Isaiah 50:4-9

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 21:1-11

Passion / Palm Sunday

“What About The Palms?”

March 25 2018

We have completed our Lenten journey with Christ to the cross, and have come to Passion / Palm Sunday, the first day of what we call Holy Week. It’s a day of very mixed emotions as we worship.  We celebrated Jesus coming into Jerusalem with all the palms and parade riding in on the donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna!” as the children reenacted this for us. But even as we celebrate we know why Jesus has come to Jerusalem, don’t we? We know the purpose of this journey He has taken. The cries of “Hosanna” will be replaced by cries of “Crucify Him!” before the end of this week and Jesus will be crucified.  He will die. He will die for our sins. The grand celebration of Palm Sunday is quickly replaced by the passion of the events of Holy Week, but a much grander celebration at Easter next Sunday is coming, also. Before we get to Easter, though, we have to make it through this week. We have reached Jerusalem on our journey with Christ, but we still have a lot to think about as we move through this Holy Week, and we pray that our commitment to Jesus will strengthen as we follow Him all the way to the cross.

            Our scripture passages for today give us glimpses of Jesus’ commitment to do God’s will, and as we look at these we pray that our commitment will be made stronger.

            Listen to God’s word as we read from Isaiah 50:4-9(A), Philippians 2:5-11, and Matthew 21:1-11.

            When I served a Church in Wentworth, between Reidsville and Eden, NC I would gather each week with a group of ministers to share ideas on the scripture passages we would be preaching on that week.  I remember one such meeting the week before Palm Sunday when we were discussing these passages before us today, their meanings, and the best ways to communicate their meanings to our congregations.  Each of us were throwing out our ideas. “What about this?” and “What about that?” “What about the suffering servant?” and “What about the mind of Christ?’. Finally one of us held out his hands and said: “What about the palms?” We all stopped and looked at him as he held up a palm branch that was on his desk, then put it down and tapped the palm of his hand.  We all began thinking – Yea – what about the palms?

            Let’s do some imaginative thinking today as we consider the palms. Try to go back in time and imagine with me that first Palm Sunday. Jesus is entering Jerusalem.  Most pictures of the event have the sky a beautiful blue and the sun shining as the crowds wave their palm branches and shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – Hosanna in the highest!”

There is a lot of excitement! Jesus of Nazareth is coming into Jerusalem and the people are celebrating. Yes – that first Palm Sunday must have been quite a day! That first Palm Sunday parade quite a parade.

            But – why? Why is everyone so excited?

            Jesus is coming into town with some of His followers, but it must have looked like quite a ragtag bunch – this teacher on a donkey and his followers shouting.

            What’s the big deal? And what about the palms? Why is everyone waving palm branches? Well, palm branches were used as symbols of peace and of power.  When wars were over and peace was in the land returning triumphant soldiers were greeted with a palm branch parade. I guess they had palm branch parades in those days much like we now have Ticker Tape parades. Some of the people on that first Palm Sunday may have thought that Jesus was the Messiah, but their definition of Messiah may have been that Jesus was the Savior coming from God to overthrow the hated Romans and establish a kingdom of God’s peace and righteousness and justice. Those who understood Jesus to be the Messiah would have been very excited as He entered Jerusalem. Maybe they thought He would confront the Romans and inspire a rebellion! This would certainly have been a great cause for celebration and a great cause for a palm branch parade! The Jews had been praying for centuries for God to send His Messiah into the world to overthrow the foreign governments that ruled them, in this case the Romans,  and rule in power and righteousness, and just the thought that Jesus just might be the Messiah would have filled the people with excitement and joy and sparked a spontaneous, celebrative parade.

            But historians tell us that this was probably not the only parade going on in Jerusalem on this day.  Pilate, the Roman Governor, would have been arriving in Jerusalem to help keep the peace during the Jewish feast of the Passover on this day also. Pilate’s parade would have certainly looked more grand and impressive than Jesus’. With a show of power, strength, and prosperity, with an army of troops carrying flags to symbolize Roman rule and weapons to enforce that rule,  Pilate’s parade would have indeed looked more impressive that the rag tag bunch following Jesus. But there is no joy among the people for Pilate. Pilate represented the hated Roman government. There were no palms in Pilate’s parade.  It was Jesus that had the people excited. It was for Jesus they cut and waved the palm branches.         

            But they didn’t understand Jesus did they? They may have thought they had understood Jesus but when it became apparent that they had misunderstood Him their mood quickly changed. When Jesus did not gather the people for a revolt, their mood changed, didn’t it? The shadow of a cross began to hide the joyful mood of the palm branch parade much like a cloud hides the sun. It only took a few days for the shouts of “Hosanna” to turn into shouts of “crucify Him!”. The palm branches that greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday were trampled by the crowds and thrown away because Jesus did not do what they thought He should do. The crowd did not understand. They did not understand the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah. They had no understanding of or room for a Messiah who would be a servant whom God would call to suffer to redeem the world. They did not understand Christ as Paul and the early Christians did as they sang of Christ who came into the world for our salvation.  They did not understand that it was not a political victory God was achieving through Christ but a spiritual one, one that would reach far beyond their time, but was for all time.

            So – what about the palms?

            The palm branches were done away with, swept out with the other garbage of the day.  But there were other palms weren’t there?

There were the palms of Jesus’ hands. There were the palms that were pierced with the nails. There were the palms that truly brought God’s kingdom and truly brought salvation. There were the palms that were truly more powerful than Pilate or any other worldly power. These were not the palm branches that were for Christ in that parade on Palm Sunday but these were the palms of Christ. These were not the branches the people of Jerusalem offered Christ on that first Palm Sunday, but the palms Christ gave for the world. 

            The palms of Christ.

            Christ came into the world and came into Jerusalem so that His palms could be pierced. He came into the world and came into Jerusalem  so that He could die and rise again. He came into the world and came into Jerusalem so that we could have salvation and eternal life.

            Well , what about the palms? What about the pierced palms of Christ? What do you make of them? What do they mean to you? They can mean salvation, and  they also can mean a changed life, a changed mind, here and now.

            Paul calls upon us to have the same mind as Christ did. What does that mean? It means to be willing to give. It means to be willing to experience God’s love and share God’s love with others. It means to let God change your life and work for God to make a difference through you in the world. It means to do all you can to share God’s love with others. Paul reminds us that Jesus did not flaunt the power He had as God Himself in the flesh, but instead gave of Himself and did God’s will.  Having the mind of Christ means we do the same. This was certainly not easy for Christ, and it is certainly not easy for us, either.  At least it’s not for me – and I doubt it is for you. No,  this is not easy. We would rather be like Pilate with all his trappings of power and authority than be like Jesus who gave of Himself on the cross.  We would rather be served by others than to serve others. We would rather follow the one in power and have the prestige than to follow the one who gives of Himself and serves. We would rather sit back and let others serve us than get involved in serving them.  We would rather promote our ideas and push for our agenda than to pray for God’s ideas and God’s agenda for us.  We would rather have the mind of the world and go in the world’s ways than the mind of Christ and go in Christ’s ways.

But Christ , who gave Himself for us,  can strengthen us to be more like Him. Christ – who gave Himself for us, can give us His mind. Christ can strengthen us to think as He thought and act as He acted. When we pray to have the mind of Christ, God can change our minds into Christ’s mind.

            As you begin and proceed through Holy Week, pray that God will give you the mind of Christ. Focus on the palms of Christ, and how the fact that they were pierced makes a difference in your life and in the world.  Reflect upon the pierced palms of Christ. Reflect upon the love of God for you. Reflect upon how God wants you to have the same mind as Christ had, and let that love – those pierced palms – change you, change your mind, change your actions, change your attitude and through you change this Church, this community, and  the world. Amen.