Sermon for Palm Passion Sunday + Sunday, April 5, 2020
Prepared for the Television/Online Broadcast of Trinity Church, Worcester
Texts: Matthew 21:1-11; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Watch Here (Minute 44:45)

Theologian Melinda Quivick writes about the irony of this Palm Passion Sunday: “The One who is hailed in this first scene will be nailed, in the next.”

From a triumphant victory parade … to a lonely death on a cross … this day sweeps across a range of human emotions that might lead one to wonder: what is the focus of this day?  Are we celebrating and singing “Hosanna!” Or are we mourning, the haunting words of Jesus from the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” echoing in our ears?

As I mentioned in the introduction to this service, this Sunday as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday has ancient roots. A tradition of a parade with palms, commemorating the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, started in Jerusalem in the 4th Century and was universal in the church by the 8th Century.  Another ancient tradition developed of observing the Sunday before Easter as Passion Sunday.

Today, centuries later, quarantined, scattered, and besieged as we are by a virus that has stolen away lives and dreams and disrupted society, I found hope in Palm Passion Sunday. It is the hope of Jesus who enters precisely into human pain and suffering.

This day as Palm Sunday gives us the hope of a king of peace who enters.

Palm Sunday starts on a donkey, on a colt, on a foal of donkey – and that’s significant.

This year, our processional gospel is from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew frequently roots the details of the life and ministry of Jesus in prophecies of the Old Testament. Matthew is so thorough about presenting Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, that when he tells of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, he claims Jesus rode in on both a donkey and a colt. The original prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 is this:

“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.”

Zechariah’s original prophecy foretold a king of peace. A king who would bring deliverance from the very real political and military enemies that surrounded Jerusalem and threatened disruption, captivity, and death. This king would not enter Jerusalem as one might expect, on a warhorse, or chariot, surrounded by soldiers in a show of military might and muscle, but would instead arrive on a donkey.

It would be this king of peace who, as written in Zechariah 9:10, who would cut off the chariot, the warhorse, the battle bow, and command peace from sea to sea. It would be this king who would show up triumphant and victorious, in humility, on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

On this Palm Sunday, in the year 2020, we find ourselves surrounded by an enemy that threatens our health, our lives, and our way of life.

We call this enemy by various names: coronavirus, Covid-19, the invisible enemy. It has disrupted our way of life, stolen away precious lives, and caused massive economic pain. In light of all this, on this Palm Sunday weekend, we proclaim a king of peace who brings deliverance. The church’s hope on this day, is the hope of Zechariah and Matthew, the hope of a king of peace who destroys the power of sin and death and viruses and commands peace and health from sea to sea.

This donkey riding king of peace doesn’t enter with a big dramatic show of force, who doesn’t even enter with a big dramatic cure and treatment, but who, nonetheless, enters in powerful and real ways of humility and service.

Our hope is that Jesus who entered on a donkey then – enters our world now:

  • in all those who are staying home and off the streets to prevent the spread of the virus …
  • in all those who are delivering food, supplies, and medicine to at-risk neighbors those most susceptible to the disease …
  • in all doctors, nurses, health care workers who report for work to treat and care for Covid-19 patients and all others who are sick and in need at this time.
  • In all those who continue to go to work in grocery stores and are continuing to work in restaurants preparing food for take out and delivery …
  • In all those who are working in the supply chain, all who are working to keep the lights and heat on, and the roads safe, and peace/order/protection to society as we settle down and hunker in.

In these ways, in all these overlooked ways of humble service, the King of Peace enters! The King of Peace enters to break the grip of sin and death. And to this entrance, the Church sings Hosanna!

In our pre-recorded service, in pastors and lay leaders organizing live streaming worship, or worship by Facebook Live, Zoom, or Youtube, in all of these ways we take up palm branches and join the crowds on the streets proclaiming the arrival of the King of Peace who enters to deliver us from our enemies.

 And there is hope on this day as Passion Sunday.

The liturgical resource Sundays and Seasons points out the contrast between the self-sacrificial humility of Jesus, and the self-serving arrogance of nearly everyone around him. Everywhere Jesus turned there was arrogance and sin.

  • From the rulers – the Chief Priests and Pilate who manipulated charges against Jesus and abdicated responsibility in freeing him …
  • To the crowds – who at first cheered him and then jeered him …
  • To his own followers – who couldn’t even stay awake with him one hour in the garden with Jesus, who in his full humanity, was alone and scared …
  • To Judas who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver and Peter who denied him …
  • To soldiers – who stripped Jesus of clothes, cast lots for his clothing, and crowned him with a crown of thorns; who beat him, mocked him, and finally nailed him to the cross

So overwhelming was their combined sin and brokenness … so stunning was their combined power to deceive and destroy and abandon him … so final was their rejection of God’s work in Christ … that Jesus was overcome, crying out from the cross:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried out.  

But even in this we find hope!

Jesus chose to enter into this human sin. As the beautiful words from Philippians remind us each Passion Sunday: though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be held on to … but he emptied himself … being born in human likeness … he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

 Jesus knew what he was getting into. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane three times Jesus prayed the cup would pass from him, three times he prayed there would be another way, three times he prayed for another path. And, three times, Jesus commended himself to the plan. In humility – he placed his life into the hands of humans. In faith – he placed his death into the hands of God.

Our hope, in the face of pain, suffering, and death all around us, is the hope of Jesus who chose to enter into his passion 2,000 years ago …

And who continues to choose to enter into our human story today to be present with us as we feel the effects of sin and death around us! Our hope is in Emmanuel – God with us.

Not as one who eliminates all pain and suffering, but as one who feels human pain and suffering in his own body … in the betrayal of a friend … in the loneliness of abandonment by his disciples … in the whip as it tore his flesh … as the crown of thorns pierced his head … as the mocking chants entered his ears … in the nail holes in his hands and feet … and relevant to today – in lungs deprived of oxygen as his body died on the cross …

The Good News of Palm Passion Sunday, is the good news of a Christ who then AND NOW chooses to enter into the reality of pain, sin, and death.

This good news gives us the hope of a savior alive and present:

  • in ICU units with suffering and dying patients …
  • with those incarcerated in jails and prisons where the disease is spreading among inmates …
  • with those dying alone cut off from family and friends …
  • with grieving families, laid off workers,people terrified and anxious in isolation and quarantine …
  • with you and with me when we suffer.

Jesus, the King of Peace, enters in, and is with us!

May Jesus, the king of peace, enter your hearts through faith.

May Christ bring you peace and healing and hope today and always.

Hosanna to the Lord!