Todays readings for the Palm Sunday Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-18 Philippians 2:5-11 Mark 14:32-15:39
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion- we have here in our liturgical calendar the juxtaposition of two events that bracket the last week of Jesus’ life.
These two events speak particularly into the culture of honour and shame that is the paradigm that governs behaviour for the people of Jerusalem, in our biblical account, and in some modern cultures, and to an extent in ours as well.
In the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as well as choosing to be honoured, Jesus also chooses to subvert the Roman expectation by way of a Jewish kind of take on it. Let me explain a little more. For the Romans the greatest honour that a city could give you was to put on a parade. The conquering hero would ride in, on a beautiful white horse wearing a garland of bay leaves and all the crowd shouted out acclamations, indeed we still do a similar things with a tickertape parade for triumphant athletes, don’t we? Jesus carefully stages his own version of the parade, but with a reference to his own culture. Jesus chooses to be the Jewish Messiah, and makes his triumphal entry in the mode of Zechariah.
Zechariah 9:9-10 reads:
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.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
This Jewish Messiah figure is simultaneously triumphant and victorious and humble. That, in and of itself, is a paradox that goes to the heart of God, and encompasses both the power of God and the servant heart that we will read about on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. So, in this carefully staged political theatre, Jesus arranges to have a young donkey, left at a cross road and he rides, instead of walking, into Jerusalem.
The only reference that I could find that refers to garments being spread out is to the anointing of Jehu, as king in 2 Kings 9. The branches are mentioned in the Psalm 118 that we read outside. These are both royal images. The crowds seem to have understood this and shouted out the things that were appropriate, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!” This establishes Jesus as the anointed one, or Messiah. The crowd’s understanding of this may not, however, be Jesus’ understanding of it. Jesus is honoured by the Jewish people.
A week later there is what you might describe these days as the ‘walk of shame’. This second parade has at its centre Jesus struggling to carry the heavy wooden cross, the symbol of the most humiliating death that you could die, and even needing assistance to do that. This figure mocked and scorned, beaten and spat on is the antithesis of the Messiah figure. This is shame and in a culture like theirs it is the ultimate degradation.
And in between is the scene in the garden when the kiss of honour is used to betray and the shame rests on another. At the garden of Gethsemane Jesus waits and prays. Jesus is aware that he has a choice. Jesus would like to choose the way that leads to his life being preserved and his honour being preserved. Perhaps Jesus would like to live out a future as the people Messiah. And yet, he chooses God’s will for his life, which is to be the suffering servant talked about in Isaiah. Jesus chooses to live out loving God and neighbour in a self-sacrificial way, that is a way that only he can take.
The thing that strikes me as I read this account is that it is chosen by Jesus. He came to the festival, he engineered the entry into the city designed to send a message to Jewish leaders and equally to Roman authorities. And then rather than disappearing before either set of antagonists caught up with him Jesus goes to the temple, he preaches and teaches in full view. And then he goes to the garden, after encouraging Judas to do what he must do. At any point Jesus could have made different choices but Jesus, the forgiving victim, chooses his own degradation.
Jesus’ achievement, of breaking the power of sin and death, lies in having subverted the deepest human system. By allowing himself to be scapegoated he has broken the power of honour and shame forever. He has broken the human impulse towards the death of one for the well being of many, because it is achieved in an eternal sense and needs no repeating. Jesus, the scapegoat, has become the forgiving victim and has brought in an era in which we can know that we are forgiven, not because of our sacrifices which are never efficacious, because they are not what God wants, but because of the one perfect sacrificial act of self giving love. God so loves the world that Jesus gives himself willingly to death.
We are so loved by God, that Jesus chooses death so that we might have the freedom to choose life.
We can choose life because the power of death is broken, and death, as St Paul says so vividly, has lost it’s sting. “Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?… But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 15:55, 57
And because we no longer fear, either shame or honour, life or death, we can choose a life of service to others, a life of loving our neighbours, a life of taking the good news to others of God’s great love. We can choose a life of service in the cause of justice and righteousness. We are called by Jesus to live our lives in Gethsemane mode, choosing the needs of others over our own desires because we are free to do so.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”