Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday sermon

I'm taking an advanced preaching class, which I love; I preached this there, last Tuesday. It seemed fitting to post it now.

Matthew 21:1-11

We all know what’s coming.
Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem.
We are galloping full-tilt toward Holy Week.
Today’s gospel is a pivotal piece of a much bigger story.

Jesus and the disciples
are making the final journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus knows what is waiting for him there.
He has told the disciples what will happen,
three times in the last four chapters.
Just before this, he has told them,

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over
to the chief priests and scribes,
and they will condemn him to death;
then they will hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and flogged and crucified;
and on the third day he will be raised.”

That’s the next week, in a nutshell.
We can talk until the cows come home,
about how much of that prophecy
is retroactive faith or belief or knowledge,
and what exactly might have come from Jesus’ mouth.
As a literary device,
it’s very blunt foreshadowing.
It’s enough for us to understand
that things have been heating up for awhile,
and they’re just about to boil over.
They’re all watching and waiting,
on high alert, every muscle tensed.
What’s about to happen is a lot more than street theater.

Jesus sends two disciples ahead.
He tells them,
“Go to the next town, and bring these two particular animals back to me.
If anyone questions you, say, ‘The Lord needs them.’”
The disciples don’t question him.
They don’t ask why.
They don’t say, “Um, excuse me, just how are you orchestrating this?”
They take for granted that he knows what he’s doing.
They just go, and do what he asked them.
Of course the donkey and colt are there.
They bring the animals back,
cover them so that Jesus will be comfortable,
and help him climb onto them.
The crowds celebrate, waving palms and shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

“Hosanna” literally means, “save us.”
They know.
Their king is riding on a donkey, not a Roman war-horse.
This will be a reign of peace, of love, of righteousness.
This is the man who fed them,
with five loaves and three fish.
They trust him to care for them, to remember them,
to give them true justice.

These crowds are shouting, We deny all power to occupation.
We will never again be subject to the authority of Rome.

I’ll be honest—I’ve never known what to do with this gospel.
Holy Week gives me spiritual whiplash.
King Jesus is not the Jesus I’m used to.
This is not the man who healed the leper,
and the blind men,
and told them not to tell.
He’s not being humble.
He’s not hiding anything.
He seems to have finally said,
to all those multitudes he’d been feeding,
“Do it. You think of me as king.
You look to me to be your messiah.
I am. Go ahead and say so.”

Together they proclaim, at the gates of the holy city,
the Kindom of God has come.

Jesus claims Jerusalem,
with the crowds, for the crowds.
If the holy city is theirs,
it no longer belongs to the established,
recognized power structure.
Read on: the first thing he does, inside the city,
is drive the money-changers from the Temple.
The house of God is no place for price gouging.
It belongs to those who worship the One
who created them, sustains them, and loves them.
God desires mercy—
not sacrifice of the weak for the sake of the strong.

Who are the crowds?
I can only read this through a liberation lens.
The story depicts the inception of the reign of the living God.
Who is it, who would seek God’s justice?
These are the people
who have put their hope in Jesus, all along.
These are the poor, and the poor in spirit.
The trampled, the exhausted, the lost.
These are the ones who mourn,
who seek the comfort of a strong and loving God.
These are the meek, and the merciful.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
from the very bottom of the social pyramid.
The peacemakers, and the persecuted.
These are the blessed ones.
This is the power base, in the Kindom of Heaven—
the ones whose power is spiritual,
not financial, not political.
The ones who live by mercy, justice, and love.
The ones Jesus healed, and fed, are the ones for whom he came.
These are the ones who this day, finally, risk their lives to call him King.

Hosanna! Save us!

We sing the Sanctus all the time,
thinking about pronouns, or whether or not to cross ourselves.

This is a full-throated cry for liberation.

It’s no wonder the authorities weren’t pleased.

This ruckus in the streets
punctured the Pax Romana.
Rome enforced “peace” by military means.
There were soldiers in the streets of Jerusalem.
Religious authorities were caught between their faithful,
and the occupying government.
Social unrest could cost them more than their jobs.
A parody of an imperial procession,
by a raggle-taggle bunch of poor people waving palms
and their leader on a donkey,
would be taken as a direct threat
and dealt with, coldly
and efficiently.

We know that it will be.

The entrance into Jerusalem,
the procession into Holy Week,
is a transitional time.
We’re out of the desert.
We’re done with the pastoral imagery,
the gentle healings,
the sweet children’s stories.
This is a liminal time.
Jesus continues to teach, inside the holy city.
But the lessons become edgier:
the wicked tenant, the unfaithful servant.
He openly denounces the Scribes and Pharisees.
He preaches apocalyptic:
be prepared, in belief and action,
for the coming of the Reign of God.
Soon, the authorities have him arrested.
We know what happens next.

The man who spoke in parables,
acted as a parable.
The Kindom of Heaven is where
the broken are healed,
the hungry are fed,
and the king enters not riding a war-horse,
but on a donkey, a symbol of humility and peace.
The donkey bears the king,
and the king bears the people.

Blessed be the One who comes in the name of our God.
Hosanna in the highest.


FranIAm said...

After reading that I am floored. So well done Kirstin... Amen sister.

Episcopollyanna said...

Wonderful!! Great job.

Diane said...

I love this. thank you for this. really, you just have it.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, all of you.

Always before I know I'm going to preach, I panic. And then, I listen. So far it seems to work.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

And the Kingdom of God can be here now, if we are willing.