Palm/Passion Sunday 5 April 2020
(Isaiah 50:4-9 Psalm 31 Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 21:1-11)
“The Same Mind as was in Christ!”
Gospel-writer Matthew does not hold back when telling us the details of Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Listen again to his description of this event. He says: “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road . . . .the crowd went ahead of him. . . the crowds followed him shouting ‘Hosanna’ to the Son of David.. . . the city was in turmoil . . .the crowds, the shouting, the city, the turmoil” [Mt. 21: 8-9].
I guess there was no Coronavirus back then, because I know those people were not six feet apart, as they shouted out and watched this man enter the Holy City; and you can be sure that there were certainly more than 10 people gathered. The picture painted by Matthew is the very antithesis of what you see when you walk the streets of Gettysburg today. We live in a very different world!
Welcome again all who are joining us for this time of worship. In the life of the church, Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. And although we usually say that the Passion Narrative begins at Chapter 26, for me the Passion Narrative begins today with Jesus entering into Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday is one of the most confusing and incoherent days, I think, of our church year. Crowds are shouting at the top of their lungs—“Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us now because you are the one who saves! “
I love how there are two Greek words that really liven up this text today! The Greek adds a layer of urgency. The first is the way the word “Hosanna” is used. It is a transliteration of a Hebrew imperative, “sozo,” meaning “Do it! Do it now!” It’s like when we say to our child, “Could you pick up your toys?” That’s a nice question. And then when the child sits there and looks at you as if he did not hear a word you said, you say: “I’m not asking you; I’m telling you!” That’s when you have slipped into the imperative; you say, “Do it! Pick up your toys now, or else!” It’s no longer a nice simple question, “Could you pick up your toys?”
In the scripture text, this isn’t a nice, “Could you save us now, Messiah?” The crowd is already in the imperative! “You are the Son of David, save us now, or else!” That’s what we’re hearing! That’s the “Hosanna!” – “Save us!” “Deliver us!” “Heal us!” “Do it now!” “Save us now, or else!”
And then if that isn’t enough Greek for one day, the other word that adds more zest is “seio,” when Matthew says that the city was in turmoil. Matthew uses the word for earthquake, (used again later in this Gospel when Jesus dies) where we get our word “seismic.” In this Gospel, when Jesus enters the Holy City on this day, the word Matthew uses says to us that, Jerusalem is shaken and shocked and staggered. It’s like an earthquake is taking place! Then we are told that then entire city asks the question “Who is this?” Things are in an uproar! None of this makes sense.
Sounds like our lives right now! In this year 2020, there are so many things that just do not make sense! I do not think it too much of an exaggeration to say that our world today is in an uproar!
We are being shaken! We are in shock! Our emotions are raw. We are unsettled! We are lonely! We are isolated. We are scared! We struggle to be calm! We want to be confident! Pastor Andrew and I hear it every day on the phone. We all see it in the news. We witness it on social media.
These are our emotions on this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week.
So what do we do with all these emotions we are experiencing at this time? This is where I look to the Philippians text. I know I’ve told many of you that this is my favorite Letter of Paul. I could just sit with Philippians for hour upon end. Hear again what Paul says at the very beginning of the passage we heard a few minutes ago. In verse 5, Paul writes: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 2:5]. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
The mind of Christ on that first Palm Sunday was that He would not avoid any of what was going on around him. He did not avoid the raw emotions. He did not avoid the confusion. He did not avoid the uncertainty. He was a vulnerable Messiah, “. . .emptying Himself . . . being born like one of us” [Philippians 2:7].
This is a week that begins with high acclaim and then travels through high treachery and tragedy. The Passion Narrative begins today, but before we go to the end of this week, I want us to be the crowd today (even if we cannot stand close together). I want us to be the crowd, because they did get it right in demanding to be saved and healed and delivered. They got it right because all of the cheering and demanding (the imperative of “do this or else!”) came out of the belief that their God was the One who could save them. To “have the mind of Christ” is to believe today that our God will deliver us, and save us, and heal us, and that our lives today are filled with moments and movements of grace.
Everything in our lives today has been thrown off balance by the Covid-19—everything: the way we do our daily work, the way we interact with family, friends and co-workers. The way we live. The way we die. The way we grieve. The way we celebrate! The way we learn. The way we greet people. The way we worship. Everything was off balance on that first Palm Sunday. Everything seems off balance today! On the cross, Jesus threw everything off balance, no less. His dying became our life. His dying became our love. His dying became our hope.
This might just be the prayerful wisdom of what Palm Sunday speaks to us today—this week that begins with shouts of joy and ends with shouts of mockery; it brings hope into our world, into our lives where we feel the most uncertainty, where so much of what was “normal” is no more.
On this Palm Sunday it is okay be the crowd to demand deliverance and healing and wholeness for our world! But to make our prayers “with the mind of Christ” is not to lose hope, not to have the luxury of falling into despair, not to miss all the good going on around us.
Palm Sunday always feels uncomfortable to me. It always feels disconnected. This year it all blends together.
Here is my invitation to each one of you today. Name your fears and your uncertainties. Notice where you feel most disconnected (from others and from God)—and then (with the same determination of the crowds outside Jerusalem) give your fears, your uncertainties, your disconnectness to God, allow God to hold them for you.
May this Palm Sunday be your prayer/my prayer/our prayer for our wounded world!
Amen and Amen!