Sermon 4/9/2017 “Too familiar?”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Church of the Resurrection:
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Day: Palm Sunday, Year A

“Too familiar?”

By Pietro lorenzetti –, Public Domain, Link

I wonder whether the telling of the events of Jesus’ joyous entry into Jerusalem is TOO familiar to us. I mean, we know how events that week turn out: very positive today when Jesus entered the city amid shouts of “Hosannah” and “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord;” extremely positive next week when Jesus conquered death, but depressively bleak in between when Jesus was crucified and was entombed. And yet, year after year, we gather and tell of these events, recount these events, grieve or rejoice in them as appropriate, as if we were hearing about them for the very first time.

Liturgists, which is to say ritualists, tell us that the retelling of such events is a very important human endeavor. In this way we make meaning of them and incorporate them into our very being. In the annual entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for his last Passover observance, for example, and in our annual enactment of this event, we become part of the story. We, too, have to choose where to place ourselves in the action, and how to respond to the things that happened to Jesus (the things we did to Jesus).

  • Will we follow Jesus’ instructions and fetch the donkey and her colt—no questions asked?
  • Will we take off our own coat and spread that valuable garment on the donkey for Jesus to sit on, then shiver as we follow him fearfully into town while people proclaim him Messiah, conqueror, King?
  • Will we slip from Jesus’ side into the crowd? Will we cheer for Jesus and hope no one recognizes us as one of his followers?
  • Or will we just slip away and come back when there is more celebrating to do?

My favorite among the places where people have located themselves in the Palm story comes from the very famous 20th-century German theologian Karl Barth. Someone called him a “great theologian” on his 80th birthday. As the story goes, Karl observed that what he hoped for his life was to have been a useful colt (a useful ass in other words) for Christ, useful in just the way that Christ Jesus needed him to have been to have borne him in this world.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take THAT answer any day! Because the other answers are all filled with guilt and filled with shame. One of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him and the rest deserted him. The crowd turned fickle and called for his crucifixion. The Jewish Temple leaders arranged his death. Even Pilate couldn’t wash his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death, despite his wife’s warning. Ah, you KNOW this story, in all its parts!

There’s another good answer, though, to consider to my question of where to locate ourselves in the Palm story. I have a colleague, one who’s been a priest a lot longer than I, who’s told this same story year after year. He says, and wisely so, that our fate, our need, is to have to hear the story over and over throughout time until we stop scapegoating others for having killed the Christ. “We’re all responsible,” he says, “and if we don’t repeat the story we wouldn’t accept this reality. We would dis-remember this part of the story, rewrite history to relieve ourselves of our human guilt.” Because the bottom line is this: Christ Jesus died to redeem your sins, and mine. Each of us. Throughout time.

So you can tell where this friend locates himself in the story: squarely in the middle of the crowd shouting “Crucify him.”

Did you notice that I didn’t force you to take this part today? I didn’t cast you in this role. I keep hoping that someone will shout, “He’s innocent; let him go so that we can worship him!” But even I don’t shout this reality because I know the story; we all failed Jesus the Christ and demanded that he be crucified. We can’t uncrucify Christ.

Our lesson says the people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem got all caught up “in a turmoil,” wondering just who Jesus was. I’ll assume you all know exactly who Jesus was and is—the Christ, the Messiah, God-come-to-be-with-us, the one we crucified. So I’ll ask you OUR questions, or maybe these are just MY questions for this day: Who are you in this Palm story, in this Passion narrative? And where will YOU be at the hour of Jesus’ death?

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