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Music used for this service is licensed under OneLicense A-727478 and CCLI 20776078.
Text: Mark 11: 1 – 11
This is actually one of the services I will miss most having in person. Missed it last year; missing it this year. I like the procession. I like hearing people sing the songs loudly. I like palm leaves, even though they’re actually hard to find sustainable ones, and for the past years at Revelstoke I had been using these streamer things that we could reuse every year that I think looked better.
Why does the church put Palm Sunday where it does? In John’s gospel, Jesus goes to Jerusalem several times; the procession happens at the third, five days before the Passover (12:12), which in John’s gospel happens on Good Friday (it happens on Thursday in the other gospels). In the other gospels, Jesus goes to Jerusalem only once, and there’s no definitive time from when Jesus arrives to when he is crucified.
We have put this Sunday only a week before the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday-Easter) to contrast the crowd shouting, “Hosanna!” (“save us”) with the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” We have put this Sunday here because Jesus’ triumphant march into Jerusalem is perversely mirrored by his death march out of the city to the hill of Golgotha. We put this Sunday here because the crowds who cry, “Save us!” have no idea just how Jesus will end up doing that.
He comes riding in on a colt: not a noble stallion, not the horse of a conqueror, but an unbroken colt. His path is laid out with cuttings from the field and poor people’s cloaks, not a military procession. The crowds cry “save us” because they want him to free him from the Romans, as if he were a military hero like Gideon or Deborah or David.
Jesus isn’t what the people expected. That much is clear. Nearly everything about who Jesus is defies the expectations of what a Son of God should be. Poor, pacifist, from a conquered race, open, accepting. They expected a liberator, a general, and hey expected someone who would “purge” them of the impure and the defilers, whether that be the Romans who were defiling from without, or the “sinners” who were defiling from within.
We kid ourselves if we think that our image of Jesus is the right one. We have to realize that whatever image of Jesus we have, the one we actually meet will challenge it. The image of the “hippy Jesus” who is always cool, laid back, kind, and gentle, who never insults people but “loves” in a polite, sentimental way will be challenged by the Jesus who clears the moneylenders from the temple and who calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and “brood of vipers.” The image of the genteel Jesus, the one we have in our protestant churches, who is dressed nice, who plays with children and lambs, will be challenged by the Jesus who dies bloody and naked on a cross.
It isn’t just the exclusionary Christians—those who reject people for being LGBTQ+ or of other religions—who need to be challenged by the radically inclusive Jesus. Our middle-class churches need to be challenged by the Jesus who rants and raves, the Jesus who is homeless, or the Jesus who isn’t white. The Sunday School image of him that we have is not a bad image, but it cannot be the only image we have of the Word Made Flesh.
There is a reason why Buddhists say, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Our human understanding of the divine is limited, and that’s a really important concept to grasp for a mature faith, because whatever your perceptions of Jesus are, the Jesus you actually meet will challenge them in some way, so you might as well be open to letting your previous understanding of Jesus go, “killing him,” in a way.
The crowds turned from cheers to shouts of “Crucify him,” because Jesus did not fit what they had in mind. They expected a conqueror, and instead he vandalized the temple, spent his time with sex workers and poor people, and did nothing to start a revolt. “Save us! . . . No, not like that!” They were so attached to the image they had of who the Messiah would be, that they couldn’t accept him for who he actually was.
And this isn’t just true of Jesus. Other people will defy our expectations of who they are, because people are complicated and have inner lives we know nothing about. And we will disappoint others by being who we actually are, and not who they expect us to be. That is a fact of life. The only counter to this is an open, accepting love. The love that just accepts when a child says, “I’m trans,” or, “I want to be an artists, not a doctor,” or “I have an addiction and I need help.” A love that doesn’t depend on people fitting into our neat boxes for them.
Likewise, we need a faith that accepts the God who both judges and forgives, not just one or the other. A Jesus who says both, “I come not to bring peace but a sword,” and, “Those who live by the sword will die by it.” A faith that accept Jesus as saviour whether he is welcoming Children, turning over tables in the temple, or dying on the cross.
Holy week is a time where we hear and confront the most difficult part of the Christian story. And, in my experience, attendance is always lower on Friday and every year I’ve been tempted to say that if you don’t come on Friday, you don’t have the right to come on Sunday. Fortunately, I realize that I don’t have the right to say that, so I won’t. But I feel like saying it. It is unpleasant, but there are people who are going through a story just like this one, where they have been betrayed, where that have been subject to persecution and derision, where they feel crucified, and it is important that God is with them, and that we, the church, are with them. The disciples will flee from the cross; the only ones who remain will be the women. And it is the women who will be the ones who get to first see the risen Christ.