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Palm Sunday April 9, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
Matthew 21:1-11 at the Liturgy of the Palms
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:36- 27:66
Jesus knew what he was doing
when he chose to go to Jerusalem –    
Roman-occupied Jerusalem – 
at the emotionally-charged time
          of the Passover . . .
the great annual celebration
          of the Exodus,
God’s liberation
          of the people of Israel
                   from slavery in Egypt.
It was a daringly provocative
          thing Jesus did . . .
this ride on a donkey
          down the Mount of Olives
          across the Kidron Valley,
          and into the city . . .
In effect, a reversal of the panicked retreat
          of Israel’s great King David,
who, a thousand years before,                                          [10th c B.C.E.]
had fled Jerusalem along that very path
with all his household and retinue
to escape a coup d’etat
engineered by his own son:

out of the city,
across the Kidron Valley,
up the Mount of Olives,
on the back of a donkey
          provided by a supporter,
into the wilderness
          near the Jordan River.
Jews of Jesus’ time
knew that story well
          from their scriptures.                             [2 Samuel 15.13 – 16.14]
They knew also
the message of the prophets
that the future warrior Messiah
          would come from the lineage of David.
Jesus’ Passover ride into Jerusalem
          with his own retinue
          of followers
was a sign –
          a symbolic suggestion
          of the return of a Davidic King,
          of the coming of the conquering Messiah,
          of a new Passover,
                   liberation at last
                             from Rome’s brutal oppression.

It raised hopes . . .
and fears . . .
          depending on who you were
                   and what was your agenda . . .
Jerusalem was
with devout pilgrims come for the festival;
with open, and secret,
          followers of Jesus;
with covert cells of Jewish radicals
          looking for opportunities
                   to stir up rebellion;
The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate himself
          was in town,
with extra contingents of soldiers
          ready to crush any threat of an uprising.
Government spies
          were everywhere
          seeking to rat-out suspected insurgents;
The temple clergy,
          whose livelihood depended
          on collaboration with the Roman authorities,
           were on high alert
                   for any religious unrest.    

Into this volatile mix
came Jesus
in a dramatic arrival
to spark a showdown.
Let no one say
that following Jesus
has nothing to do
with politics!
It has everything to do
with how
and to what end
God’s people are governed.
Everything to do
with God’s compassion
the poor and vulnerable,
the lost and lonely,
the oppressed and victimized . . .
Everything to do
with God’s desire
          the well-being of all,
                    God’s desire for the peaceable
                             dwelling of God’s people.
Into Jerusalem
came Jesus
with that compassion,
that desire,
          on his heart.
whose followers soon fell away
when they realized
the powers and forces
          that were against him.
who was not, after all,
a king,
the warrior Messiah
the longed-for liberator,
at least as the world
understood those things.
Jesus stood
seemingly alone and defenseless
against the machinations
          of his enemies
and the implacable cruelty of Rome,
facing crucifixion –
Rome’s ruthless way
of publicly getting rid
          of troublemakers
and horrifying the populace
          into submission.
But Jesus was not alone,
for God was with him.
With him when he was arrested,
when he was summarily tried and sentenced to death,
when he was viciously mocked and beaten,
when he was brutally crucified  –
even when he cried out from the cross
“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
A lesson in ignominious defeat?
So it seemed
to the heartbroken women
sitting desolate
opposite his tomb.
But with God,
things are not always
          as they seem
and the way of the cross,
          of humiliation and loss,
would become none other
          than the way of life and peace
          for those who walk it with Christ.

By our Palm procession today
we have dared to make
our own foray
into Holy Week.
We do not travel back in time
          to 1st century Jerusalem,
nor are we actors in
          a passion play . . .
we are opening ourselves
          to the power of the cross
                   today, in this day and age.
the power
of self-offering love,
          of self-giving love
           to transform us and our lives
                   and the life of God’s world.
In the ritual actions
of today
and of the liturgies
of the Sacred Three Days to come . . .
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday
we invite the power
          of Jesus’ Passion
to wash us and our own volatile, brutal, fearful time
          in the blood of God’s mercy and love.

The crucifixion
was an excruciating but momentary defeat
endured by the Son of God
for the purpose of
          a different victory . . .
the triumph of
                   over death . . .   
          made manifest
                    in resurrection.
God’s overpowering love
breaking into the world
through the willing powerlessness
          of Jesus . . .
his offering of himself
for the sake of that love
and the self-offering of Jesus’ followers
          all down to the present day . . .
seemingly alone and defenseless,
have dared and still dare
stand over against the powers of the age
that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God . . .
          for the sake of that love.
For God has always
been with them.

So, dear sisters and brothers,
let us walk the days of this Holy Week together,
          with Christians around the world,
open to the power
          of God’s transforming love
                   poured out in these liturgies
                    for us,
                    and through us,
                   for the life of all creation.