Parade or Funeral Procession?

Palm Sunday Sermon March 28 2021 bwk/ Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT

Mark 11:1-11

Celebrity Parade—Jesus is immensely popular with the populace.  He is kind, warm, accepting.  He has healed countless people and raised the dead.  His understanding of God is radically different.  The welcoming crowds are happy and noisy.  There is a party atmosphere.  Coats and palm branches are strewn in front of Him.  Jesus is the celebrity of the day.  The would-be-king.  The hoped-for-deliverer.  And He was riding a donkey, the foal of a donkey—unbroken, yet willing to let Jesus ride on it.  

It looks like a celebrity parade.  Party time.  And yet…and yet… something else was going on that the neither the crowds nor the disciples could comprehend.  Is this a parade or a death march—a funeral procession? 

Death March—Funeral Procession—a captured Messiah beaten and tortured and then marched to the place of His crucifixion as a common criminal?  In just a couple of days Jesus would be arrested at night while He was praying.  He would be taken under the cover of darkness and tried by the power brokers of the day; a fake trial, on trumped up charges.  Because He was too popular.  The power brokers were jealous.  Their edge of control over the people was threatened.  So they conspired to kill Jesus.  And, with the help of the political powers of Rome they succeeded.  

How could that happen?  How could evil win the day?  How could the innocent  succumb yet again and be overpowered.  Where is God in all this?  How could God let this happen?  

Consider our current world.  Chaos on the southern boarder because thousands flee violence and terror in their home countries. Violent weather due to climate change, dictators, evil gangs and governments have ravaged and destroyed the safety of thousands.  Where can they turn?  America, their last desperate hope. What of the mass shootings; senseless killings and death? Yesterday’s shootings leave the count of mass shootings for our country for this year at 105.  

Plus a year of pandemic isolation and economic fallout, the needless death of numerous black and brown citizens and the resulting national protests against police aggression.  Black and brown lives do matter.  And, yes, blue lives matter.  However, until black and brown folk are equally as respected and safe as white people, then all lives do not matter. We still have a ways to go.  

Our world is a mess.  But that is not new.  Consider all the wars and violence down through the years.  Our own civil war, World Wars I & II, the Serbian violence, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  And what about all the innocent children?  And then just when hope was growing, Jesus is killed.

No wonder the hopeful disciples caved in to despair as they watched this week unfold.  They had believed that maybe finally God was on the move and that Jesus would defeat evil once for all.  But the bad guys won.  Again.  And hope died with Jesus on the cross.

Today is Palm Sunday—Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  This week is the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  And to the disciples nothing makes sense.  Evil wins.  Hope is shattered.  

Some might say, but wait.  we know the rest of the story.  We’ve read the last chapter.  We know about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  We know Sunday is coming.  Yet, so many I talk with struggle just like the disciples did.  We see all this evil and we wonder, where is God in all this?  Why doesn’t God do something? 

Some of the people I have listened to have responded to all this by saying, “come, Lord Jesus!”  Rescue us.  Bring all this to an end!

That is why we need to revisit the story of Jesus; why we need to remember Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter Sunday.  

God has done something.  God, in Christ, came into our world as One of us.  Jesus took on our broken, frail humanity.  Picture this.  God-in-Christ took all our “stuff,” all the worst, scraped it all together in a huge pile.  All the evil, sin, brokenness and violence of all the ages—past, present and future—all of it and took it on Himself.  

When Jesus stepped out of the waters of the Jordan River at His baptism He was clothed with our humanity.  He carried all of humanities inhumanity, all our evil, all the abuse, shame, greed, guilt and pain on His shoulders.  For three years He carried it.  For three years He healed the sick, cured the lame, gave sight to the blind, speech and hearing to the mute and deaf.  He even raised the dead, confronted hypocrisy, challenged the power-brokers of His day and helped people discover the loving and gracious side of God.  

And now, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, He enters it as our Savior and Lord, our Redeemer, our Deliverer—not as a conquering King, but as our Suffering Servant.  

Then He says to the prince of darkness and to all the evil of all time and eternity, “Here I am.  You can have Me.  Defeat Me if you can. I won’t resist.”  They took Him, tortured Him at will, and nailed Him to a cross and thought they were done with Him. They thought they’d won the day.  No one could ever challenge their right to control and abuse and cause pain and hurt at their will and pleasure.  

BUT…Jesus wasn’t killed.  Yes, He died, but He gave up His life.  When the payment for all the sin of the entire world was satisfied by God’s blood—Jesus’ blood on the cross, He breathed His last and gave up His spirit.  He died as victor.  Death was defeated.  Satan’s power was broken and destroyed.  The hour of darkness was shattered by the light of God’s love in Christ.  

Jesus stayed in the grave to prove that He really did die.  He did not stay in the grave because He was defeated and powerless.  He rose again on the third day to prove sin, death and the devil were forever defeated.  This is absolutely phenomenal!  

But, some might say, why does evil still prevail?  We still struggle with our own sinfulness.  Our world is till broken. We wait because God is waiting.  Waiting for what?  Peter tells us God is waiting patiently for “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  

So, do we just have to give in to evil in the meantime?  Are we stuck and powerless?  Not at all!  Now we are the body of Christ in the world.  Jesus lives in and through you and me.  We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16 & 6:19-20).  We can make a difference  because God lives in and through us.

When we demand that God do something, God says to us, “You do something!  You are My people, My body, My presence in the world. I am counting on you to make a difference in society by how you live. You hold the fort until all have had a chance to find life in Me.  Then I will come.”

Holy Week reminds us that life is not easy.  We struggle with our own brokenness.  We are affected by the sins of others.  Relationships are hard work.  Misunderstandings and miscommunication happens.  Bad things still happen.  Evil still seems to win.  But it doesn’t. Not really. God has the final word.  Jesus is God’s final Word.  Love really does win.  We are forgiven and empowered.  God lives in and through us.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Keep on believing, living and trusting in such a way that we make a difference, albeit seemingly small, in the lives of those we know.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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