Sermon for Palm Sunday -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Today’s Processional Gospel lesson, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Palm Sunday story, is featured in all four gospels: the humble beast, the shouting crowds, the branches, the coats and cloaks spread like a carpet upon the road, this story has center stage in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I must agree with the Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Taylor when she says that “this is a big biblical deal.”
Think of it: the Christmas story is only told in two gospels and the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, each of these are just in two gospels also. Jesus’ most famous parables, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – they only appear once.
But the Palm Sunday story--the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem--this story is in all four gospels.
In the church we usually think of the Day of Pentecost, when they Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, as the church’s birthday. However, as Dr. Taylor suggests, perhaps Palm Sunday is the church's real birthday. Palm Sunday is the day the followers of Jesus grew up, found their voices, summoned their courage, and assumed their role as witnesses to God's will on earth.
This is the day. Palm Sunday is the day Jesus' followers stepped out onto the world stage, stepped out in earnest as actors and leaders in the kingdom of God.
Think of the scene. The ancient city of Jerusalem during the annual Passover festival is swelled with visitors from all over the world. The city is alive, abuzz, international, exciting. Every possible room is rented at a premium price. Grocers have stocked their shelves to capacity. Everyone is out of doors. The visitors and pilgrims are readily identifiable by their clothing and by their manners...by the extra bags hanging off their shoulders, and by the way they meander up and down the streets, pausing, gazing, pointing.
Merchants sell their wares - exotic foods, trinkets, brightly colored clothing - on street corners and in public squares. Musicians and street performers gather knots of people who gape and laugh and applaud.
The atmosphere sizzles and pulses. The whole exotic world has come to Jerusalem. Expectation is in the air.
To keep the peace, Roman legions, conscripts from Roman citizens - helmeted, armor gleaming, astride horses – these Roman legions patrol the streets.
Until this day, until this moment, until right now, the followers of Jesus had been just that: just followers, largely passive and reflective. They had followed Jesus all over Palestine.
When Jesus argued with civil and religious officials, they watched, tense and riveted. When Jesus defended a prostitute, they gasped. When Jesus conversed in public with a woman from Samaria, they winced. When Jesus defied the Sabbath laws, they cringed. When Jesus declared that the last shall be first, the first last, and the rich poor, they glanced around guardedly to see who was listening. When Jesus kissed lepers and healed those of broken bodies, they whispered in fascinated awe.
Until this day, this moment, until right now, the followers of Jesus had been just that: followers, largely passive, if keen observers of his ways. But on Palm Sunday, today, a shift occurs, a transformation begins. And it is a massive shift for the church.
As they enter Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers begin to assume the roles of leaders. They walk onto the world stage of a capital city during a great annual festival. For the first time since they have known Jesus, they take up their roles as actors and leaders in the kingdom of God.
As Jesus and his small band of followers enter the city, Roman soldiers gather to investigate the fuss – think of horses snorting, armor gleaming, swords flashing, and crests bearing Caesar's proud and commanding image.
Against this display of power and authority, against and in defiance of it, the followers of Jesus stage a street drama announcing this: their hearts and their allegiance belong, not to Caesar, not to the Emperor of Rome, not to that pretender god, but to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. On the streets of Jerusalem in front of God and Rome and everybody, Jesus’ followers announce and proclaim that their hearts and their allegiance belong, not to the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, that uneasy peace achieved by force--but to Pax Christi, the peace of Christ, a peace to which we are invited, but never coerced, a peace which comes from the very heart of God, a peace that passes all human understanding.
This is the day they shout in public that they belong to God and not to Caesar ... which, in their case on this day, is nothing less than an act of rebellion.
For the past three years--from the day Jesus called them from their fishing nets until this moment--the commitment to follow Jesus, it had been personal. It had been intimate and private; but today, this day, Palm Sunday, the commitment to follow Jesus, it becomes public and it becomes political.
The story of Palm Sunday appears in all four gospels because this is the day the followers of Jesus become protagonists--become actors and leaders--in the kingdom of God. This is the day the church comes out in the open. This is the day the church distances itself from the state and from all worldly power. This is the day, this is the moment, the hour, that they absolutely and entirely renounce all allegiance and fidelity to every earthly prince, state, and sovereignty and vow that they will and do bear true faith and true allegiance to Jesus, Prince of Peace, Son of God. This is the day the church becomes the church. This is the day the church is born.
And, this is the day that Jesus’ followers, and that includes you and me today, we can say to Jesus, "It's our turn, Jesus, and you have taught us well. You have shown us and taught us what God looks like."
It's our turn now, our turn to show the world what God looks like, to show the world what love looks like, to show the world what it looks like to love your enemies, and not only your enemies, but the immigrant and the alien, the stranger, and the other. To show the world what it looks like to forgive those who sin against you and to forgive this one not once, not seven times, but seventy times seven times. To show the world.
In a manifestly violent world, it is now our turn to show the world, to show our friends, our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, what it looks like to follow the Prince of Peace, to turn the other cheek. It's our turn now.
In a merciless world, a dog-eat-dog and might-makes-right world, it is now our turn to show the world what mercy looks like, God's mercy. It's our turn, now, today, to give witness to mercy for Christ's sake. It is our turn to show the world what God looks like. And, if we do this, it might actually turn the world on its head.
It won't be easy. It may be costly.
It was on Palm Sunday that the followers of Jesus began to understand just how costly and rigorous is the Christian life. You train for it as an athlete trains for a race: rehearsing the virtues, practicing courage, training oneself in kindness, exercising gentleness, working at mercy and generosity. It's a fulltime job, this training and practicing. It is a way of life. The story of Palm Sunday appears in all four gospels because it was on Palm Sunday, it was today, that the church was truly born, not in wind and fire, but in courage and in conviction.
This is the day the church found its feet and found its voice and swore allegiance to the Prince of Peace. May the church be born again today, reborn today on Palm Sunday, reborn in you and in me as we show the world what God looks like.
(This sermon is adapted from one preached by the Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Taylor on Day1).
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
The Church was born on Palm Sunday
Sermon for 5th Lent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
March 19 & 20, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California