Archive for March 2018

The Palm Before the Storm

March 26, 2018


Mark 11:1-11


All right, we need to be fair here. There are no palms in the Mark text, at least not explicitly. Sure, they appear in Matthew, Luke, and John. However, the mention of palm leaves or fronds is noticeably absent from the Mark text. Therefore, my sermon title is not an accurate one. It is incredibly difficult to pass up a pun of that measure, though! “The Palm Before the Storm!” Come on! What a great pun! And it fits, too, because there is this great celebration of Jesus as he rides this colt into Jerusalem. The people are out in the streets shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are celebrating Jesus’ ministry in the name of God! In these verses of Mark, Jesus is at the absolute peak of his earthly ministry! This is a triumphant moment for him as well as for the disciples! In just a few short chapters, though, everything will change for the worse. Jesus will face trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. The disciples will abandon him. Jesus will be crucified and buried. There is a storm brewing.

The swiftness in the change of opinion about Jesus is startling. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem, the historic capital of Judaism and he is praised. Mark stops short of ever calling Jesus the Messiah in this narrative, though. In fact, Mark never outright labels Jesus the Messiah. Instead, the people are praising Jesus as, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They do not call this Nazarene the savior or expect him to overthrow the Roman occupiers. Instead, they seem to be calling Jesus a prophet. The word about him has spread, despite his attempt at trying to keep everything secretive in Mark. The people know of his ability to heal and teach. Jesus, the one riding into Jerusalem on a colt, is being celebrated as a messenger of God. The people laying their clothes and plants on the ground, show no indication they think Jesus is God.

This is a major moment in the Gospel narratives – this is one of the few stories that shows up in all four Gospels. This march into Jerusalem, to the people celebrating in the streets, is a political statement. The people are yelling, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Both of these statements contradict the Roman system of rule. To the Romans, Caesar was Lord. To the Roman occupiers, Caesar existed in the highest. Likewise, Jesus stood against the people running the temple. He came to reinvent the way to worship God. The leaders of the temple saw Jesus as a threat because he was disrupting their established interpretation of the law. This major moment – this triumphant entry into Jerusalem – is only the beginning of Holy Week. After this march into town, a storm is coming. This is the Palm Before the Storm.

The people of Jerusalem were looking for a change. And why would they not be? The entire history of Israel has been one of occupation, decimation, and annihilation. Time and time again, the world came in and ran over the Israelites. Even when they got their country and lands back, they seemed destined to lose them again. They escaped from Egypt under the guidance of Moses and Aaron and reclaimed their territory. Only a short time later – on the great scale of things – the Babylonians conquered them. Then came the Persians. Then there were the Greeks. In Jesus’ time, it was the Romans. The temples of Israel had been destroyed and rebuilt. For most of their history, the Israelites had been told what to do by someone else. For these people, it must have been an endless cycle. “Yay! We’re free!” followed by an, “Oh. We’re conquered again.” No wonder the people were celebrating the idea of liberation from a ruling force. If Jesus was the one to lead in the kingdom of God and David – whether or not the people actually believed he was the Messiah – then it was worth being out in the streets, calling out to Jesus. “Hosanna” is literally translated as, “save us!” Hosanna indeed.

And today, we see people crying out in the same vain. “Save us!” is a resounding and repeating cry we hear from young people all across the country. Yesterday, millions of people came together to demand something be done regarding violence in this country. The idea that young people are not safe in schools has been a dominating and repetitious idea in our society. Time and time again, students have been subjugated to and conquered by the violence of people using firearms in what should be a safe place. And the youth are tired of it. For years, for decades, there has been a conversation about what should be done in regards to firearms and their place in our society. Some people believe it is a right to own a gun. Others believe guns are not necessary nor a right in our modern society. Still more people – most people, in fact – think there is a healthy middle ground to be had. Whatever the case may be, there has been little, substantial conversation or action taken to ensure the safety of young people in schools across the country. The people who gathered in major cities across the country yesterday are crying out to be heard. They are crying out to the rest of the country and world, “Hosanna!” Save us!

These youth find themselves in the same place as people in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus rode the colt into town. The young people of today are in a place where they feel oppressed. No one will listen to them. No one will hear what they want. No one will keep them safe. The Romans and temple priests certainly did not care for the commoner in the streets of Jerusalem around 30 AD. All they cared about was whether or not the commoners were being obedient to their respective law. As long as people were not making a big hullabaloo about their rights, society could continue to benefit those at the top. And it is the same with the students today. Because when they stand up themselves and ask for something to be done to ensure they are safe, the response is one of either hateful comments or deafening silence. And despite the Roman occupation or the rest of society turning a blind eye to a systemic problem, the Jewish people and the students gathered in the street and yelled, “Hosanna! Save us!”

In both instances, the people were asking for something to be done. At the very least, the people who were in the streets of Jerusalem and in the streets of our modern cities wanted a conversation to happen. “Can we at least talk about this?” would be an apt minimal statement for both groups. “Can we talk about how we do not seem to have rights under the Roman and temple law?” “Can we talk about how easy it is to get a gun in our society?” And for both groups, who existed almost two millennia apart from each other, the answer has been a resounding, “No!” The Romans and priests were not going to give up their beneficial system. This is how empire is maintained. And, the people who exist on one spectrum of the plane of gun rights are not going to have the conversation, either. They do not want to listen nor do they want to have a remote chance of something changing. “Can we please just start a conversation about this?”


Hosanna. Save us.

Both of these marches sure seemed chaotic in the beginning. Imagine being a Roman soldier or one of the priests of the temple on watch when the common people gathered in the street. Imagine hearing the people yelling Jesus would be the one to usher in the kingdom. This would be chaos to those in control. This march would be utterly terrifying to anyone in charge. The same goes for the marches yesterday. Over half a million people gathered in the nation’s capitol alone. To the people who do not want to have conversations around things they do not want to see change, the March For Our Lives should be terrifying. Yet, in both instances, it can be argued that these are calm moments before something big. We do not know what will be the result – if there will be one – of the marches held around the country yesterday. But we do know what happened after Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt.

Jesus went to the temple after his march into Jerusalem. He looked around and saw that it was late. There were no people there. So he left, taking his disciples back to the suburb of Bethany. The next day, Jesus came back into the city and back to the temple. On the way in, he cursed a fig tree. When Jesus and the disciples came back into town, he went to the temple. When he entered the temple, “He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone carrying anything through the temple. He taught them, ‘Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks?’” At this moment, after the march into town and his reclaiming the temple for God, the chief priests and legal experts tried to find a way to destroy him. The culmination of Jesus coming into Jerusalem and usurping the oppressive ways of the temple operating under the Roman Empire started the storm. The march, as chaotic as it may have seemed, was simply the beginning. It was the calm before the real storm.

The procession of Palm Sunday was the calm before Christ’s storm. Jesus took the disciples back out to Bethany. The disciples had witnessed this triumphant procession into the city and now they waited. There was nothing to do. We are in the same moment the day after the March For Our Lives. It is done now. And we cannot be sure, in the coming days, whether or not there will be consequences stemming from this massive movement. We have to sit in the uncertainty now. Like the disciples, we will have the memories of the march with us. We will sit with it and discern its meaning. For the disciples, this opportunity to sit with the march and what it meant did not last long. Christ was crucified a short time later. For us, we will likely have a longer wait to see what yesterday’s march means.

The people cried out to Christ for him to save them. “Hosanna!” After his ride into the city, he continued with his ministry. He worked to show the people of Jerusalem – those he knew and those he did not – the lives they needed to lead. Yesterday, we heard the same cries from large groups of people. “Save us!” And this morning, as we move into the future of our world, we sit with the question of what to do next. How do we save the voices of the future? How do we save ourselves? How do we move from this moment of nationwide gathering into our collective future?

Will we hear the cries calling out? Hosanna! Save us!