St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday
Mark 14, 15
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     For me, Palm Sunday is a hard time to preach. There are such conflicting emotions and its hard to change gears so fast. We start with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem with everyone smiling and waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!" We can imagine the joyful, parade-like atmosphere. Jesus has come to save them. Hosanna in the highest!
     But Jesus does not save them in the way they thought he would. The crowds imagined that the person who would save them from the oppression of the Romans would come riding into Jerusalem on a powerful horse, not a humble donkey. They thought that their savior would come with military plans and strategies, with plans on how to form an army to drive out the Romans.
     But that wasn't Jesus' plan. Jesus came to teach us about love and forgiveness, about how to treat our neighbor, about respect for every human being and turning the other cheek. So what started as a wonderful welcome soon turned tragic. Why? Because Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the people. Jesus upset the status quo and those in authority felt that he threatened their power. The authorities want him out, killed, eliminated. So they look for a way to trap Jesus. And they find their weak link in the person of Judas who agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Then Judas looks for an appropriate time to betray him.
     Betrayal is hard for anyone, but it especially hard when it is done by a friend. Judas had been with Jesus for three years. Had he not learned from Jesus? Maybe he thought Jesus had gone too far in upsetting the authorities. Maybe he was trying to save Jesus from himself. Unfortunately, we don't know what was going through Judas' mind when he decides to turn Jesus over to the authorities.
     After the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knows what lies ahead and he needs God's strength. He takes with him Peter and James and John and he asks them to stay awake with him. But they can't. Three times they fall asleep, not even able to be present with Jesus in his final hours. And after the authorities come to arrest Jesus, the disciples flee. They are not with Jesus through his darkest hours.
     Denial. Betrayal. Abandonment. Death. Listening to this story some 2000 years later, we might say to ourselves that we never would have turned against Jesus or betrayed him or abandoned him in his time of need. But we have 2000 years of history between the actual event and now. We have the gospels and the letters of Paul. We know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. But the people of Jesus' day who had encountered him were still trying to make sense of it all.
      How many times have we turned against God when God does not fulfill our expectations, when God does not do what we want God to do when we want God to do it? When we want God to fix a broken relationship or heal a loved one or get us the job we want-----when God does not do that the way WE want it done in the time frame that WE want, then we, too, turn against God and we reject God, just like the crowds rejected Jesus.
     Who among us hasn't betrayed a friend or co-worker, particularly when it was to our advantage? Who among us hasn't at some time gone along with the crowd, to do something you didn't feel good about, rather than stick up for what was right? Who among us hasn't run away in fear rather than stand with someone who needs our help and support because we didn't want to get involved, or tarnish our reputation by being seen with a person "like that"?
     We are human and we fall short. But just as Jesus did not give up on his disciples, he does not give up on us. Jesus died for us and for our sins and loves us more than we can imagine.
     As we begin this Holy Week, we need to remember that this is not just a story that took place in the past. The events of this week are not just an historical re-enactment. It's about the kind of life Jesus makes possible for us now.  Although it is tempting just to skip ahead to the joy of Easter, it is necessary for each and every one of us to walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week - to be with Jesus as he is betrayed by a friend, to be with Jesus as he agonizes in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be with Jesus as he stands alone before Pilate and is condemned by the crowd. It is necessary for us to walk with Jesus on the way to Golgotha. It is necessary for us to sit at the foot of the cross and watch as Jesus dies in a cruel and humiliating way. For us....for us. We don't really have a choice whether to walk with Jesus during the painful events of Holy Week. If we love him, we will follow him and be with him. His death is for us because of his love for us. Only when we have walked through the events of this Holy Week - Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday - can we understand and have reason to celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day. Amen

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