April 8, 2001
Palm / Passion Sunday

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Liturgy of the Psalms
Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49


There are Three Full Text Sermon Choices for Today's Texts

For the Liturgy of the Psalms
Lenten Series on the Gospel Lessons from 1998 ~ "In The Thick of Things"
Luke 19:28-40 "In The Thick of Rejection"

A Sermon for the Liturgy of the Passion
Luke 23:33-43 "A View From The Cross"

[ Read this week's texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library for Palm Sunday ]

[ Read this week's texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library for Passion Sunday ]

Use your browser's back button to return


A sermon for Palm Sunday

"A Window of Opportunity"
Luke 19:35-44

Our scripture today contains what may be one of the most heartbreaking statements in all of scripture. Did you catch it?

Listen once again to Jesus' words to Jerusalem that the city would be utterly devastated because, "...you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God." Or as the Contemporary English Version puts it, "...you did not see that God had come to save you."

Perhaps you have missed an opportunity or two in your lifetime and you have a wee bit of regret about missing it. Or it may be that there was a golden opportunity that came you way and you seized it. You've been glad ever since.

Many years ago, President Richard Nixon saw a window of opportunity and opened the door to a relationship between The People's Republic of China and the United States. As much as Nixon is remembered for the Watergate scandal and his subsequent resignation, his actions with China had an effect on history many of us scarcely remember. Windows of opportunity are those special moments when a myriad of circumstances comes together for something good to happen -- IF the opportunity is chosen.

When NASA places a shuttle on a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, they have to launch during a "window of opportunity."

Our lives are filled with windows of opportunity; those special moments when we are in a position to seize an opportunity or make a decision that will impact our lives in a positive way.

***

Our scripture this morning tells the story of how a window of opportunity was open for a brief time almost 2000 years ago. The rejection of that opportunity held consequences for all of history.

It is sad when a good opportunity is missed that has consequences for a lifetime. But, it is catastrophic when a window of opportunity is closed and the consequences reverberate throughout eternity.

Jesus came to offer himself for the salvation of Israel. He came in fulfillment of God's promise to send a Messiah, but as John's gospel points out, "...his own people did not accept him." [John 1:11] On Palm Sunday, there was an enthusiastic crowd gathered to cheer Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Many of us call this episode Jesus' "triumphal entry." Yet, this celebration was all on the surface, Jesus saw behind the outward appearances, into the depths of the rejection he was to encounter and the crucifixion he would endure.

Yet, the sacred heart of Jesus breaks, not for himself, but for the people who spurned his love. And he wept because, "...{they} did not see that God had come to save {them}."

***

When that first Palm Sunday dawned so long ago, Jesus and his disciples were already busy. Arrangements had been made for Jesus to borrow a young donkey's colt in the small town of Bethany. When the time came, the disciples put their cloaks on the colt and Jesus mounted. A small gathering of followers tagged along.

It is hard to imagine the excitement that grew like wildfire as the crowd swelled and an spirit of hopeful celebration filled the air. Hundreds began to sense that their day of liberation had come! When the whole entourage came to the crest of the Mount of Lives and the majestic panorama of Jerusalem and the splendor of the temple came into view, Luke tells us the whole procession began to shout and sing as they walked along:

""Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

Do you know what was happening? Five hundred and thirty six years earlier, the prophet Zechariah has written:

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zech.9:9]

By taking the action he did, Jesus was saying, "I am the one the scriptures have promised." The Pharisees saw this very well and asked Jesus to order his disciples to be silent.

But something incredible happened. Something which didn't fit the spirit of the day or the joy of the joy of the procession. It seems to escape the attention of the disciples altogether. Jesus has a whole other perception of the events that are taking place.

"As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it..."

Something is very wrong with this parade and at this point only Jesus is aware of it. The Pharisees have been involved in a plot to eliminate Jesus for some time and this episode simply adds fuel to their insidious fire.

Here is what is happening behind the scenes of Palm Sunday. Jesus is saying to both his followers and the whole people of God, "I am not the kind of Messiah you are looking for." The prophet Zechariah had pictured this scene over five hundred years earlier. But the people only listened to what they wanted  to hear. (Familiar?)

A military deliverer rode on a stallion when he came in battle, but he came on a donkey when he came in peace. Jesus said to Jerusalem, ""If you...  had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!"

The key to the disconnect between the followers of Jesus and the heart of Jesus is that Jesus came to offer peace with God and they wanted war with Rome!

In the gospel reading we can see right into the heart of God. Jesus is a "window" into God's heart. He is heartbroken because he can see forty years down the road when Jerusalem would be hit with the power of Rome in such a destructive way that a plow would be drawn through the center of the city!

Now - his words to Jerusalem echo across the ages. "...you did not see that God had come to save you."

The next few days of Jesus' earthly life brought a cross instead of a crown. The parade of Palm Sunday became the pain of Good Friday. Instead of a coronation, the Messiah became the victim of a crucifixion.

In some ways, all of us are in the Palm Sunday procession. The offer of Christ, the window of opportunity is open to each one of us each time we hear the words of Jesus about discovering the peace of God through his reign in our lives.

All of us know the events of the week that followed that first Palm Sunday. Hopefully you will join us during the time we call Holy Week to journey through the darkness to the light of Easter morning.

The crowds that joined the Palm Sunday celebration, would later in the week join the cry for Jesus' death. Interestingly, all the gospels record Pilate's struggle with the crowd over the person of Jesus. In John's gospel, Pilate struggles with the fact that he sees no guilt in Jesus and wants to release him. The exchange between the crowd and Pilate is intriguing:

"Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor." When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement...  Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?"  [John 19:12-16]

A window of opportunity.

Slammed shut!

***

In a strange kind of way, the words of Pilate are the words that come across the ages to you and me today. It is God's window of opportunity come to us anew.

"Here is your king!"

May God give us the grace to hear the good news afresh and open wide the window of our hearts to the reign of Christ who bring God's peace to our lives!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


 

Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

Visit the links at the top of the page for further notes and thoughts on the texts for Palm/Passion Sunday through the links at the top of this page.

This Sunday in the church year is designated as Palm/Passion Sunday. In congregations that follow the church year and are more centered in liturgical worship, there are several opportunities for worship experiences during Holy Week which include the passion of Christ and the focus on this Sunday will be on the Palm Sunday texts. Many of the evangelical churches do not follow the church year and special seasons are usually Christmas and Easter with some giving attention to Advent and Lenten season. Sermons on Palm/Passion Sunday may use either of the sets of texts and may not follow the lectionary at all.

For those congregations which follow the lectionary, but may not have Holy Week services or where attendance is very low for these services, the texts for Palm/Passion Sunday may be rotated with a focus on Palm Sunday one Year and on the Passion another.

Our reflections on the Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday texts include the fact that there is actually a blend of both themes. The full text sermon for this Sunday and the sermon, "In The Thick of Rejection," note the dissonance between the celebratory spirit of the crowd and the anguish of Jesus over Jerusalem. The passion is already emerging during the procession of the Palms.

Because it would be extremely difficult to celebrated this Sunday as Palm Sunday one year and then focus on Passion Sunday the next -- ("What! No Palms today!") - In those churches where Palm Sunday is likely to be the only service before Easter, a sermon on the tension between the two themes may work best.


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 118: 19-29)

Leader: This is the day that the LORD has made;
People: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Leader: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
People: Let us rejoice and celebrate for Jesus Christ is Lord!
Leader: O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
People: For his steadfast love endures forever. Amen! Halleluia! Amen!

 

A Prayer of Confession

Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you have shattered the power of sin and death.  Yet, we confess that too often we cling to the ways the lead to death.  We are bound in our fears and centered on ourselves.  We have turned our hearts away from the needy and have been deaf to the cries of the poor.  Forgive us, O God of mercy, and help us to trust your power to change our wayward hearts.  Renew us and lead us to a new sense of  joy in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Friends, hear the words of the prophet, "...let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Let us turn to the Lord this day for newness of life in Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

O God of our Savior Jesus Christ who offered himself
for our redemption, we turn our hearts in praise to you today,
for you have created us and have called us into fellowship with you.
Before our days were upon us, you knew us by name and the number of
our days was written in your book.  You have given us every blessing
and have set before us the ways of life and joy. You invite us anew each
day to receive the reign of Christ in our lives.

O holy God, you provide every grace that we might become your children
in thought word and deed.  You make it possible for us to walk in light and
love and liberty.  Without you we would be but lost children blowing about in
the wind as tumbleweed.  You word is light for our paths, guidance for our
steps and hope for our future. You are the anchor that holds us to a still place
in a stormy world.  Your voice is the calming presence in the windy turmoil
of our restless living.

We rejoice and give thanks this day for the joys of faith, family and spiritual
fellowship.  O merciful and gracious God, as we celebrate the joyous reign of
your Son Jesus Christ over all creation and raise our palms of thanksgiving and
praise - bless us as those who come in the name of the Lord.

All glory and honor and praise belong to you O Lord our God, in the name
of Jesus Christ. 
Amen.

 

A Prayer of Dedication

As we bring these gifts, O Lord, we so desire to bring all the praise and honor our hearts can contain. With the children of old, we bring our hosannas and with the saints of every age we bring our adoration. Yet, no gift we bring can compare with the amazing grace so freely given to us. Bless these gifts we pray, and give us wisdom to use them in the spreading of Jesus' love. Amen.