Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Gospel Lesson: Mark 11: 1-11
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of a man named Joshua. Joshua was no extraordinary man. Joshua was merely a laborer at a farm a few miles outside Jerusalem. Joshua was nothing more than a modern day grunt. Joshua’s life didn’t seem to be very much about living, merely about surviving.
Joshua got up one Sunday morning that was going to be different. The last few days of Joshua’s life had been different. People had been traveling from all over: Persia, Greece, Rome, Syria, and Egypt passing right by Joshua’s front door. Jews were coming to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration from all over. Passover was the biggest religious event of the year, a celebration of God sparing the people of Israel from death in the Land of Egypt, many generations ago.
Joshua didn’t get excited for Passover like some people. Think of that Uncle of yours that doesn’t get excited about Christmas. It wasn’t that Joshua didn’t believe in God. Joshua prayed his prayers every morning. Joshua would make an appearance at Synagogue every once a while. The thing though for Joshua is that he just didn’t expect God to do much in his life. It would be fair to call Joshua a skeptic. Joshua didn’t think much of religious folks. All the leaders at the Temple seemed only to be in it for themselves. Perhaps, Joshua would be more faithful if there could be a reformation within his religion. If only there could be a new way to understanding God interacting with the world.
Joshua’s had his curiosity recently piqued though. Joshua heard of a man that was coming to Jerusalem for Passover that was unlike any man that Joshua had ever met or ever heard. Rumors were spreading that this man had recently healed a certain Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. There was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out though about this Jesus, how come if he wanted to make a difference in his religion, why was he never in Jerusalem. Everything that he heard about Jesus was that he spent his life living in small towns in fishing villages in the remote area of Galilee. Joshua couldn’t figure why Jesus wouldn’t spend more time in Jerusalem. Joshua wanted to know more about this man. Joshua had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, so he began walking towards Jerusalem to hopefully see Jesus.
Joshua finally sees a crowd gathering alongside the road. Joshua noticed something about this crowd. The crowd was made up of people like Joshua: laborers, merchants, slaves, and miserable looking persons with drab clothes. A parade was about to start. The parade was going to be a different type of celebration though there would be no confetti, no streamers, or no celebratory music. The parade was just going to be thirteen men and one donkey.
The scene on some levels didn’t make much sense. Here was an ordinary looking man, riding an ordinary animal. The shouts seemed to belong to people witnessing one of the most exciting moments of their life.
People rallied around Jesus because he was one of them. Jesus could have dined with kings and queens. Instead, he ate with peasants. Jesus could have hung out with the rich and powerful. Instead, he hung out with lepers. Jesus could have sat in the Temple debating issues talking way over the common man’s head. Instead, Jesus taught those uneducated who were unable to read by telling parables.
On the other side of Jerusalem on that Sunday coming in from the Western coast would be a different kind of parade. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was traveling into Jerusalem from his home in Caesarea Maritima. Pilate’s parade was going to be the type of parade that every little kid would want to see: cavalry, soldiers, big, white horses, trumpets, pomp, and circumstance. Pilate’s parade was an awesome display of power. Pilate was surrounded by soldiers. Pilate seemed almost larger than life unable for the ordinary person to touch.
Here just a few miles away was another parade. Here came Jesus riding on a donkey. Why a donkey was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t even a particularly good donkey, a young one, in fact.
You see there was a very good reason that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. You see about 600 years prior, the Prophet Zechariah predicted that a great king would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king, is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”- Zechariah 9:9
You see the people of Jerusalem were longing for a king. They had longed for a king since the days of Samuel over one thousand years before. Everyone standing alongside the road in Jerusalem had heard stories about the glory days with a king. The high point in Israel’s history was one thousand years prior during the reign of David and Solomon. Everything was going according to plan. The people were united like never before. Israel was powerful and strong. King Solomon had built a fabulous temple.
The shouts were clear: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David.”
The David chants had deep meaning. David was not only Israel’s greatest king but also David had previously done the unthinkable. David had won the most improbable of battles. David had taken down the greatest warrior from the greatest army in the world in a man named Goliath with just a stone and a slingshot. David was embraced by Jewish people because he was the ultimate underdog. Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem getting ready to stare down the most overwhelming of favorites directly into their eyes.
The crowd of onlookers saw this as David marching into the city proclaiming that he was going to take down Goliath.
“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
These people gathered around Jesus because they had nowhere else to turn. Hosanna means “Save us now”. Hosanna is the cry of the powerless. Hosanna is the cry that people would shout after being let down by their families and communities from the previous generation. The crowds on that day were loud and kept getting louder. The shouts were memorable enough that the exact words that Mark remembered them when writing his Gospel nearly a generation later.
We might think of Neil Armstrong’s words “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as words that will live forever. The words shouted by the crowd of “Hosanna” would ultimately live forever.
The crowd was shouting for salvation. Salvation for what would quickly become the issue. People like Joshua had plenty of grievances. They had grievances with the Romans. They had grievances with their religious leaders. They walked through life with plenty of fear. They figured one misstep would result in a cruel death. The thing about “Hosanna’s” meaning is the story of salvation would play out differently than anyone could imagine.
“And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.”
Garments were thrown on the road that day as a sign of adoration. People would wave palms in the air like Homer Hankies. Every wave of a palm branch was a wish of hope, a wish that Passover was going to end according to the people’s dreams.
What was Jesus going to do when he came face to face with the people on Palm Sunday? Perhaps he would make a deaf man hear, perhaps he would give a blind man sight, and perhaps he would give a Leper clear skin. People were hoping to hear Jesus give a fiery sermon against the Romans. Jesus chooses to stay silent though on Sunday. The moment was ultimately not about making converts. Jesus’ destiny was not for the Jewish people; rather it was for all people. Jesus was staying silent because he knew as he got ready for the week ahead that he would march towards the cross. Jesus was going to be not only on a path for death, but also a path to resurrection.
Jesus was going to be critical of the Jerusalem that he marched into that Sunday. The crowds would quickly get on his side. The authorities would arrest Jesus at night for fear of a riot breaking out. The trial would have to take place at night with only certain people in the know.
On one side of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the shouts were defining “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King”. Reports of this parade would quickly make their way across town. Whispers would soon begin of “crucify him” as people began to fear a man who would ultimately go forth to his death without any resistance.
Joshua woke up Friday morning to some startling news. Jesus was under arrest. This news didn’t faze Joshua all that much. Joshua had seen plenty of people come that had promised hope and change only to end up crucified. Joshua went to work, only slightly disenchanted that this Jesus fellow would make things different. Joshua figured that he would never hear about Jesus again. Only the following Sunday, a new buzz arose. Rumors were spreading about Jesus again. These rumors were even more unbelievable than the previous rumors about raising a man from the dead. People were now saying that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he was alive.
Joshua, the religious skeptic, could not believe this tale. Forty days later though Joshua gathered with the Church in Jerusalem to watch Jesus ascend into heaven. Joshua’s life had been completely changed in just a little less than seven weeks. Joshua came to realize something about Jesus’ death that there could be no other way. Jesus wouldn’t have marched to Jerusalem if there were any other path to man’s own salvation. The following realization was what ultimately broke Joshua down. Christ Jesus died for “Him”. Christ Jesus rose again so that he may “live”. The following is the story of a man named Joshua and a day that we call “Palm Sunday”. Amen
 Probably not the most creative of character names that I’ve ever used. I wanted a name that sounded like it could have belonged to a first century Jew that would be easy to remember.
 Exodus 12
 John 11:1-43
 A lot of the motivation for this story comes from Marcus Borg’s and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week published by Harper Collins in 2006. This book served as a motivation for a previous Lenten series of mine.
 This comes from John 12:14 as Ed Markquart points out in his commentary on “The Palm Story” at Sermons in Seattle this is kind of a quirky detail to add unless it’s actually true.
 Zechariah 9:9
 1 Samuel 8
 Mark 11:10
 1 Samuel 17
 Mark 11:9
 Mark 11:12 to the end of chapter 13 details the political realities of Holy Week better than any other Gospel. This is the basis for the Borg and Crossan book on the Last Week.
 Mark 14:1-2
 Ed Markquart has a fascinating historical commentary called “The Riots of Pilate” over at Sermons from Seattle. This sets background to Pilate’s presence at Passover.
 The post-resurrection appearance in front of the biggest crowd in Acts 1.