Sermon March 29: Point of No Return (Palm Sunday)

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Faith United Methodist Church

March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11

Prayer of Illumination:

God is our rock and our fortress. We can rely on God to help us hear, not only words of celebration, but words of anguish – words that challenge and distress us. May God open our ears, our eyes and our hearts to let the Scripture into our souls and fill us with steadfast love. Amen.

Sermon:  Point of No Return

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” I have always liked Palm Sunday. It’s a fun Sunday, isn’t it? The hymns. The parade. The celebration.   As a child I remember being part of the parade with my friends, handing out palms to everyone in our small congregation. Then, after the service, old Mr. Hedrick would take our palms and fix them into the shape of a cross. My palm cross would sit on my bookshelf, getting brittle and dry until the next year when I got a new one. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But we know something that those who lined the streets of Jerusalem to welcome Jesus didn’t know, right? We know, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. We know that Palm Sunday is a celebration with a shadow. We know that the carpet of palm branches soon led to the cross. The joy of Palm Sunday points us to the passion of Good Friday. Palm Sunday was the day that sealed Jesus’ fate. After Palm Sunday Jesus couldn’t take it back even if he had wanted to ~ the teachings, the healings. As Carl Gregg put it, “These risky acts of nonviolent activism led directly to Jesus’ tragic martyrdom.” Palm Sunday was the point of no return. The shouts of ‘Hosanna’ soon became cries of, ‘Crucify him’.

And that’s the part of Palm Sunday that makes this more than a sentimental story about a little parade. As much as we would like it to, the high of Palm Sunday doesn’t lead us right into the celebration of Easter, with pastel colored eggs and chocolate bunnies lining the way. Instead there is a valley in between, the valley of the shadow of death, deep and treacherous and full of despair. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Even though we sometimes refer to our Palm Sunday celebration as Jesus “Triumphal Entry,” it was really anything but triumphal ~ made up of a rag-tag group including fisherman, tax collectors, women, children, the blind, the lame. And the guest of honor was not on a stallion, but on the back of a borrowed donkey. Trumpets didn’t accompany the arrival, but shouts of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palms. The mighty King David would certainly have been embarrassed by such a paltry display. It seemed more like a joke than a parade fit for royalty.

And maybe that was the point. Maybe it was meant to be a joke of sorts. An act of street theater. A way to show the big shots that their brand of power wasn’t the only show in town. An affirmation that the name of God is greater than any show of force or power humanity could muster. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

In our confirmation class (here at Faith UMC) we spend one session talking about our names. We write our names and their meanings on the white board. Krista Beth, for example, means Christ’s House. Then we talk about what other names we might go by: athlete, vegetarian, consumer, student, musician, son, daughter, popular, geek, Christian. And then we consider the question: Whose name to do we claim? The name our parents gave us? The names other people call us? Or another name?

The truth is names mean something. Upon entering the city of Jerusalem, the people cheered for Jesus, saying, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus wasn’t being recognized as just a good teacher or an impressive healer, but as one bearing the very name of the Lord. As William Loader explains, for the people of Israel “…bearing someone’s name was like bearing their responsibility and being recognized as able to represent them.” To come in the name of another meant that you bore a special charge from that person and could speak and act on their behalf. This helped to seal Jesus fate, as anyone claiming the name of God was a threat both to the religious and the political leaders.

As we celebrate today we remember that this is but one stop on our Jerusalem journey. As our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “In this climax of the Lenten Season, we are called to walk with Christ into the valley of the shadow of death and see it as the gates of life.” After Palm Sunday Jesus’ life would never be the same. There was no going back. He could never return to the quiet carpenter’s life. And neither can we. Because of Jesus our lives ~ and our death ~ will never be the same.

The early Christian hymn shared by Paul ~ read to us by Carole this morning ~ reminds us that Jesus, “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” It was through his humility that the name Jesus became synonymous with Lord. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

In the days to come our journey will take us into Jerusalem and through the story of Jesus’ betrayal, rejection, torturers and death. We will see his friends fall away. We will hear his tortures taunt him with a crown of thorns, calling him “King of the Jews” as they laugh. It is not an easy story to hear. In fact it’s easier to go from Hosanna to resurrection and skip over the cries of “Crucify Him.” But it’s an important story. In fact, I would say that it is the most important story ever told because when we walk with Jesus to the cross we find out what is most important in life ~ and it has nothing to do with personal power, prestige, or popularity and everything to do with love.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord….so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.