A Sermon for Palm Sunday
March 25, 2018
(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11)
Today is the day we remember Jesus riding colt into Jerusalem. It marks the beginning of the week leading up to Jesus death and resurrection.
Coats and branches pave the way. All around him and this borrowed donkey people sing and shout:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Clearly the crowd are very glad to see him! So far only news of this story-teller and miracle-worker have come into the Holy City. Now, however, the man himself is passing through her gates and walking her streets. Jesus is in the city founded by his great ancestor, King David.
No wonder expectation is high. Israel hopes against all hope for David’s promised ancestor to take his rightful place on the throne. Rome will be cast out. Israel will take its place among the world’s self-determining nations once again. The constant oppression will cease.
Perhaps if they looked more carefully they would notice that Jesus chose to come into Jerusalem this way. This beast of burden is strong enough, to be sure, to carry a man. It is, however, impossible to mistake this animal for a war horse. His is a particularly strange invasion.
Perhaps this is not as surprising when we consider the hymn that this historic week later inspired. The Apostle Paul, many believe, borrows the song that makes up most of our Philippians reading from the early church. It is not his creation but dates much earlier. Some even believe this is the earliest known Christian writing. If so, it is a remarkable treasure.
The hymn tells the story of Jesus who moves from God’s equal to humbly take the form of first a human, then a slave, and, finally, to obediently die on a cross. This is a long journey. Jesus’ humble willingness to serve moved him from creation’s throne to the grave. From heaven to hell.
We are, however, only half way through this early worship song. God ‘exalted’ this one. Gave him honour and a name above every other. Every knee will bend before this one – both in and below heaven. Every tongue will call this one ‘Lord’ as they glorify this humble God who created and, is over, all things.
The early church put it simply: ‘Jesus is Lord.’
Ours is an amazing story – far too amazing for us to have simply invented. In this story the one behind everything is humble beyond our wildest imagining. In a cosmos that clambers for first place this account is literally out of this world.
Yet this is the very claim that Easter makes: God, in the person of Jesus, came into our world, lived, died, was buried, rose again, and ascended back into heaven. Why? So that you might learn to see and trust the only true heart in the universe and that you might learn to imitate him.
You see, that is the only thing the Apostle Paul adds to that early hymn. Before he quotes the church’s worship back to them he first asks them to hear it in the context of their own character: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’. Then he launches into this song. Afterwards he says: ‘Therefore…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’
Paul wants the church to hear and absorb the story of Jesus – and especially of Easter – as a story that radically transforms us into loving communities imitating the grace, forgiveness, service, and love of Jesus.
So today, you are invited to renew your commitment to taking this Jesus-trod path from life through death to life eternal. The church has always invited people to symbolise this through baptism. In baptism we die to ourselves and we rise again to new life in Jesus. In baptism we symbolise that we will follow Jesus way from death to life.
So, as we enter into this Holy Week, I invite you to stand and affirm again as yours the promises of baptism. Please stand:
Do you turn to Christ? I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins? I repent of my sins.
Do you reject selfish living and all that is false and unjust? I reject them all.
Do you renounce Satan and all that is evil? I renounce them all.
Will you each, by God’s grace, strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbour as yourself, until your life’s end? I will with God’s help.
Friends, you have heard one other respond to Christ. Will you now support one another in this calling? We will.
Grant, merciful God, that we all may be so buried with Christ in baptism that the new nature may be raised up in us. May the fruit of your Spirit grow and flourish in us as we see your glory anew in the coming Easter celebration of your death and resurrection. Amen.
I now ask you to affirm as yours the faith of the church.
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of Heaven and earth.
Do you believe in God the Son?
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
from there he will come to judge
the living and the dead.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life ever lasting.
This is the faith of the church.
This is our faith:
We believe in one God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May the Holy Spirit who has begun this good work in you
direct and uphold you as you follow Christ into glory. Amen.
(Adapted from A Prayer Book for Australia. Broughton Publishing. Mulgrave, Australia. 1995. pp. 56-62).