Sermon for April 10, 2022 Palm Sunday “Not what I Expected”
Living with Jesus for the past three years, the first followers knew to expect the unexpected. The past few weeks where filled with surprises and the disciples where having a hard time keeping up. A lifetime of learning and knowing about life, people, temple, government, healing and God were being unraveled and the re-knitting was slow.
Lepers are healed, the kin-dom of God will come in God’s time, teaching about justice, job and ego, children, being rich, self-ego, Jesus and his death, Zacchaeus the tax collector believes, investing others money just to touch the highlights. All these teachings were new, difficult to comprehend and at the same time so, so life giving.
It would be a huge leap to think the disciples had a complete re-orientation of life values and social norms. They slid into family/neighbourhood of origin mindset on a regular basis. And we should not be so surprised that they did.
Palm Sunday or the parade of palms is a good example. The religious belief held that the Messiah would come as a mighty warrior who would overthrow the Empire, and not just overthrow but crush into the ground. Song of Hannah in Isaiah states: “The Lord shall shatter the adversaries who arose to do evil to His people; He shall blast them with a loud noise issuing from heaven. The Lord shall exact punishment from [the proverbial northern enemy] Gog and from the marauding armies of the nations who come with him from the ends of the earth. He shall give strength to His king and shall make great the kingdom of His Messiah.”
The Neofiti targum (a contemporary document to Isaiah) is even more explicit about messianic violence: “How beautiful is king Messiah who is to arise from among those of the house of Judah. He girds his loins and goes forth to battle against those that hate him; and he kills kings and rulers, and makes the mountains red from the blood of their slain and makes the valleys white from the fat of their warriors. His garments are rolled in blood; he is like a presser of grapes.”
Then the Chosen people would rise up and truly and fully occupy and thrive in the land flowing with milk and honey.
And here the Messiah is to ride into Jerusalem, the seat of power of Empire and all the teaching of a new way, love your enemy, be kind and just, forgive and heal are overshadowed by the learned image of a Messiah who would crush the enemy.
A donkey, you want to charge the Empire on a donkey…are you nuts. And Jesus smiles and reminds the disciples that he is about a new way of being, a new way of understanding God, a new way of loving. From a critic’s point of view, this would have been voted the worst float in the parade, the worst float in any parade ever. But there was something, a spirit moving that day that spilled into all the days since.
Here we are a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Christianity is a global movement with all sorts of colour and hue. On our worst days each claiming to be the only true way and on our best an openness to the variety of Christian expressions. On Palm Sunday we each, and each denomination brings its baggage about how Jesus will or should change the world. My suspicion is that each would be surprised at what Jesus would do. Living beyond our well entrenched ideas of ‘what should be’ to what is Jesus calling us to or who is Jesus calling us to be will fall firmly into the category of ‘I was not expecting that’.
I have a feeling that if Christianity or the Christian movement going forward does not fall into the unexpected category of ‘you are going to change the world/hearts on a donkey…are you nuts?’ then maybe just maybe we have some re-imagining in our future. For the teaching of Palm Sunday and Holy Week to be life giving into the rest of century and beyond then we will have to get used to expecting different.