Palm Sunday Sermon “What Are You Doing?”

Gospel Reading
Mark 11: 1-11
11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Leader: This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
People: Praise to you Lord Christ.

Sermon “What Are You Doing?”

Blessed is the One who comes to us by the way of love poured out with abandon.

Blessed is the One who walks toward us by the way of grace that holds us fast.
Blessed is the One who calls us to follow in the way of blessing, in the path of joy. Amen.
These words by author and pastor Jan Richardson speak to the heart of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Blessed is the One who calls us to follow.
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday that ushers in what we call Holy Week. It’s the end of our Lenten journey, that “holy” set apart time for self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on Scripture. It’s meant to be a powerful journey that leads us into the joy of resurrection, of new life that we will celebrate next Sunday. Today, this journey and our spiritual practices take us into Holy Week.
As we heard from the Gospel reading this morning, we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s a day of celebration, as we wave our palm branches, sing our listen to our “Loud Hosannas,” and proclaim Jesus as King. We wave our palm branches just as the crowd did in all of the Gospels. In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and most importantly victory. King Solomon had palm trees carved into the walls and doors of the temple as recorded in 1 Kings. Even at the end of the Bible, in Revelation, we find people from every nation, tribe, and language standing before the throne and before the lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. The crowd that day on the road that leads to the religious heart of Israel waved branches in victory. They yell out their “Hosannas” meaning “Lord, save us.”
There’s a sense of celebration for all that is to come. Finally, the long awaited Messiah will rule over Rome and all the nations of the world. Little did they know that in just a few days, they would watch that same Messiah be tortured and executed by the state. On this Palm Sunday, while there is a sense of anticipation for next Sunday, we also hold the tension and discomfort of knowing what happens this week. Jesus’ victory and triumph turns to sacrifice and death. The celebration of his entry moves from palm branches to a wooden cross.
Before we even get to the celebration of Jesus’ entry, I find the beginning of this reading so interesting. Jesus tells his disciples to go find a colt or a donkey to borrow. He also gives them a script in case anyone inquires about their actions. The disciples head into Bethphage, a village east of Jerusalem. Its name means the “House of unripe or young figs” and is mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The villagers obviously question the disciples. You can’t just take a donkey. They ask the disciples, “What are you doing?” I can picture the disciples saying as the stolen donkey alarm goes off, “Calm down, we’re just borrowing him.” The disciples tell them “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” I find their answer interesting, they are the words Jesus gave them, but what’s even more startling is that the people of the village of Bethphage let them go.
As I read the Gospel this week, this dialogue and the villagers letting go struck me. We tend to focus on King Jesus and his victory parade on Palm Sunday. Jesus is praised and honored. Yet the villagers illustrate for us a Lenten heart in their giving, their letting go, and their willingness to be a part of the Holy Week journey. They ask us a good question: What are you doing? I might add to that a little: What are you doing to be a part of the journey of Holy Week this year?
This morning, we were invited to wave our branches. I hope everyone at home participated too. We wave those branches in Christ’s victory holding in tension what we know will come this week in the cross and death. As we walked around the block this morning more than a few people might have thought, “What are they doing?” As we say, “Hosanna,” we are saying “Lord, save us.” We are entering into the sacred spiritual discipline of letting go as we are invited to enter into this Holy Week experience not as a spectator, but as a participant, so that we will die in Christ and be raised in Christ. What are you doing this week?
When I was in Guatemala a few years ago serving in a small village in the beautiful region filled with volcanoes and mountains, I’ll never forget the moment we heard a commotion in the village. First, we heard the tolling of the bell from the church. It was on the hillside in town for all the village to see. That day we heard the bell, slowly ringing in the distance. Then came the sound of horns and drums and mourners walking in procession with a bright array of flowers. It was like the Semana Santa or Holy Week processions of Spanish speaking nations. We eventually realized that it was a funeral procession as in the middle of this group of people was a coffin. The entire village stopped. We all stood for a moment in silence with hats removed.
At first we wondered, “What are they doing?” Then we saw that this village came together to celebrate and mourn their loss. They held together the tension and discomfort of the moment quite well. They mourned, they celebrated, and everyone was invited into this experience. From the family and friends walking in their procession, to the people playing instruments and carrying flowers, to the witnesses on the side of the road. Everyone had a role to play in this journey of life and death.
For us, our Holy Week journey must be one of deep reflection. One that holds the tension of celebration and grief, of life and death, of sacrifice and victory. This journey is one that everyone is invited to take. Just as the villagers in Bethphage recognized that they had a role to play in Jesus’ journey, we too are invited into the way that leads to the death of the old way of life to resurrection a new way that leads to full and abundant life. The only way to get there is through the passion of Christ, the suffering, torture, crucifixion, and death of Jesus our Christ. There’s no way around the cross. It’s there showing us the path of life that is one of sacrifice, life giving love, unmasking the sin deep within that keeps us from fully following Christ. Again, I have to ask you, “What are you doing this week?”
If you are wondering what can I do this week, then I have something just for you. I have a very helpful “Guided Reflection for Holy Week” complete with Scripture readings and reflection questions for you. It was emailed out with the order of worship this week. If you didn’t get and would like to, just email me or contact the church office and we’ll get you a copy. This guided reflection also invites you to place yourself in the story of Holy Week. It’s a way for you to take the journey with Jesus this week.
As we prepare to move into this sacred, set apart, “Holy” week and move out of our Palm Sunday celebration, may we consider what this week really means to us. Next week on Easter, we will be invited to surrender our life to new life in Christ Jesus. On this Palm Sunday, as we wave our palm branches and shout our “Hosannas” to Christ our King, may we consider how we are invited to follow this week and how we will make it a “Holy Week.”
Blessed is the One who comes to us by the way of love poured out with abandon.
Blessed is the One who walks toward us by the way of grace that holds us fast.
Blessed is the One who calls us to follow in the way of blessing, in the path of joy.
As we close with our prayer practice, I invite you to place your hands on your laps with palms open and receive this prayer and blessing for the week ahead:
Let’s pray:
Steadfast Love:
you hand us the palm branches,
so we can wave them in hope;
you steady us in the days
when pain is stuck
to the bottom of our lives,
when fear is our constant companion.
We empty ourselves so you might fill us with joy.

Humble Healer:
When our mouths turn numb
and we cannot speak our dreams,
you tenderly caress our cheeks,
leaning over to hear our faltering words.
When our arms have grown weak
from the burdens we carry,
you take them from us,
and strengthen us with your mercy.
We empty ourselves so you might fill us with grace.

Voice of Wisdom:
when death hovers so close
we can feel it’s cold breath,
you come to us,
the warm breath of resurrection
pushing aside our fears.
When we hesitate to walk into
the unknown stretching before us,
you tightly clasp our hands
and teach us the first step.
We empty ourselves so you might fill us with peace.

God in Community, Holy Three in One,
Father, Son, Holy Spirit, we open our hearts to you. Amen.0

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