4/13/2014 Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Passion according to St. Matthew)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Sunday is indeed a peculiar day as it merges the traditional Palm Sunday with the Passion of our Lord. But, the day is no more peculiar than the events themselves. For the events that took place within one week’s time were extraordinary. Within one short week the palm branches with which the crowd in Jerusalem had greeted Jesus of Nazareth that first Palm Sunday were exchanged for the “tree” itself – exchanged for the hard, cold, cruel wood of the cross! The crown of gold which they were prepared to place on his head that day was exchanged for the prickly crown of thorns! Although Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst the pomp and circumstance of a festal parade, he left beaten and broken and dragging his own cross to his death! The laughs and “Hosannas!” of Palm Sunday became the shouts, “Crucify Him!” and the wailing of Good Friday.
What in the world happened? What happened to change things so drastically in such a short amount of time? How could people’s hearts have become so hardened that one day they could praise him and a week later they could scoff at him, trample his words under foot, and watch his life slip away from him as he hung naked on the cross?
We may want to accuse the religious elite of the day for such a travesty of justice. We may want to blame them for the people’s change in heart and the events that took place on Golgatha. We might want to blame them, saying it was all their fault for being afraid of Jesus and of his words which reinterpreted their faith and disrupted their lives. Or, in our search for an answer as to why this happened, we may want to point our fingers at Pontius Pilate, the political ruler. We might want to blame this man who knew what he was doing was wrong, but didn’t have enough courage to act on his convictions. Or, how about the disciples – the disloyalty of Judas who turned Jesus over to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver, or the denying Peter who watched what was happening from a safe distance, refusing even to admit to knowing Jesus, or the other disciples who simply ran away and hid from sight in fear that they too would share in Jesus’ fate? But, the real culprits of the story are not any of these individuals. The guilty ones are those ordinary people who waved branches and hailed Jesus as king as he entered Jerusalem. For, they did no better than the rest. They added their voices to those crying out for his blood.
Sometimes, we like to glorify the common folk, people like us, thinking that surely they would have stood up to the authorities, stood up for what they believed, stood up for what was true, good and right. But, it didn’t happen that way. The onus of what happened on Good Friday rests squarely on the shoulders of ordinary people, people like you and me who know what is right but are afraid to speak up or stand firm in our belief. Ordinary people, sinners like you and me and not just the rich and powerful, not just the evil and the corrupt, and not just the extremists or the fanatics – folks like you and me – were the ones who made it happen and the reason why it happened.
On Palm Sunday these same people felt like they had their king back. So, they took off their cloaks and outer garments and threw them in the road in front of Jesus. Others broke off branches from the trees and waved them. To them, Jesus was the king they had waited for, the king who was going to meet their expectations. So, these folks were willing, at least for the moment, to pin their hopes on this man and his promises of freedom and new life. But, by Good Friday they had changed their minds. With no revolution in sight, no coronation, no immediate change in the daily grind of living, they added their voice and their silence to those who decreed that the king must die.
Ordinary people, people like us, were willing to put him to death because Jesus did not meet their expectations. Jesus was not the wizard or the fairy godfather they were looking for. He was not the earthly ruler for whom they had waited. He was something very different. But then Jesus seldom is the one we are expecting, the one we are looking for as he is not the God that we think we need, but the one whom the Father sent to save.
So, what happened to change things so drastically in such a short amount of time? Jesus’ death became the politically expedient thing to do. For, it was what the people allow and what many wanted.
And so, Jesus was betrayed and beaten, and died on the cross because of us and for us. And in his final act of humble service and in obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus breathed his last – so that ordinary people, people like us, might be forgiven and find new life and freedom in his crowned head and cross raised body. Jesus bore the consequences of our sin in his broken body and death. Jesus did this so that the ordinary people who deny, betray, abandon, mock and turn their hearts against him might find peace and salvation through his cross.
So, may this peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.