Palm Sunday 2020
April 5, 2020
“Witness Something Truly Majestic”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today on Palm Sunday is from Mark chapter 11.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Okay, given our current situation with COVID-19 and the whole global pandemic thing going on, this might not be the best way to start a sermon today. That being said, what would you do if you knew when you were going to die either by the Coronavirus or another way? Would you even want to know? Jesus knew that His death was less than one week away on that Palm Sunday, and I am sure that the cross loomed in the shadows of the waving branches. What about you? Would you want to know the day of your death? Many people don’t. But let’s say that you did test positive for COVID-19 and nothing could be done? No, getting the Coronavirus doesn’t mean automatic death, and 7000+ people in the US have died from this virus. But what if – for you – it would be? What would you do if time allowed?
That was the premise of the 2008 film “The Bucket List.” “The Bucket List” is about an auto mechanic and billionaire who meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with cancer. Each man has less than 1 year to live. As he wrestles with his new sense of mortality, the mechanic begins writing a “bucket list,” or things to do before “he kicks the bucket.” The billionaire discovers the list and promises to pay for everything the two want to do. The pair then begins an around-the-world vacation, embarking on everything from race car driving to sky diving to an African safari. In the end neither men survive, but the Bucket List gets completed when both men’s cremated remains are buried overlooking Mount Everest so that they can “witness something truly majestic” – the first item on the list. Even in death, these men were able to witness something truly majestic in a figurative sense.
The same can be said of those who literally witnessed that very first Palm Sunday celebration: that day they witnessed something truly majestic. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is one of the most significant events in Jesus’ public ministry. That fact becomes more and more apparent when a person knows the significance behind the key aspects, that is, the importance of the donkey and the reaction of the crowd.
First, you recognize the truly majestic when you note Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is on a donkey. The donkey was the traditional mount for kings and rulers in the ancient Near East. By riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus was making an implicit claim to be the king of His people as He fulfills OT prophecy of Zechariah. In addition, Jesus is also making a statement about what kind of King He is. Most kings are associated with war horses and tanks, but Jesus’ statement as He enters Jerusalem majestically that day was one of peaceful humility. That is the kind of King Jesus is – a king of peace and love, not clubs and swords. The people that day truly witnessed something majestic.
Secondly, we know this is a truly majestic event because of the palm branches and the reaction by the crowd. Palms were a long-standing sign of victory in the Greek world; think of it as a 1st century version of “ticker tape.” But more than that, the waving of palm branches has been associated with Psalm 118 for centuries, in particular verse 25: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” In Hebrew, the word for “save us” is “Hosanna!” which is what the crowd shouted that day and is indicative of what the crowd wanted from Jesus – salvation and deliverance…from Roman occupation and oppression. Little did they know what kind of form that salvation and deliverance would take by the end of the week. They really misunderstood the situation
But are there not times, especially lately, when we also display misunderstanding? Hailing King Jesus one minute and then turned your back on His goodness and mercy the next? Sure, we want to be like the crowd shouting Hosanna! – “save us, Lord” – but now we’re pinning our hopes on stimulus checks instead. A government check isn’t going to fix this; God in Christ will. Are there times this week when you have been like Peter denying your Lord and His provision in these uncertain times? Have there been times this week you, like Thomas, doubted your God and His ability to get you and your loved ones through this pandemic?
Despite our failures and shortcoming and denials and betrayals, in the events started at Palm Sunday we see the length that our Lord was willing to go for sinners like us. He was willing to be brutally manhandled and cursed at and betrayed and abandoned and shunned and mocked…for us and for our salvation. Every kick, every punch, every lash of the whip, every pound of the nail. Those are your sins doing that….those are my sins doing that to our King. But this is God’s majestic will and His plan for the deliverance of His people. Only the pure and holy Lamb of God was able to bear the load of this world’s sin and pay the price that none of us could ever pay. But He did it. He did it through the blood and agony and anguish and torture. Talk about witnessing something truly majestic; in the events of Holy Week we see something eternally majestic.
So, what does Palm Sunday mean for Christians in 2020? This is certainly not what anyone expected. We all expected to be here – in church – waving our palm branches and majestically singing those great Palm Sunday hymns like “Ride on, Ride On in Majesty,” “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” and “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” But that’s not happening now, is it? It’s hard to think of these times and this situation as “majestic” – empty churches during Holy Week. But this is still every bit majestic. Easter is more than eggs and bunnies and new dresses and filled church pews. Coronavirus didn’t defeat Easter. Easter defeats EVERY virus, especially the virus of sin.
I truly believe we WILL see something majestic as a result. When we are able to be back in worship, I don’t think people will take that for granted anymore. We will appreciate all of God’s blessings and however they’re manifested to us. No, things will never be “the same” again, but is that all bad? Remember what it was like before COVID-19? Maybe we don’t want to go back to that! Maybe our new normal will better reflect God’s majestic presence and purpose in our lives once again.
Today we again witness something truly majestic as Christ comes to us in His Word; NEVER take that for granted! This is how God helps and supports us in this life and in this time of crisis. He comes in His Word to encourage, to give life, to support, to forgive sins, and give hope in a currently increasingly hopeless world. And with that hope…eternal hope…we are prepared for whenever death overtakes us that we may witness something truly majestic – the glory of heaven – which was opened to us because of Jesus’ majestic entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.
Welcome to Holy Week in the year of our Lord 2020.