests and their sermons.  The prophets could see how the law was not followed.  The prophets knew a savior was needed in order to preserve the word of God.  The culture was no longer the solid culture of a people following God’s words given to Moses hundreds and hundreds of years before.

In Luke 19:28-40, Jesus sets up for the parade into Jerusalem.  The Disciples walking with him must have wondered what he was doing:

28-31 After saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem.  When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you.  As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden.  Untie it and bring it.  If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.'”

32-33 The two left and found it just as he said.  As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?”

34 They said, “His Master needs him.”

35-36 They brought the colt to Jesus.  Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on.  As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street.

37-38 Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:

Blessed is he who comes,

the king in God’s name!

All’s well in heaven!

Glory in the high places!

39 Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”

40 But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”

… Sabbath is over and today is the first day of the week we have to get ready for Passover Festival.  We have so much to do:  the house needs cleaning up, the beds need to be freshened, the supplies for the traditional meals need gathering up.  Thank goodness, we already live in Jerusalem.  Can you imagine if we had to travel here, and then find a place to stay and eat!  I am so thankful our family lives right here.  Did you hear that the people are gathering around the gates for the arrival of that guy Jesus?  I am not sure about him, but it would be interesting to go watch.  Let’s run over there.  We are in pretty good shape here…

Passover:  Families were busy getting ready for the week of festival.  Good, traditional food was being prepared.  Tents were being erected for street vendors.  People were traveling, trying to reach Jerusalem to celebrate.  In all the excitement and preparation, word started spreading about this man Jesus.

Everybody had talked about him for years now; well at least for the past couple of years.  Maybe families knew him, but not many were admitting it in front of their neighbors.  Some were open about knowing him, but the priests were frowning on them and watching to see who was hanging out with them.

Today we have 2000 years of hindsight to understand the significance of that parade.  History has proven that Jesus was indeed an historical figure.  The prophecies recorded in the Old Testament have been analyzed, debated, and supported in order to answer all the cynics’ accusations and questions.  Jesus is a very real figure in human history.  The Old Testament prophecies can be answered with the verses of the New Testament.

The Messianic prophecies about Passover week are in Isaiah, the Psalms, Zechariah, Micah, Jeremiah, 2 Samuel, Malachi, Numbers, and more.  (The reference sheets to these Messianic prophecies are in your inboxes or available by the bulletins.  These three pages are the ones simply about Holy Week, but the entire list is over 300 in length.)

From the lectionary readings for this week were listed as the “Liturgy of the Palms” and the “Liturgy of the Passion.”  This did not make understanding the significance of Holy Week any easier.  The two sets of readings shows how some see Palm Sunday as a celebration and some see Palm Sunday as a dire announcement.  Yet the fact that as Jesus began that last week of his life as a man on earth, he knew how he had to make an impact upon a culture which still did not understand after three years of walking the roads of Israel that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant.

Oh my goodness!  Did you see all the people?  The kids were wild, running all over the road with those palms in their hands.  How silly some of them were!  And I was really surprised to see that man riding on a donkey.  I expected him to be in a chariot all dressed up in armor and a spear and a shield in his hand.  I cannot figure out why the prophets said he was going to be the new king.  Riding in on a donkey—well, that is just crazy.

Still, did you see those other men?  I heard that Peter, Simon, Thomas, and a few others have given up their jobs and have been walking all over the country with him.  I wonder how their families are handling that.  I bet they are frustrated.

Did you hear what they were all shouting?  King of Kings.  The Messiah.  Our Savior.  Hallelujah, hallelujah!  I saw the priests standing over by the temple and they were really upset.  They were whispering and shaking their heads.  I wonder what they are thinking.  As I was leaving, I noticed a bunch of soldiers watching the parade.  They seemed to think it was all just a joke.  At least they did not seem to be concerned.

Today, Palm Sunday, 2010 years later, those of us sitting in this room know what happened next.  We have the New Testament writings, we have the historical records, we have the word of God and generations of teachings that have gone beyond the borders of Israel and wrapped around the globe.  Everybody loves a parade and today’s parade may only be in the sanctuaries of the Christian people, but we lift high the palm branches and celebrate the coming of Jesus in our lives.

In Phlippians 2:5-11, after Jesus’ cruxificion and resurrection, Paul continues the story:

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all.  When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

… You know I remember hearing my grandparents talk about seeing Jesus.  They were amazed at how many people were always following him around.  Grandpa had business in Jerusalem during the week they hung him.  He said that it was awful—not just the actual hanging, but the parading Jesus around the town, how they were beating him and jeering him.  When he returned to Philippi, he was never the same.  He started talking about how a man could never have endured that treatment, he talked about the look in his eyes when he looked at Grandpa.

In fact, I remember that was when we first started having a special family dinner in the spring.  I am beginning to understand what Paul is saying.  After Grandpa started telling us the stories he had heard and of his own experience seeing Jesus that day of his hanging, his life did change.  He started treating everybody much better, he stopped using bad language and putting everybody down.  Paul keeps telling us that we must love one another.  Do you think Grandpa’s change was a result of that one week in Jerusalem?  Do you think he would agree with Paul?

Dear Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit,

I am beginning to understand.  I thought we were going to have a great big celebration this week just because it was spring.  I did not realize that you were giving us the most important message in my life.  I am so sorry that I have only been half listening to the stories.  I am sorry that I have not been doing more to learn about your rules.  I am sorry that I have not shared your story with my family or my friends or my neighbors.  I guess it does take a parade to get my attention.  Help me to find the best ways to use my understanding of your words to help others.  Help me to love others as much as you love me.  Thank you for the gift of your Son.  I know how hard it is to give up something precious in hopes of changing for the better.  Thank you for loving me, being patient with me, and for your grace.  –Amen

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