The Sanctuary Sermon for
Palm Sunday 2021
The Sanctuary Sermon for Palm Sunday 2021
“This is the One” Matthew 21:1-11
Guess what? It’s Palm Sunday. Can you tell? Traditionally, Palm Sunday tends to focus on the palms, but not this year. Last year there was no palm procession, this year there is no palm procession. We’re not waving our palms and children aren’t having sword fights while parading around the sanctuary with theirs as in years past. Come to think of it, there haven’t been many children here in quite some time. I say let my people go, or at least suffer the little children unto me. I’ll take it. There were no palms or children last year, we didn’t have a service because we were in lockdown. But today, we do have a few of each as we huddle in the catacomb of the fellowship hall waiting for Easter.
So, what is Palm Sunday without palms waving and a parade? I wondered about that question as I thought about and prepared for today. And here’s my answer: It’s still Palm Sunday. I’m not being flippant; I mean that in a thoughtful way. We all know the story of the Sunday before Easter. All four synoptic gospel authors recorded it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had their observation as how they remembered it. The parade, the palms, the cloaks. The donkey, the foal. The Passover, the crowds, the fickleness. The King is coming, save us. The Chief priest, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees. The concerns, the schemes, the turmoil.
But then there’s this. Palm Sunday isn’t about the palms and the parade. It never was. Those were just the aesthetics. It has always been about Jesus entering Jerusalem. Today we’re all Jerusalem and here’s why I say that. Matthew records:
“When he [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil.”
Turmoil. It’s what’s for dinner. It’s in the news. It’s in the air. It’s in our hearts. Today our world is in turmoil. America is in turmoil. The neighborhood is in turmoil. I feel the turmoil in my life and I’ll bet you feel it in yours. Like I said, today we’re all Jerusalem.
Today Jesus is entering the most troubled place in the world. It is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. It has a history of killing the prophets, fighting wars, and living in violence. It is a place in turmoil. The most troubled place in the world is not, however, a geographic location. The human heart is the most troubled place in our world. It was then and it is now.
Look at the world today. Look at the American landscape. The violence, the political and economic instability, the capitol being fenced in while our border is fenced out. The transformation of culture as its canceled by our wokeness while we hide behind our masks. Literally. Look around and you’ll see symptoms of the turmoil that fills the heart of humanity even as we experience it in our own lives. It’s in the fear and uncertainty for our children and grandchildren’s future, the loss of financial security, estrangement of a broken relationship, health issues and disease that interrupts and changes life’s plans. Each of us could name and describe our personal turmoil.
Think about a time of turmoil in your life and you will likely recall how the foundations of your world were shaken. It challenges our beliefs and faith, confronts the way we have always done things, makes us question where we are going. In the midst of turmoil, life, people, and maybe even God do not line up with our expectations and what we have come to believe. When that happens, we mostly want life, people and God back in alignment. We don’t often think about realigning ourselves, but that’s the opportunity turmoil gives. Instead, we want life to go back to the way it was before. Some will pray for God to fix the problem and end the turmoil. Others will come to church seeking answers to or an escape from the turmoil of their lives and world. But on this day, there is no escape. There is no easy answer.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the heart of a people, the identity of a nation, the foundation of a religion. We are that city and we are shaken, agitated, and confronted every time Jesus comes to us and if we aren’t maybe we should be. He turns our world upside down. That’s what Jesus does. That may not be who we want but that is who he is.
If given a choice I suspect most prefer a domesticated Jesus; one who brings peace and security, one who makes life easy and happy. That’s not what Jesus is about though. Jesus is the savior not a superhero. He’s been bringing turmoil from the day he was born.
When King Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he and all Jerusalem were troubled, shaken and in turmoil.
Jesus called James and John to leave their nets, boat and father, the very foundation on which their life and identity had been built.
He ate and spent time with “those people”, the tax collectors and notorious sinners.
He sent out the twelve apostles telling them, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He came to set members of households against one another. Jesus separates us from the things and people we most often think hold our life together.
He forgave people their sins when the temple crowd insisted on holding it against them.
He broke rules and violated expectations by healing a man’s hand on a day the authorities thought it should remain withered.
Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
His life, his teaching, his behavior all caused turmoil. Palm Sunday is no exception. Today the whole city is in turmoil. Waving our palms and shouting “Hosanna” will neither hide nor relieve the turmoil. Instead, they become the very symbols that shake and agitate Jerusalem disclosing its turmoil.
That turmoil is revelatory. It suggests that something about our life, our faith, our way of being is not in alignment with God’s life and way of being. So much so that immediately in Matthew’s account, after Jesus enters Jerusalem, he goes to the temple bringing more turmoil. He drives out those who were buying and selling the way to God. He overturns the tables and chairs of those who sat as the purse keepers for God.
The turmoil of Palm Sunday points to the deeper mystery of Jesus’ identity and leaves us asking, “Who is this?”
Well, he is not the sweet baby Jesus of Ricky Bobby fame. He is not our buddy and our pal. He is not our copilot. He is the man of turmoil. His turmoil is life-giving and God-revealing. The turmoil he brings calls our life into alignment with God’s life. His entry into Jerusalem inaugurates a Holy Week of turmoil; realigning our relationships and teaching us the intimacy of washing feet, calling us to die before death comes, and breaking open our lives as a sweet aroma in ways we never expected or thought possible. The turmoil Jesus brings is the chaos out of which new life will be born on Easter Sunday.
According to Matthew, when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Yes, he is. But I think there is more to be said. So, I want to add a few things.
This is the one God sent because God “so loved the world.”
This is the one who promises, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This is the one who says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying burdens, and I will give you rest.”
This is the one who says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
This is the one who says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
This is the one who says, “I am the good shepherd.”
This is the one “who calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
This is the one who says, “I am the light of the world.”
This is the one who says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
This is the one who comes that we “may have life and have it abundantly.”
This is the one who is “making all things new.”
This is the one who embodies God’s promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
This is the one who says, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I hope you hear the heartbeat of Easter in the list of who this one is, because I’m going to ask you to do something. I want you to look around at everything that is happening. I want you to look at what is happening within yourself. I want you to pay attention and take it all in as we head into Holy Week.
Whatever your Holy Week is – whatever it brings you, takes from you, or asks of you – its heart is waiting for resurrection.
So keep awake and be ready. Do not for one minute close your eyes or turn away from your Holy Week, because this one who enters the turmoil of Jerusalem, this “one who comes in the name of the Lord” – this is the one who will rise to new life on the third day.
And he plans on taking you with him.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.