JOYS AND CONCERNS


From Palm Branches to a Rugged Cross   
Psalms 118:1-2 and 19-29              Mark 11:1-11


It just doesn't feel like Palm Sunday today, does it?  For our 38th Annual Donkey Walk had to be cancelled due to the current health crisis.  No crowds gathered at the bottom of Snake Alley...and no little donkey climbed up the alley to once again dramatize the Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem on the first day of the last week of His life.  But even as we move past this disappointment, let us think back and imagine what it must have been like in Jerusalem during the final days of Jesus' life.  On that first Palm Sunday...Jesus had some riding into the Holy City on a humble little donkey...and the crowd greeted Him as a king.  They laid their coats down on the path before Him, and waved palm branches in the air to salute Him, all the while singing and shouting "hosanna" as He passed by.  This man of God...with His healing powers and His promise of equality for all people...seemed to be the answer to their prayers for a new king.  But Jesus had not come to become their new political king.  That was not his mission, and as the crowds began to realize this, the cheering was replaced by disappointment...and then intense anger.  As quickly as the first Palm Sunday hymn proclaimed "all glory, laud, and honor to Three, Redeemer, King" faded into the somber Palm Sunday hymn of " Ride On, Ride On in Majesty...in lowly pomp ride on to die"... So too did the mood in Jerusalem change just as quickly.  And all too soon it became very evident to those paying close attention that the palm-strewn path leading to a royal throne had instead become a lonely and desolate path to the cross at Calvary. And every moment of every day between the joy of Palm Sunday and the sadness at Calvary widened the gap between the acceptance and rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And, as difficult as it was for Jesus, imagine what it must have been like to have been one of His followers.  Think of the fear those followers had of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and being labeled as a follower or disciple of Jesus...the very last charge you would want leveled against you in the tension filled atmosphere of Jerusalem. From our vantage point here today, we would like to think that if WE had been there in Jerusalem, we would have stood up for Jesus and spoken up in his defense.  But in reality...without knowing that the story ended with Jesus rising from the dead...most likely we too would have kept silent and cowered in fear, for we are just as human as those who lived back then.  For these were real people who had watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey...real people with homes, families, and jobs...real people with dreams and ambitions...real people who were concerned with their personal safety and their reputations.  Many were there simply to watch a happening, the same way curious drivers today cause traffic jams as they strain to glimpse an accident on the other side of the road.  And these    
same real people watched the trial and the Crucifixion later in the week.  Many of them probably had no strong feelings one way or the other about what was taking place...in fact, they may  not have even known for sure Who was being crucified.  And while some of these people may have been indifferent bystanders, there were others who definitely DID care...like the chief priests, the scribes and the elders...individuals who had a bested interest in what was taking place.  Seeing Jesus arrested and put to death had long been their goal, so they made sure that once He was in custody, a death sentence would follow...even if it had to be based on false testimony.  And Pontius Pilate...a ruler who wielded a lot of authority, but lacked the courage to do the right thing...went along with their demand for Jesus' death in order to stay out of trouble himself.  And the soldiers...one could argue that they were just following orders when they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate.  But they went farther than this, for they mocked Jesus...spat on Him...beat Him...and nailed Him to the cross.  And the Disciples?  Most of them had gone into hiding fearing for their worn personal safety  And Peter?  The disciple who had assured Jesus that even if everyone else fled, He - Peter - would remain by His side?  Even Peter crumbled and denied Jesus three time when faced with the reality of being identified as one of Jesus' disciples.  And lest we forget...there was one more Person there that often goes unmentioned.  God was there that day too!  From common place to extraordinary; from narrow boundaries to limitless horizons; from utter despair to endless hope..everything turned upside down, because ...God was there at the cross...transforming the crucifixion from a finite event in a moment of time to an event that transcends all time.  For all negative forces and emotions that led to Jesus' death came together on that cross where they were transformed and reflected back to the people as an act of true love, because that is what God does.  With his love, He can take the negatives of our lives round in the sins we confess...and transform them into the positive forgiveness He so freely offers.  This then, is why we, as Christians and followers of Jesus, must take the Lenten journey.  We have to experience the drama and pageantry of Palm Sunday, and then move beyond it into the events of Holy Week.   We have to follow our Lord to the cross in order to get beyond it.  And we have to see ourselves among the crowd in Jerusalem in order to understand why those people of long ago acted as they did.  And, most importantly, we, as Christians, have to see and understand how God transformed the cross from an instrument of death into a symbol of eternal life.  For when we see and understand this transition from death to life, then and only then can we truly comprehend God's great love for us...the love that prompted Him to send His Son to the cross to die for us there. 

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n this final week of Lent, let us remember the people in that long-ago crowd, and consider their actions.  And then let us confess those times when we too have stood by and watched as others crucified our Lord with their words and deeds.  And as we do so, may we resolve to stand up for what we believe, and bring others closer to the Christ of the Cross Who transforms our lives with His love each and every day.  For God so loved the world that he gave us His Only Begotten Son...Amen. 

Let us pray...Blessed Jesus, Who saves us with love...draw close to us on this day.  Remind us that You are with us always, in all moods and seasons...in all our doubts and fears.  Help us to remain close to You long after the palm branches of this have withered so that our love for You will remain strong and active.  Thank You for being in this service with us this morning. Be with us now as we gather around Your Table.  In Jesus Name, we pray.  Amen.

May God bless you during the coming week.  And may His love and forgivness surround you as you go forth to serve.  Amen.     

We have to experience the drama and pageantry of Palm Sunday, and then move beyond it into the events of Holy Week.   We have to follow our Lord to the cross in order to get beyond it.  And we have to see ourselves among the crowd in Jerusalem in order to understand why those people of long ago acted as they did.  And, most importantly, we, as Christians, have to see and understand how God transformed the cross from an instrument of death into a symbol of eternal life.  For when we see and understand this transition from death to life, then and only then can we truly comprehend God's great love for us...the love that prompted Him to send His Son to the cross to die for us there.