Sermon for Palm Sunday – Year A

Preached on 17 April 2011

Liturgy of the Palms: Matthew 21.1-11
Liturgy of the Passion:
Isaiah 50.4-9a;
Phillippians 2.5-11;
Matthew 26.14-27.54

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”
“Let him be crucified!”
“Crucify him!”
“Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

Hosanna, Crucify, Alleluia

And it all happens so fast.

Within about 8 days Jesus is:
hailed by crowds as the great Son of David;
put to death in the most brutal way imaginable;
buried in a stranger’s tomb;
raised to new life and glory.

And it all happens in Jerusalem where Jesus and the religious leaders confront each other on many controversial issues.

Their differences are not new. They have all arisen before during Jesus’ public ministry. But now they come into sharp focus, the tension mounts. We see that, after all, it’s not such a long journey from “Hosanna” to “Crucify”.

During this Holy Week we’re going to be thinking about some of the controversial encounters between Jesus and the religious authorities:

the way Jesus clears out from the outer court of the temple the money-changers and all who are buying and selling;
the challenge as to the authority given to Jesus to act and speak as he does;
the issue of whether or not taxes should be paid to Caesar; and
the way Jesus attacks the Pharisees and teachers of the law for their lack of honesty and integrity.
On a more personal level, we’re also going to be thinking about where we are in relation to God in this holiest of weeks.

Holy Week, for me, holds a great paradox which I see also in our individual journeys of faith,  in what we believe to be true about God and who Jesus is for us.

A paradox is:
“a person or thing made up of contradictory elements.
a statement that seems self-contradictory but may be true.”

We are Easter people. We believe that God raised Jesus from death. We believe that Jesus is ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand.

Yet every year, during Holy Week, we enter, as fully as we can, into the events leading up to the death of Jesus on a cross.

“As fully as we can” because we can never forget that Easter day will dawn. For us, the darkness of Gethsemene and Golgotha are grim markers on the road that leads to resurrection.

For us, they are not the final despair and agony of a life that once promised so much.

This is the paradox of Holy Week. A paradox that lies at the heart of our faith.

Jesus is risen from the dead.
Evil has been overcome.
Death has lost its sting.

But we look around us, see and hear on television and radio headlines and reports that speak of death and so much that is evil in our world: ethnic cleansing, civil unrest, mugging in the streets, appalling injustices, deprivation ….. and so on.

We live in a world that is both beautiful and devastating. A world that can sustain and nourish life but which can also brutally destroy tens of thousands.

Surely we are so vulnerable, and perhaps frightened by the fragility of life; maybe we feel our faith is threatened when disaster and tragedy strike, sweeping away everything we believed was true. A strong faith in resurrection and eternal life might live in our hearts and minds. But so too can fear and doubt. We live a paradox.

And sometimes, perhaps especially in Holy Week, we might want to stop and reflect on the apparent contradiction of believing in Easter whilst also walking the way of the cross.

This may be a time when we make a conscious choice to renew our commitment to God and the life he offers us.

Moses says this to the people of Israel:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants
may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him,
and holding fast to him; for that means life to you”
Deuteronomy 30:15-end

Moses says the same to us:

Choose life.

Choose life even in Holy Week when we walk the way of the cross.
Choose life even when everyone else seems to be holding back or choosing something else. Choose life, even when it calls for more courage and strength than we knew we had.

Jesus is choosing life, holding fast to God, when he rides on a donkey into Jerusalem. He chooses it knowing what danger he will be facing,  knowing, it seems, the terrible ordeal that lies ahead for him.

During Holy Week we perhaps see most clearly that Jesus is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. But we see also a man of extraordinary courage and integrity.

His courage in dealing with powerful people, be they religious leaders or a Roman governor and his brutal soldiers is formidable.

His integrity in speaking God’s truth is never broken. He remains true to his calling even when it means mental and physical torture and shame and agony on the cross.

Jesus knows that choosing life, choosing God’s way, is not always, if ever, the easy option. God’s way is costly, demanding, sometimes frightening or confusing.

And yet Jesus promises that in him we will find rest and peace, a lighter burden, love and joy –  life in all its abundance. Life that is worth giving up everything we have in order to live it.

Another paradox:
Eternal life is a gift of grace. But it costs everything.

So this Holy Week as we watch Jesus in Jerusalem let’s think about how we might choose life as we travel the Way of the Cross.

Let’s pray:
God of our salvation,
help us to turn away from those habits which harm our bodies and poison our minds and to choose again your gift of life, revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(Collect for third Sunday before Lent. Common Worship)