Palm Sunday, 4.5.2020

            It’s funny how two different people can experience the same thing, but have a different perspective. There was a marketing campaign for a bank not too long ago, and they would show the same picture side by side, but with a different caption underneath each, capturing that there are different perspectives. It could be a photo of two hands touching, and one caption might be ‘friendship.’ The same photo – a different caption – would be ‘regret.’ You would look at them and say, yes, I see how you could interpret these same pictures with these different perspectives. The shadows maybe make it look like regret, and some sorrow.

            Today: we see Jesus riding in on a donkey: conquering hero! We could also see the same picture of Jesus riding in on a donkey: soon to be victim, riding to his death.

In today’s gospel, we can see the procession into Jerusalem through two different viewpoints. There’s the view through the eyes of Jesus’ apostles. From their point of view: it’s success! Jesus is a big success!  Jesus has ARRIVED. At last! He’s preached, he’s healed, he’s exorcised demons. The Sermon on the Mount! Feeding the 5000! The raising of Lazarus! At last Jesus is getting his due recognition! At last, it can’t be long before he is crowned king! And after that happens, they’ll kick the Romans out of Jerusalem. It can’t be long, after all, Jesus is a descendant of King David. The apostles can just taste it, it is so close– he will be crowned very, very soon.

From Jesus’ point of view, he’s looking at and participating in the ephemeral nature of human enthusiasm and our short attention spans. That’s bad enough, but Jesus knows the violence in our hearts. He knows our cowardice. He knows when there are threats to our safety, we run. Jesus knows these are “sunshine disciples” – they’re with him when it’s easy, not when it’s hard. His disciples are not really grasping what is going on.

He knows there’s a Good Friday coming. The Hosannas are not going to last. The cheers will turn into “crucify him!” The religious leaders cannot and will not tolerate him anymore.

Where crowds cheer, others gather in the shadows to make plans. And right after this event, he goes into the Temple and cleanses it! So, we know he’s not running a popularity contest. The apostles will be horrified, and want to pull out their hair. Here Jesus had victory within his grasp – and then he ruins it with this stunt cleaning the Temple. Oh Jesus!

Some see this Palm Sunday procession as a great success. Others see the same procession as a threat. Jesus has to be taken down. NOW. Jesus knows this crowd is going to turn ugly in a few days.

And when WE cheer along with the crowd, we are saying hooray for Jesus, but we are also reenacting our own short attention spans, we underscore human ephemeral enthusiasms, and the violence in our hearts. We understand the word, hosanna, to meet hooray, but it really means, save us. Save us.

            “ The great poet W.H. Auden was asked once why he was a Christian, instead of a Buddhist or a Confucian, since all these religions share similar ethical values. And Auden said, “Because nothing in the figure of Buddha or Confucius fills me with the overwhelming desire to scream, “’crucify him’.”[1] The poet understands our contrariness and this why Jesus comes – to CONFRONT and ultimately DISABLE our knee jerk reactions towards everything that is death-dealing.

Today, when we get together in cyberspace, we are celebrating Palm Sunday in two ways, with a view in the present but also backward. We are in the present, but we are also in the past, reliving past Palm Sundays. Who would have thought just a month ago, that we couldn’t be together on this day? Who would have thought we had taken for granted something as ordinary as Palm Sunday? Now we cherish this celebration for its ability to gather us together. We look back and we see just a month ago, we were in a simpler time.

What are your favorite memories of Palm Sunday?

            In fact, we are cherishing many celebrations we had taken for granted and which called for gathering together: graduations, weddings, baptisms, funerals, barbeques, going to the beach or the park, First Communions, all these celebrations have to be postponed or done differently as we take precautions to keep each other safe.

At the same time, we look back in longing for when we could assemble, unthinkingly, safe from any glimmer of a THOUGHT that there was such a thing as a pandemic. Our lives have been rearranged, drastically.

As we celebrate today Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on a borrowed colt and donkey, we are also grieving what we’ve lost – not just a traditional Palm Sunday, but the INNOCENCE that went with it. In the future, we will never be able to return to our traditional Palm Sunday without remembering, TODAY’S Palm Sunday. It’s a loss of innocence similar to what we lost after 9/11. After 9/11 never again did we have that same sense of safety. We look around our city and know how it has changed – more cameras, more security.

What are you grieving the loss of during this season of COVID-19? Name it and lift it up to God, trusting that God hears you and is with you in your loss.

We will look back at pre-coronavirus days as naïve. A time when we would walk around unguarded, unmasked. A simple grocery run reminds us of our mortality. Yet. Jesus still comes.

 Jesus is in our midst. Jesus blesses us in the midst of this pandemic, whether or not we can assemble. Palm Sunday has dawned.

We can still wave the palm leaf we colored, or the branch we took from our garden, and say, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus is still king whether we have to shelter in place or gather together.

What do you have to offer Jesus this week? What palm branch, real or imagined, will you wave or coat will you offer him?    

Jesus is still with us, because this is WHY he was born and came to live and die among us for precisely this reason. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, it says, “Jesus pitched his tent among us.” Jesus came to live and die so that he could plant his cross among our sufferings. He suffers WITH us and AMONG us. NOW. He is with us on this different Palm Sunday, a day which should be loud, but now it is quiet. Subdued. Reflective. Even mournful, for what we’ve lost. HE is STILL WITH US.

Jesus rides in on a donkey, which is a traditional beast connoting KINGSHIP among the Judeans. However, he is a new kind of king who does not lord it over people; Jesus redefines kingship as a SELF-GIVING. “Jesus, is genuinely king and messiah. And the question is not WHETHER he has royal power but HOW does he exercise it. And that’s where the transformation comes in. It comes in this act of self-giving in and through the crucifixion. THAT is how Jesus’ power is exercised. And will be publicly proclaimed in the sign above the cross.”[2]

Christ comes now with PROMISES of restoration. Not as the apostles had hoped – another warrior king – King David. We are to be restored internally, spiritually where it counts most.

As a community, as the Body of Christ, as the CHURCH of believers, we relearn TOGETHER what is important.


We have relearned that GATHERING in the flesh together in community is important. Never have we wanted to gather together so much as we do today. It seems so wrong. Palm Sunday has always come, like there is always a sun and a moon. So, yes, Palm Sunday has come. It’s different, but Palm Sunday IS here. As Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director says, “We are collectively being born again this Lenten season.”[3] 

While the soundtrack of the crowd is loud and jubilant, at the same time, Jesus does not share in that jubilation. We can only guess what Jesus is thinking. Our reading from Isaiah may give us clues – it speaks of Jesus as a Suffering Servant, enduring the cruel treatment of the Roman soldiers.

Jesus’s thoughts may be closer to what the prophet Isaiah is describing: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

We know how the story ends – Jesus riding on a donkey: is a conquering hero, but not as the crowd wants or how the Romans understand a king. Jesus IS a conquering hero.

We look at our Palm Sunday gathering and call it brave. We look at our Palm Sunday that has no procession and no gathering, and we could also call it sad. We look at our Palm Sunday cyberspace worship and call it cutting edge.

WHAT word would YOU use to call today’s Palm Sunday?

Righteous God, you brought your son Jesus into Jerusalem to show people the radical grace of your love. Show us this grace, and give us eyes to see your goodness. We have many prayers. We are thankful for many for those who have recovered from the virus.

Our prayers continue with those who are still sick and struggling with this evil virus. We beg for mercy for those health care workers who are on the frontlines. Get those without the proper protective equipment what they need. We beg for your grace for our world.

I ask you, the congregation, to take time to pray for the needs of your congregations and your community. Who are those who are stirred up and made anxious by this challenging season and how can you minister to them? We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


[1] Sarah Miles.

[2] Craig R. Koester.

[3] Peggy Hahn.