Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 1-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today, we celebrate one of the most important events in Jesus’ Ministry, his Palm Sunday march into Jerusalem to adoring crowds. What is the story behind “Palm Sunday” though? What was the meaning behind the shouts of “Hosanna?” What were the motivations of people who gathered on the Road to Jerusalem? What were they expecting from Jesus on this day?
The first reason people on Palm Sunday gather is to see fame up close.
Let me begin with a story. In 1989, the Minnesota Timberwolves played their first games as an NBA franchise. Now through the good luck of one of Dad’s college friends, I got to attend their first home game at the Metrodome against the Chicago Bulls with 40,000 other people. Why were the Chicago Bulls a big deal in 1989? They had a player named Michael Jordan. Even at ten years old, I knew Michael Jordan was a big deal. He had scored “63” points in a playoff game against the Boston Celtics. Jordan had led the NBA in scoring the last two seasons and won the previous two slam dunk contests. I didn’t expect the Timberwolves to win (and they didn’t), I just wanted to see Michael Jordan. Even though our seats were far, far away from the court, I just wanted to see Michael Jordan do something spectacular like a dunk from the free-town line as he came to my town. I wanted to be the one telling my friends the next day about seeing Michael Jordan.
Similar story, some years ago a movie was being filmed in Center City which was the town right next to Lindstrom. The film contained some fairly well-known actors in Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and Ann Margaret. The movie was called Grumpy Old Men. Everyone in the Chisago Lakes Area wanted a taste of fame. To say they talked to the stars. Grandma invited Walter Matthau to the casino in Turtle Lake? Matthau said “maybe.” No one from the Chisago Lakes Area was not going to see these famous stars if they could. The brush with fame attracted people to Jesus on Palm Sunday. Jesus was coming to their town of Jerusalem.
Jesus was coming to town after having performed the most dramatic of acts in his raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was expected to do more dramatic miracles, leave jaws dropped in the presence of all witnesses. Jesus was the famous guy that people needed to see. If Jesus had raised Lazarus at a rinky-dink little home in Bethany, they had no idea what acts that he might pull off next in the big city. People were looking to believe to see an act like no one before had delivered. The attraction factor was just one reason that people came to see Jesus on Palm Sunday.
The second reason people gathered on Palm Sunday is they were mad, and someone needed to know it.
1887, Paris, France, people were mad. A French architect had started to build what his critics called “an ugly street lamp,” “a giant skeleton” “a useless monstrosity.” The critics believed that this design would destroy people’s reputation of French culture. The critics contained a lot of France’s leading intellectuals: writers, painters, and other architects. The most famous critic was Three Musketeers author Alexander Dumas. Who was this rogue architect who wanted to go against everything good and sacred? His name was Alexander Eiffel. His tower which was going to destroy French culture was called “The Eiffel Tower.”
The point is this; you will always be able to find people who are looking to protest. As Jesus marched into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the number one source of all protests were the hated Roman oppressors. As Ed Markquart points out the five previous years, had brought thirty-two riots against the Roman oppressors.
We can hear the anger of the crowds in its chants “Hosanna, to the Son of David.” There was a reason they wanted to invoke Israel’s greatest king and warrior. The crowds were shouting for Jesus to confront the Romans, set the people of Israel free from their tyrants. Did Jesus intend to be a political revolutionary? Here is what’s interesting; Jesus chose to arrive in Jerusalem without a weapon riding a slow donkey that would intimidate no one. Jesus’ humble appearance and surroundings tell us something about his ministry.
The 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has a scene that illustrates Jesus’ presence quite well. Indiana Jones is trying to recover the Holy Grail or the cup which Christ drank from at the Last Supper. Indiana walks into the room surrounded by beautiful cups: gold, diamond and jewel studded. One of the men standing there with Indiana guesses the most spectacular looking cup to belong to Jesus. A cup that shines so bright, its cost in a jewelry store would seem to be infinite. The man drinks from the cup only to encounter sudden death. Indiana realizes choosing the wrong cup could have terrible consequences, so he looks at all these splendid cups side by side, when something strange catches his eye. Indiana sees an old wooden cup that looks like it should have been thrown away, generations ago. It was this old wooden cup that Indiana would soon discover is the one that would bring life.
Jesus didn’t look like much on Palm Sunday. He grew up a carpenter; he stayed looking like a carpenter, whereas every eye on the Basketball court immediately goes to Michael Jordan, every eye in Center City on Ann Margaret, Jesus look was so common, that the religious authorities needed him to be identified upon his arrest just a few days later. Jesus’ appearance looking like a carpenter, rather than a mighty king previewed the week ahead. People might have wanted a Roman Rumble, but Jesus was shortly going to provide them a different answer to their chants calling for “salvation.”
People weren’t gathering to see a dramatic miracle nor were they going to be witnesses to a revolution. They were going to be witnesses to a funeral.
The final story, April 9th, 1865. Palm Sunday. Confederate General Robert E. Lee signed the terms of surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Four of the darkest years in American history were coming to an end.
The previous week in Richmond, Virginia had been one of the most important ones in city history. Monday, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had fled the city along with all sorts of soldiers. The Union had now seized the Confederate capitol.
Tuesday, President Lincoln visiting nearby troops decides to enter the city. At first, no one recognizes Lincoln. Then a few freed black workers, recognize him and run out to thank him. Pretty soon, former slaves join in singing a song of praise “Glory Hallelujah, Massa Lincoln, Glory Hallelujah.”
Lincoln didn’t want people to kneel before him, as he only sought to give the people of Richmond what God had wanted for them. The triumphal march proceeded through the city of Richmond on that day. Richmond seemed like it would be the greatest triumph Lincoln could imagine, yet five days after Appomattox Courthouse, Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth. The story of Abraham Lincoln would not yet be over. Like Jesus, many of his followers would undergo great despair at his loss. They wondered how they could ever go forward without their leader. It was in the death of America’s Civil War that the resurrection of its promise could begin.
The thing about the Mob that gathered on Palm Sunday was this. Many of them were expecting Jesus to be something that he wasn’t. Jesus was not merely about the thrill of today, nor the revolution of tomorrow. Jesus was about bringing forth the promise of eternal life. God would soon be made weak, so one day we are made strong.
The point of Palm Sunday is this. The cheering for Jesus would soon stop. Jesus would soon be arrested. Many in the crowd would sit at home disappointed to not being able to witness Jesus’ dramatic deeds up close, no different than if I showed up at the Metrodome to find out Micheal Jordan wasn’t going to play that evening’s Basketball game. Others would be disappointed by another political figure, not being able to deliver true salvation by driving the Romans off the land. Like in the case of Alexander Eiffel’s horrid design, they thought that every failed politician brought them to closer to their death as a nation. Like the Eiffel Tower, the initial predictions of Palm Sunday’s outcome were wrong. Something was taking place on Palm Sunday that wasn’t obvious to those witnessing its parade. Burial was about to take place. People would soon quickly abandon all hope. Death seemed to be the unconquerable foe. Whereas the upcoming funeral as in the case of Abraham Lincoln seemed to be the end of his vision, it was merely only the beginning of a world that would never be the same again. Amen
 The inspiration for this sermon came from Dr. Mickey Anders’ sermon on Sermon Writer titled “Who is This? From 2008. Anders is quoting Fred Craddock who says: “the Triumphal Entry was a parade, a protest and a funeral procession. We have all seen the nature of the event as a parade with the throngs shouting their praises as Jesus slowly rides into Jerusalem. Perhaps we could understand this event as a protest. But most importantly, it was also a funeral procession. Only Jesus knew that this was the beginning of the end.” Craddock’s words inspired the outline for Today’s sermon.
 “Debate and Contoversy Surrounding the Eiffle Tower.” Tour Eiffel Paris. Web. Apr.3.2017.
 Stories for Preaching. “The Eiffel Tower.” Stories for Preaching. Web. Apr.3.2017.
 Markquart, Ed. “Riots of Pilate. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Apr.3.2017.
 Stier, Leon. “717: Palm Sunday, 150 Years Ago”. Email Mediatations. 29.Mar.2015. Apr.3.2017.
 Stier, Leon. “717: Palm Sunday, 150 Years Ago.”
 Stier, Leon. “717: Palm Sunday, 150 Years Ago.”
 Stier, Leon. “717: Palm Sunday, 150 Years Ago.”