Sermons That Work

The People Were Ready…, Palm Sunday (C) – 1998

April 05, 1998


The people were ready for this day. They had been waiting for generation after generation, reminding themselves of God’s promise to restore them. The Romans were now in control of their land and their lives. They were waiting for the one person God would send who would lead them into a new time, a new life, in which they would be free from the powers of this world.

The city of Jerusalem would welcome Jesus as that person today. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” would be the cry as he rode a colt, as the people waved palm branches alongside the road. He would deliver them, and they would follow him.

What was it the people saw, or better yet, wanted to see, in Jesus? His closest friends and advisors were certainly not military people. When the people came out that day, they were given palm branches. Certainly not the weapon of choice if and when the time came to take back Jerusalem!

What did the disciples want to see in Jesus? What did Peter see that would make him blindly proclaim he would never depart? What did Judas see in Jesus that he would follow him?

And what did the people and the disciples see in Jesus that would make them desert him, betray him, crucify him? What would cause the army that had gathered around him when he entered the city to so quickly turn on him? Had Jesus changed that much between the time he was hailed as the messiah and the time of his arrest and trial?

Jesus may have been arrested and tried, but it was the people who were on trial. When he rode into Jerusalem, he was admonished by the Pharisees to silence his followers. He would not, allowing them to testify. When he was being taunted by the guards and soldiers, he did not silence them. When he was being taken to the place he would die, the crowds gathered to hurl insults his way, and when he was hung on the cross, he was mocked. Those final days and hours became a courtroom scene, in which the people were put on trial, as they testified against themselves.

Enter into the moment and discover yourself on trial. When have we declared our loyalty for a person, a team, a party, and then backed off when there were questions, or there was prolonged losing, or we felt disappointed? When have we run away or kept silent as someone else was being hurt, or falsely accused, sometime when they are not even present to defend themselves? When have we joined in at poking fun at someone different from ourselves, rather than separating ourselves from the masses?

What we do today is not only tell a story of an innocent man going to his death; through the liturgy we offer today, we re-enact the trial of all people, including ourselves. A trial which begins with God declaring in Isaiah for us to present our case. What have we to say for ourselves? Is not God God? Has he not protected us in the past? Has he not fed us and nurtured us? Is he not God? Why have we separated ourselves from him? Why have we not acknowledged who he is, and humbled ourselves before his presence? The stage is now set, let the liturgy now present the facts. How we confess with our lips, but deny his rule by our lives.

In the death of Jesus upon the cross; we are found guilty. No one came forward to rescue him. No one stayed when he was arrested. We could not be found.

That is not the end of the story, however. We are found guilty of separating ourselves from God, of betraying him and ourselves. But the liturgy goes on, and the sentence follows. The sentence is not what we deserve, but rather we need to live. The cross of Jesus Christ becomes not a sentence of condemnation for those who used it to separate themselves from God, but rather an instrument of forgiveness and mercy.

The sentence is pronounced by Jesus himself: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus forgives us, and asks the Father to forgive us as well. We deserved death, we have chosen to separate ourselves from God, but God spares us because he knows who we are, and what we are capable of.

Once the sentence is pronounced, it is acted out in communion. When we come forward to receive communion, we are being offered the very life of the one who died upon the cross because of our sins. Humbly we should approach with thankfulness in our hearts. We have not only been forgiven in word, but we have been given new life in the body and blood of the one who died for us.

This is a difficult day. It should be. We are asked to look in a mirror and see who we are and what we are capable of, both good and bad. We can announce our loyalty and be persuaded to abandon that loyalty is short measure. We can betray another for the sake of our own safety and run away in time of trouble. These are not things we like to see in ourselves, and certainly not things we want to talk about with others. But we share them with each other as fallible human beings.

Yet even as we see ourselves in the story we tell today through the liturgy, we are reminded that this day and this week are not about us; they are about God’s love for us. It is about a God who longs to be in relationship with us, as we are, and as he created us to be, and what measures he is willing to go through to see that happen. This day and this week are about a new relationship with God made possible by his love.

Enter this week in humility. Expect to see yourself in the frailty of people like Peter, Judas, the soldiers, and Pilate. Enter the week in joy, anticipating the power of God to work in and through our frailty to make us new through his mercy. Enter the week in thanks, for the hope we have depends not upon ourselves but upon a loving God who won’t let us go, regardless of our sins. Amen.

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Chris Sikkema

Manager for Special Projects