What Are You Waving?

What Are You Waving?

Grace United Methodist Church

Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mark 1: 1-11 (NRSV)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

I think it’s easy for us to imagine Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We can easily see the joy of the people as they wave their palm branches and welcome the King. It’s easy for us to think about Jesus, riding high atop the colt, smiling and waving to the thronging crowds all around him. Perhaps such images come easily to us because we know Jesus is the King; and how else would a King be greeted in his royal city. Or perhaps this is easy for us to imagine because we have heard this story throughout our lives, imitating the palm processional each year at church, even from our very youngest years. Maybe the parade is a vivid picture in our minds because of similar processions in our modern-day; think “Red Carpet” and the joyous welcome of the stars as they make their way to the great award ceremonies. Except instead of cloaks and waving palm branches, our modern stars process to bright flash bulbs and lingering microphones.

Certainly, Jesus got the welcome of a star. In fact, he got the royal welcome! People didn’t spread their cloaks on the ground for a friend, or even a respected senior member of the family. They did this for royalty! And they didn’t cut branches off trees, or foliage from the fields to wave in the streets because they just feel somewhat elated; they did it because they were welcoming a king![1] What is so awesome about Palm Sunday is that finally the people around Jesus are acknowledging in a very public way what we have known all along, that Jesus is King! And in honor of the King, they give him a royal processional as he enters the city gates of Jerusalem for the Passover celebration!

Now, we have an advantage today that the people around Jesus at that time did not. We know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Jesus really is the King. But, even with that knowledge, would we be so readily and joyously welcoming of Jesus? One theologian puts before us a thought-provoking image: “If Jesus had entered into one of our modern cities, leading the parade, he would have been arrested immediately. He would be a wanted man. The FDA would want him for turning water into wine without a license; the EPA for killing fig trees; the AMA for practicing medicine without a license; the Department of Health for asking people to open graves, for raising the dead, and for feeding 5,000 people in the wilderness without a food permit; the NEA for teaching without a certificate; or OSHA for walking on water without a lifejacket.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? These people are waving something too, but this would not be such a warm welcome as Jesus received when he rode into Jerusalem. OSHA, the FDA, the NEA, and all the others would be waving something, but it would be arrest warrants and legal documents shoved towards Jesus in anger. So the question for us is, what are we waving? Are we prepared to welcome Jesus, or are we going to be more like the modern-day agencies listed above? I think it’s fair to say that we would be a bit more receptive than the modern-day welcome just described, but would we go to the great lengths of those people who surrounded Jesus with waving palms as he entered Jerusalem 2,000 years ago? Let’s think about this for a moment, beginning with that very strange request from Jesus early in this passage.

Mark tells us that as Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of the disciples ahead with what seems like an odd request. Jesus tells the two men to go on to the next village and to bring to him the colt they will find tethered there just inside the village. Jesus even gives them instructions on how to respond if they are questioned. And sure enough, the disciples are questioned, as we would surely question an unknown person standing with a coat hanger at our neighbor’s car. But the disciples respond as Jesus has coached them, saying, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” And at this, the curious audience allowed the disciples to take the colt away. Either these people were acquainted with Jesus, or there was something about this request for a colt that carried persuasive power. If this Teacher, this prophet of Galilee, here for the only time in Mark called “Lord,” had need of this colt, then they would acknowledge, uncontested, that priority. And this surely ought to be our response to God’s need of anything we have. Imagine if we had been those people in the village and the Lord’s request had been just a bit different.

“God needs our time: ‘Sorry, but my time is limited. Besides, it is mine.’

God needs our strength: ‘Sorry, I can’t take on a single thing more. I’m almost exhausted as it is.’

God needs our mind: ‘Sorry, but I have all I can give my attention to, and more. I have troubles enough of my own to think about.’

What kind of priority does God get with us?”[2] What are we waving when Jesus comes into our presence?

On this morning, in this place, it is easy for us to wave palms and sing, “Hosanna!” as we remember that first palm processional so many years ago. But when it really comes to lifting praise to Jesus Christ in our day-to-day lives does it come so easily? Mark tells us that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people “spread their cloaks on the road.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I like my coat. And the idea of throwing it down on a dusty road for a colt to walk on is just not very appealing to me. And yet, this is no less than what Jesus asks of us! The example this crowd in Jerusalem sets for us is that we would give our very best in praise of Jesus Christ. That we would surrender ourselves in worship; that we would offer the best of ourselves, our minds, our hearts, our skills, to welcome the king! Do we ever spread anything costly before Jesus?

But the people in Jerusalem don’t just stop at laying their cloaks on the ground before Jesus and waving their palm branches. They welcome the king by shouting! “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” It’s not that we should just throw our coats down before the colt or even make a simple offering of ourselves to God. If we are to truly proclaim Christ as we are called to, we must welcome Christ in exuberant praise, surrendering ourselves in complete, unhindered worship. “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word which mixes exuberant praise to God with the prayer that God will save the people, and do so right away. And in Hebrew and Aramaic, to say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” is to say, “Welcome in the name of the Lord!”

“Welcome!” we must say. “Welcome most wonderful God. Save your people, O Lord!” If we are to truly know the salvation of God, we must proclaim that it is true! “Jesus had often been greeted with a question mark. His neighbors at Nazareth put a large question mark beside him: ‘Where did this man get all this?’ (Mark 6: 2) even John the Baptist wasn’t sure at first: ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Matthew 11: 3) And Pilate: ‘So you are a king?’ (John 18: 37)” The world has its millions of question marks about Jesus, and so do we: “Is he really the Way?” we want to ask.[3] But the lesson of Palm Sunday is that Christ really is the King. Here at the gates of Jerusalem, there are no more question marks, only exclamations! “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

We must declare Christ, even in the dark days, even when it seems impossible not just to lay our coats before him, but even to raise our voices in praise. One of the greatest journeys any of us can ever make is the journey from a question mark to an exclamation point! And it is when we can do this that Jesus becomes real in our lives. It is when we can do this that throwing the coat on the dusty road is no big deal. It is when we can proclaim Christ Lord of our lives that we can say, “Yes God, you can have my time, my strength, my mind!” It is when we can shout, “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” that it is nothing to surrender all of ourselves to God and lift our voices in shouts of praise!

For Jesus, and for us, a dark week lies ahead. In fact, for many of us there may be much darkness before us. But it is the light of the resurrection which dispels that darkness, and if we are to gather here next Sunday, on Easter morning and truly celebrate the risen Christ, then we must be willing even in the darkness to offer our colt, to throw our coats on the ground, to wave our palm branches and to shout at the top of our lungs, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Our celebration of the Lord Jesus must extend far beyond this Palm Sunday and a simple processional. Our celebration must reach into the very depths of our lives where, in complete surrender and praise we give ourselves over to God, that the darkness might truly be overcome once and for all!

[1] N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 147.

[2] Halford E. Luccock, “The Gospel According to St. Mark” in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951), 825.

[3] Ibid., 826.

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