SCRIPTURE Mark 14:1-11 It was now two days before the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were looking for a way to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. “We must not do it during the feast,” they said, “or the people might riot. Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper, in Bethany; while he was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry, and said to each other, “what was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred dollars, and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me. You will always have poor people with you, and any time you want you can help them. But I shall not be with you always. She did what she could; she poured perfume on my body to prepare it ahead of time for burial. Now, remember this! Wherever the gospel is preached, all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went off to the chief priests in order to hand Jesus over to them. They were greatly pleased to hear what he had to say, and promised to give him money. So Judas went looking for a good chance to betray Jesus.
MESSAGE “The Palms and the Cross” Rev. James Renfrew
What a day, what a beautiful day! Children laughing, adults shouting with joy, one of those rare days in human existence when a dream has arrived and long-held hopes are finally realized. As a child I imagined thousands of joyful people lining the road on Palm Sunday, spontaneously waving their palm branches as high as they could reach into the sky. “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!”
This was the story that I knew as a child. And, in fact, participated in it, as we formed a procession of waving palm branches and circulated around the sanctuary.
Later I learned more about it. Like riding into Jerusalem on a donkey fit exactly with the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah, who anticipated the day that a mighty king would chase away the invaders who had conquered Israel and usher in a reign of eternal peace. Let me tell you, Israel had been invaded and conquered many, many times, by Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Assyrians, the Greeks, and most lately by the Romans. Soldiers on the streets, heavy taxes levied, and severe punishments for any who complained were the daily evidence of Israel’s subjugation. It’s easy to see why a crowd would welcome Jesus. They had been hoping and praying for liberation for a very long time.
Later, I noticed that the story is actually kind of vague about the size of the crowd that greeted Jesus. As a child I imagined many thousands, parading down the streets with Jesus, but I think it more likely that it was a small number, barely noticed by anyone outside of Jesus’ small circle of supporters.
The people in the crowd shout “hosanna”. I remember that word from my earliest days of Palm Sunday awareness. It was much later that I learned what the word “hosanna” means: “save us!” These people along the road to Jerusalem were shouting for Jesus to save them from almost everything you can think of: save us from war, save us from poverty, save us from sickness, save us from fear.
Slaves were shouting save us, as they thought of freedom. Poor people were shouting save us, as they hoped for an end to hunger and homelessness. Sick people were shouting save us, as they dreamed of the healing of disease and an end to the demons of the mind. They were all shouting save us, as they dreamed that their country would be liberated from the Roman soldiers who had taken it over. Perhaps only Jesus heard Judas when he quietly whispered, save me from myself.
We need to use our imagination here, because while the crowd shouts hosanna, we have to guess what it was that they wanted to be saved from! The text doesn’t exactly say. It is very possible that many in the crowd who shouted “hosanna”, were thinking of the Roman occupiers. “We want them gone for good, gone forever”. But I think there were many other things that they shouted “hosanna” about.
Let’s test it out. Please shout “Save Me!” with me and as you shout, notice what it is that you want to be saved from! I can guess some of your answers: “Save me!” means relief from a serious disease. “Save me!” means a quick solution to an empty food cupboard. “Save me” means I need help with a serious family problem. “Save me” means I need help with a serious addiction or a really bad habit. “Save me” means many things, depending upon who you are. But those who were there that day in Jerusalem shouted together and it’s easy to add our voices to theirs.
But there are two stories today, because the joy of Palm Sunday runs alongside a darker story. Shortly before Palm Sunday there was the time when a woman poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. Judas was one of those who objected to this, because the money was wasted. It could have been used to feed the poor. Expensive perfume, wasted money, this marks the tipping point that causes Judas to go to the chief priests in secret to negotiate a payment for betraying Jesus.
Our day begins with waving palm branches but it ends with the Cross. A plot is set in motion. Jesus knows what will happen, that he will soon be dead and buried.
The day begins with indescribable joy, but in a short matter of time something terrible has come about: Jesus is hanging on the cross.
The joy of this day suddenly shifts towards the Cross. It seems sudden, but that shift has been happening from the very beginning of the story. Jesus is born, the angels sing, and Herod starts killing children. Whenever Jesus speaks, whenever he offers a new teaching or a miracle of hope, others are quick to shout him out, to beat him down, to destroy his reputation, and to challenge his every word.
As the crowd was shouting with joy, a conspiracy was at work, and finally a betrayal. In the end the crowd that shouted with joy was shouting something different, something much darker. Instead of “Hosanna”, an angry crowd is shouting “Away with him, get rid of him, kick him out, he’s an imposter, he’s a liar; let him drop dead, crucify him!”
What a radical change, from palms and singing, to nails and murder; what a radical change from a wonderful parade through the streets, to the horror of the hill of crucifixion; from celebration under the sun to burial in a cold dark cave.
We know where the story goes next, yet here we are shouting Hosanna, along with the children who understand little of the complexities of life, the peaks and valleys, the hopes and disappointments, who given a chance to shout and laugh and wave along with the parade do so with unlimited joy. Hosanna! God save us! Hosanna! Jesus save us! Hosanna! Save us right away!
You don’t need to have a parade on Palm Sunday to know that people in our community say “Save Me, Save Us” every day. Some people even wake up and those are the first words that they think. “O God, help me face this day, save me from all of my enemies, save me from all of the stress and pressure, save me from myself.”
We have to become very good at listening for the day to day hosannas that people say. We have to open our eyes to human need, we have
to feel the hurt hidden inside people, we have to reach our hand out in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who was first to answer our own cry for help.
Perk up your ears to hear the whispers and shouts of hosanna, open your eyes to waving branches, feel the energy of the crowd and the hopes that they carried into Jerusalem as they followed Jesus.
*WHAT WE BELIEVE
One day, with two stories to tell. A Sunday morning when both the palm branches and the cross touch our lives.
The first story about a sunny day with a parade of happy people waving palm branches and shouting with joy!
The second story about a betrayal leading to a horrible death on the cross.
The first story is easy to embrace, and we can even picture ourselves in the happy parade.
The second story is harder to accept, because people, perhaps similar to ourselves, joined the mob calling for Jesus to die.
In the shadow of the cross it’s hard to know what to believe about Jesus: the powerful Son of God and yet vulnerable to the worst violence.
In the shadow of the cross it’s hard to know what to believe about ourselves: created in the very image of God, but often working against God.
What we believe is that at the core our faith is a shout in the darkness – lonely, desperate and hopeless – and God responds with Jesus Christ. We don’t understand in the full, but God’s response is where our new lives begin!
In Jesus we pray. Amen.