Palm Sunday, Year C, 4/4/04
his title sounds selfish, but it is true that Jesus did it all for you, for us, for all humanity for all time. This time of Lenten preparation for Holy Week and Easter has been a time to reflect upon what he did and why.
For many millions world-wide this year's Lenten season has been dominated by Mel Gibson's motion picture, “The Passion of the Christ,” which opened in theaters on Ash Wednesday. Our thoughts have run ahead to the events of the Passion, and we have not focused on the events leading up to the Passion. Perhaps this has not been a problem in our Lenten preparation because we have always known how the story ended, anyway.
This Sunday we take a break from the images of the Passion and focus on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus was welcomed by thousands into Jerusalem . The throng of supporters lined the road which meandered down the Mount of Olives and through the Kidron Valley , as they waved palm branches and spread their coats in the path as a sign of adoration.
Although the Scripture does not give a public opinion poll, or even count the numbers, it is probable that many of those who had been following Jesus on his preaching tour throughout Palestine , were in the crowd waving palm branches on Sunday. We can't help but wonder what happened to them during the week that caused them to not be out in support of Jesus as he was being tried, scourged and crucified on Friday. Was it a different crowd that called for Pilate to “Crucify Him” just a few days after welcoming him into the city? Or, did some of those from Palm Sunday's crowd change their minds about Jesus' Messiahship during the week? Perhaps when they saw Jesus scourged, and knew that he was going to die, they decided that he was a failed messiah after all. How else could they have chosen to change their feelings toward Jesus so quickly?
Isn't it true to life that choices we make determine how most things turn out for us? God has created us with the freedom to choose, and sometimes we make the wrong choices. As I have read the story of these last days of Jesus' life I feel that many of his former followers, even some who were fed at the miracle of Jesus feeding thousands with a little boy's lunch, or had seen him heal afflicted people, did choose to turn against him. Is this not how folks still act in today's world?
We have all known persons who have seemingly chosen to turn away from God. Perhaps, as a result of a situation in their life that has not turned out as they had prayed and hoped for, they became bitter. It seems easy to do if we do not hold on tight to our faith during bereavement, sickness or some other adverse incident that happens to all of us. Therefore, can't we understand how some of the Sunday palm branch wavers turned against Jesus on Friday?
The Good News for us today is that even though we have so many choices to make every day that are critical to our future, there is actually one foundational decision upon which all subsequent selections are built. When we decide to allow the Spirit of Christ indwell our hearts and lead our lives we can stay true to our faith experience. As we walk with Jesus for a while we do not doubt in times of testing, but we believe and pray and count on the Spirit's support. We see this happening all the time as friends stay true in time of turmoil. Don't we know by now that He is with us through all the things, good and bad, that happen to us along the way of life, and that He will never fail us? John Wesley taught his Methodists how to face even death. He was proud when they remained true through adversity. He was told by his housekeeper when he was dying so that he might witness to his faith. However, our Palm Sunday saints did not have the benefit of this longtime life of faith development and learning to trust in God's faithfulness.
In this Palm Sunday worship service we are also re-enacting the Last Supper that Christ had with his twelve Apostles. This has been a reminder to us for many years as to what it means that Christ died for us and has blotted out our sin. We “celebrate with joy” today, and on Maundy Thursday evening, in this week of Jesus' Passion, because we know that the story ends on Easter, next Sunday, with the great Resurrection.
The key to our hope amid the terror of the Cross is found in the words that Jesus used in instituting Holy Communion as a perpetual remembrance of his Passion, “This is my body, which is given for you .” He died, but temporarily. We have faith to believe that His tomb is empty and also that beyond death our tombs will be empty too.
Holy Land pilgrims can still visit Jesus' empty tomb. Actually, there are two sites. One is in the ancient and gilded Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is the traditional site of Jesus' burial and every pilgrim needs to experience its splendor. However, there is a “Protestant” tomb that was discovered by more recent archaeologists that may be the true site. It is located outside of the city walls next to a hill that has embedded into it the facial characteristics of a skull. Tour groups that our family has traveled with seemed to believe that Gordon's Calvary , and Garden Tomb, at least looks more like how we picture the original site. It is very possibly the same empty tomb briefly occupied by Jesus' corpse. It is a small crypt dug out of the limestone hill. In 1970 my father and I walked over to the tomb one afternoon. The usual waiting line was not present, because of a worship service in the garden, so we slipped into the tomb and knelt by ourselves. During my prayer the thought came to me that I would probably outlive my father and that this experience would one day mean the world to me, and it does.
Jesus died that we might live: “He did it all for us!”
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor