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Sermon – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 24 March 2024.

Everybody loves a parade. Here in Adelaide we love our Christmas Pageant. Last week in Dublin they held their St Patrick’s Day Parade. In Melbourne they have the footy Grand Final Parade and the pre-Melbourne Cup parade. We love the colour, the noise, the music, the aroused emotions, the barracking. Everybody loves a parade.

Ancient Rome loved parades too – especially victory parades after battle. The defeated army would be paraded through the streets of Rome in chains and it was great fun being very rude to these defeated soldiers, especially to their generals. And then, at the end, came victorious Caesar in all his glory. Woo hoo! It was terrific.

There weren’t that many parades in old Jerusalem. After all, the citizens were kept in check by the invading Roman army. The Romans did not want any event that might upscale into a demonstration against the empire. And being a very religious community most of the Jewish celebrations were based at the temple or in their own homes. Especially Passover. That was a family-based gathering and meal. But the Jews still loved the few parades they could have – even when it was a criminal being paraded through the streets on the way to being executed. What fun to shout insults and say rude words to the hapless prisoner.

So … when the word got around that that popular teacher Jesus was riding into the city on a donkey … that popular teacher who put the religious heavy-weights in their place with his words … that popular teacher who had just given the temple sacrifice sellers and money-changers the lesson of their lives … when the word got around that he was riding into the city, a real parade formed. The palm trees along the streets had branches pulled off them, and they were waved aloft like banners. Then they were put down on the dusty street … and people even took off their outer cloaks and put them on the dusty street too. After all, you didn’t want your hero getting dusty, and even the hoofs of his animal had to be protected from getting dusty. These days we put down a red carpet.

And the crowd was chanting – sort of singing. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!!” That was no random song. That was no off-the-cuff ditty. That was Messianic!! That was verging on the political revolutionary!! Those words were what the chap who wrote the psalms provided you to sing to God’s special agent – to greet this Messiah for whom the Jews had waited for centuries! He would save them from the Romans. The words are from Psalm 118. This bloke – this Jesus – this popular teacher – this upsetter of the religious establishment … he is the Messiah!!! Shout it again. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” “Hosanna” is both a sort of “Hooray” thing, but also a cry for help. Literally it means “Help us, O Lord.” Help us out from under the heel of this oppressive Roman rule.

It was no spontaneous thought Jesus had had to come into Jerusalem like this. He had thought about it, and had planned it, and had made preparations for it. He had found a donkey in a village just outside the capital city, and had an arrangement to borrow the donkey, and then return it when everything was done. (see Matthew 21:1-3). And as he rode along with the people’s shouts in his ears and the people’s cloaks under his feet, Jesus was “coming out” as the Messiah.

His followers had slowly been realising Jesus’ real nature as the Messiah. There is the interesting reference in Luke 4:41 where Jesus heals people, and Luke reports that the demons said “’You are the Son of God!’ But Jesus rebuked them because they knew he was the Christ.” The Samaritans who were spoken to by the woman at the well listened to Jesus speaking for two days and said to the woman at the end of that 48 hours, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is really the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42). In John 7:40ff, in Jerusalem, there were some who were convinced that Jesus was the Christ, but others remained sceptical. And in John 11:27ff, we have Martha of Bethany’s confession, even before Jesus restored her brother Lazarus to life – she said, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” Peter had blurted out (as Peter often did) as the spokesman for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mark 8:29).

You can see this gradually growing awareness over time among those who knew Jesus, that he was the Christ – and that word ”Christ” is the Greek word for the Jewish word “Messiah.” And the Gospels were written in Greek which is why that word “Christ” is used. So Jesus had decided that the time had come to declare himself openly – and on what we call Palm Sunday he put aside all uncertainty. He did exactly what Zechariah 9:9 had foretold – he arranged to come into Jerusalem on a donkey – a sign of peace, not on a horse that was a sign of war. The people recognised and acclaimed Jesus as the king who comes to those people, triumphant and victorious, humble, peaceable and riding on an ass …”. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

It’s interesting that we use exactly those words in our Communion service week by week. Just under half-way through the Thanksgiving Prayer over the bread and wine, we join in with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven praising God and saying “Holy, holy, holy …etc”. We finish with “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” That first part of the Thanksgiving Prayer summarises what God has done for us in Christ, and our response is this outpouring of angels’ praise and Palm Sunday praise. With the disciples and with Jesus’ followers we acknowledge that what God has done for us in Christ makes us certain that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

There is no secret any longer about Jesus’ Messiahship. It’s clear. It’s obvious. Jesus’ Messiahship is worthy of every syllable of praise we can think of. And that’s why we members of the clergy shouldn’t read the Thanksgiving Prayer as though it’s a dry biscuit. It’s a majestic prayer; it’s a confessional prayer that leads us to confess our allegiance to Jesus as the Christ, to confess our allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah, to confess our allegiance to Jesus as God’s Son. In our Prayer Book one of the provided alternative memorial acclamations says, “Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.” Based on 1 John 4:4. This is the recognition we give Jesus on Palm Sunday. The Saviour of the world.

Pam Sunday is a wonderful day. It’s a praisey day. It’s a day that gives us pause to consider our response to Jesus Christ in our lives. Who is Jesus Christ to us? We get a bit squirmy as Anglicans at this personal thought – but it’s a thought we need to have in our mind from time to time. Who is Jesus Christ to me?

On this day, as we see the palm branches, as we hold our palm crosses, as we sing about that parade in Jerusalem so many years ago in the words “Ride on, ride on in majesty …” We say or sing with the Jerusalem crowds of years gone by, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” we are saying, in effect, this is OUR Christ. This is OUR Messiah. But even more – this is MY Christ. This is MY Messiah. This is the Saviour of the world. This is MY Saviour.

This is the message of Palm Sunday.

The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went:
our praise and prayer and anthems
before thee we present:-

All glory, laud and honour
to thee, Redeemer, King,

to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.