(Sermon preached at East Doncaster Baptist Church, Melbourne, this morning – April 1, 2012 – by Rev. John Edwards. Reproduced from his notes with permission. Fellow-preachers: adapt for your own sermon…)
A theological professor was asked to speak to a crowd of young people on Palm Sunday. His theme: ‘If you’re going to be a donkey, be a good donkey…’
How should we observe today? A joyous celebration (listen to the crowds). Or a symbol of the fickleness of human loyalties?
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. At the beginning they cry ‘Welcome, Hosanna in the highest!’ Five days later: ‘Crucify him!’ In some Christian churches they burn the palm branches and use the ashes on Ash Wednesday.
Sometimes they strew his way,
And his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their king.
Then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath
And for his death they thirst and cry.
They rise and needs must have
My dear Lord made away
A murderer they save
The Prince of Life they slay…
The sun shines brightly on Palm Sunday but grim things are about to happen. In the midst of the joy and gladness there is a solemnity, a sadness. The mood of the church on this happy day is sombre, grave and measured.
Jesus saw the city – Jerusalem, your city, my city, every city. ‘City’ can be different for different people:
A. Young person from the country – adventure, glamour, freedom, pleasure
B. Â Older person – confusion of Swanston St (auto traffic not permitted)
C. Â Businessman
D. Â Homeless (the business people walk past them and don’t notice them)
E. Â Drug-pusher
Jesus saw the city and some people never see it. Jerusalem a city longing for peace – looking back to the golden age of King David and forwards to the Messianic age. A city which would be reduced to ruins (70 AD). Why?
‘Did you not recognize God’s opportunity when it came? ‘You did not know then God himself was visiting you (JBPhillips). Jesus saw the city and wept )he broke down and cried uncontrollably – the tears of one whose heart is close to breaking). These are the tears of the bravest of men – not a weakling, no self-pity. ‘Be of good cheer!’ (Moffat’s translation: ‘Courage, lads!) There’s something disturbing about a brave person’s tears (David and Absalom, Peter).
In spite of the frenzied welcome of Palm Sunday (‘Praise God! Bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord’!) – after all that Jesus wept for the city. There are tears in the heart of God: such must be the grief of God as he sees what we have done. ‘If only you knew today what is needed for peace’.
Well, we’ve tried. Nuclear deterrent, nuclear disarmament, international peace-keeping forces, direct intervention, regime change and… Afghanistan, Syria…
And not far from where Jesus was on Palm Sunday – people are being killed.
Anyone who offers a quick fix to the questions of world peace, racial/religious intolerance, social injustice, government corruption… is a fraud. Jeremiah: ‘For they have healed the hurts of my people lightly saying “peace, peace!” when there is no peace.’
Jesus saw the city.. and the fleeting nature of earthly glory. In Jerusalem they worshipped the one true God in their temple. The Roman Empire with its never-to-be-satisfied lust for conquest and ugly massive power sustained by refined cruelty.
On what is our confidence based? Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that none can move? (Isaiah 40:7,8: the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures for ever).
The inadequacy of human ideals: ‘If only you had known what is needed for peace!’ (War to end wars, League of Nations, United Nations – all have been important).
The Passover pilgrims would sing (Psalm 122) ‘May those who love you prosper; may there be peace inside inside your walls and safety in your palaces’. Zealots – blood, fire, terrorism, revolution. Sanhedrin – political compromise. Priests – ritual. Scribes/Pharisees – keep the law.
Today? ‘You did not know when God himself was visiting you’ and yet (pointing to the communion table) the persistent pursuing love of God has not given up on us.
Jesus left Palm Sunday and headed on his sad and lonely way to Calvary, There he declares there is hope for us and for our world.
‘Ride on ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die…’
The good news is that today we can recognize that God is visiting us. The ways is opened and Calvary is the ‘hill of another chance’, the moment of a new beginning, where the love of God goes all the way for us, and our salvation.
The humble leads his rag-tag procession towards the city of a thousand sacred memories.
He sees the city with its missed opportunities; he sees what might-have-been, and he weeps.
Here is the very heart of God, laid bare before our eyes, and that heart cares about you and me.
For Jerusalem – for your city, for my city, for every city – for you, for me, Jesus weeps.
Good Friday (and all it stands for) is at the gates of Palm Sunday.
Gardner Taylor: ‘I trust myself to these tears, do you? I throw my frail heart with all its doubts at the weeping Son of God. I place my hopes – all of them – in the hands of him who openly grieves for me. Christ weeps; my heart melts. Christ weeps; my will is broken. Christ weeps, my head bows. My knees bend before him. Christ weeps, my life is his. Christ weeps, that wins me forever.’
What about you?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small…’