Karen Hollis – Sermon March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday Mark 11:1-11
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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been watching the weather over the past few weeks. It’s the time of year we all start making plans to spend more time outside. The garden is calling to many of us, or perhaps you’re looking forward to beautiful days on the boat. We try to get out on longer hikes a few times a month during the clear season, going up the trail with the promise of a spectacular view from the top. Last year for our anniversary we hiked the trail at the Sea to Sky Gondola, which is not too far from Horseshoe Bay. They have a great deal for hikers - they let you ride down for free! Sounded like a deal to us! Well, the climb really nearly killed me. I’ve never been that tired and winded in my entire life and I’ve done a lot of hiking – my parents started me early. Of course, I was determined to reach the top so I just kept on going – we could hear music and cheering in the distance; it got louder and louder as we rounded curve to reach the top of the mountain. I stepped off the trail and made my way to the main building and a friendly chair and sat there for about 5 minutes, gently flexing my joints; I changed my shoes and caught my breath. As I looked around it was almost like a resort at the top of the mountain. I’ve been up gondolas before and experienced the usual retail frenzy, but to have done the hike, my brain was trying to reconcile my usual pb&j while peacefully staring at a magnificent landscape from the top of a mountain, to a full-blown party with brand new buildings and crowds of people. There was a suspension bridge, a beer garden on one end, and a huge deck with a restaurant and bluegrass band playing on the other end. It was like Appalachia meets the Lower Mainland. We ordered a well-deserved meal and joined the party. My expectations were blown out of the water – I would do it again but train a little first.
Has anyone here been fortunate enough to travel to the Holy Land? We haven’t been - James’ parents were there a couple of years ago. I ask because knowing a place really shapes the way we hear the stories. In the previous chapter of Mark, Jesus and his friends come to Jericho, which is about 15 miles outside of Jerusalem, after which they press on to the Holy City. But the thing those who have been there know is that the path from Jericho to Jerusalem is nearly a 3800ft elevation climb. Jericho has the lowest elevation on earth at 800ft below sea level, and Jerusalem, of course is a city on a hill. So to travel that distance is a hike. For pilgrims travelling from Galilee, the elation they felt at the top of the hill from the sheer relief from the climb would have been compounded by the joy of celebrating their freedom with the Passover festival. The Passover is about freedom – when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – and they remember by reading the texts, telling the stories, all in the place where the living God chose to be present. They come to the top of the hill, freed from slavery and exhaustion. It was a common practice for people to celebrate and bless pilgrims as they reached the city on the hill. People would call out blessing in the name of the Lord and called on the Lord’s name for salvation. It was a moment to honour their journey and celebrate their arrival at the festival; it was a welcome blessing, I’m sure, at the end of a long climb. Perhaps over time, they came to expect this kind of welcome from fellow Jews and pilgrims – it would be a way of knowing they had really arrived. It’s the party before the party. But not every pilgrim gets the royal treatment; not every pilgrim walks over garments and greenery. As Jesus comes up the hill on the young donkey, people take off their cloaks and spread them on the ground in front of him. They run and cut greenery from the nearby fields and spread those down, as well. They honour Jesus in the best way they are able, with what they have. I walked into the park on Wednesday, looking for cedar boughs for this morning, only to find not so many cedar trees along the path. But I kept seeing downed branches from the Douglas Fir trees (?) – they were happy little branches almost calling out to me – take me, take me!! I finally turned back, saying to myself, ok, I get it: use what you have. So we celebrate with palm crosses and branches, all the while shouting, Hosanna!! I always associate Hosanna as a word of celebration or a blessing. I guess I find its usage on this day a little confusing because Hosanna actually means “save now.” Save us . . . now. It’s a plea and a prayer, but because they know who Jesus is and what he has done already, the people shout it in celebration and certainty; they are sure Jesus will save them in the way they expect after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. They expect revolution. They could have shouted, go get those Romans! We’re behind you, Jesus! Down with the empire! No, they shout this plea that is simultaneously an outpouring of joy and expectation. Hosanna, finally, hosanna! He comes in the name of the Lord, our ancestor, David! They have in mind a Jesus they want. In their eyes the revolutionary is riding into town. The descendant of the great King David is coming to make everything right. He’s going to topple the Romans with his power. He is going to restore the balance of life to the people, bring healing and wholeness. When we think about a king riding into battle, we might imagine him riding on a big black stallion, one who is seasoned in battle and basically bomb proof. But Jesus comes in riding a donkey, which was quite ordinary in those days. They’re pretty short, so when Jesus is sitting on one, it doesn’t massively change his height. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem is at about eye level with the crowd cheering him on. He is not towering over them on a sleek black steed; he hides in humbly on a young donkey, who is being ridden for the first time. As we observed at Bible study this week, given the miracles Jesus is able to perform during his ministry, if anyone would be able to pull this off, it would be Jesus. So we have this tension of a people who see a king riding in to conquer the empire – and Jesus humbly riding in to meet the authorities with the mysterious power of God. The people see what they want to see because they are shouting Hosanna, save us now. They want Jesus to intervene in the ruling structure that surrounds their lives; they need him to. They want a Jesus who will respond to their needs in a certain way. As we wave branches this morning and sing out Hosanna, save us now, what kind of saviour do we want Jesus to be; what do we want from him? A lot of times people stare at me blankly when I ask a question like that for at least a couple of reasons. 1. Do we know what we want from Jesus? It can be a useful question to ask, to name for ourselves what we want from Jesus, from God, simply for our own awareness. To name and own what we want, regardless of how God responds. 2. Some of us don’t have a relationship with Jesus – I had a student at UBC who flat out told me she has a relationship with God, not Jesus. A lot of us in the mainline church were not taught how to have a relationship with Jesus or why and how it might be beneficial. So if one doesn’t have an established relationship, my question is kind of confusing and perhaps obsolete. When I posed the question this week I figured I should know what my own answer is and it really got me thinking. I didn’t always have a relationship with Jesus; I was one of those who wasn’t taught how to do that. I was always intensely curious about God. I used to sit in my room alone as a child, having these intense internal dialogues about God’s existence. Is there a God? How can there be a God? No, there can’t be a God. But there has to be a God. I think the internal dialogue was my way of responding to God’s initiating presence in my life. Now in my adulthood and in my role as a minister, my own expectation of God is that God is close and available. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem this morning, I am aware that I want the risen Christ to be in relationship with me in my life . . . usually that means him kicking me in the rear or motivating me in some way . . . and that’s ok. But whether or not he shows up, I know that’s what I want. What do you want from Jesus of the scriptures, or from the Risen Christ who lives today? How do you want him to meet your needs? As the people in Jerusalem will find in a few days, God doesn’t answer our requests and prayers in the way we always want. But God does answer out of God’s infinite wisdom. When Jesus enters the city he goes into the temple and though he sees the animals and moneychangers, it is the end of the day. He stands there, knowing he has much to do and time is running out before he will be arrested and killed. The events to follow will go against every expectation of the people in Jerusalem and they will be angry and despairing. Even though they don’t understand, God is at work. Even when we feel betrayed by God or abandoned, we remember that we are not God and don’t have God’s wisdom, and God is at work. Thanks be to God.
 Mark For Everyone, NT Wright, p. 146.  Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, 157.