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Palm Sunday

God Save the People
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31;
John 12:20-36
“When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy, when?
Not thrones and crowns, but men…
God save the people. For thine they are…”
Famous words, not from the Gospel of Mark, but from the
musical, Godspell.

It is Palm and Passion Sunday today. We go from waiving
palms and shouts of Hosanna, which means “pray, save us!”
(God) to the depths of desolation with Jesus dying on the

It is the moment of the church year most frequently
portrayed in theatre, going back to the Middle Ages and
Passion Plays, and with good reason. You may have
watched entertainer John Legend performing as Jesus in
Jesus Christ Superstar on live TV a few years back on Easter
Sunday, yet another great performance. But we remember
that there was no performance on Jesus’ part. It was all too

Still, today, we all get to participate in this re-enactment. We
all get to shout “Hosanna,” wave a palm branch, and then
yell, “Crucify Him!”

Jesus came into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt,
and there weren’t any fancy musical numbers with John the
Baptist singing prepare the way of the Lord, or King Herod
telling Jesus to walk across his swimming pool as a sign that
Jesus was the Messiah.

There was a lot of yelling, and there were people milling
around, demanding Jesus do something, hoping for more, for
better, for peace, perhaps for revolution, for rebellion against
Rome. There were people putting their tired hope in this
controversial rabbi riding into town on a donkey, and they
show up for him with shouting, symbols, and loud support.
When wilt thou save the people God?

Today we are right after the woman anoints Jesus and some
of the religious leaders plan to kill him. So much has already
happened but the capstone is yet to come. when Jesus
performs miracles and teaches and surprises everyone with
what he does, ending in his most spectacular, miracle:
raising Lazarus from the dead.

That miracle was a turning point. Jesus was officially
making too much of a ruckus, although we could say that
Jesus was always stirring things up, making statements like
when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the
Temple. Or Jesus talking to women he didn’t know which
was counter-cultural, or healing on the Sabbath, or call God
his Father. Now word has spread. Rome, the oppressing
empire, was watching. Something had to be done about this
rebellious rabbi that everyone it seems was following.
Something had to be done about this supposed Messiah, or
King of the Jews. He was a direct threat to Roman power.

He is dangerous

We are at a turning point here in Jesus’ life. We turn from
the miracles to Jesus’ Passion and Death and?

We are at a turning point in the church year, between Lent
and Holy Week and ready to jump into our yearly
remembrance of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion.
We are also at a turning point in all our lives. What do we
choose? Division and strife or Peace and reconciliation in a
difficult time in our country and our world? But then, it
always seems that we are at a turning point, because we
never quite know when we are on the verge of a day that
changes everything, when we are given a chance to act in
love as disciples of that still controversial rabbi that caused
so much consternation millennia ago.

The first participants of Palm Sunday also found themselves
at a turning point in their lives. They lived in a land
occupied by all of the power of Rome. Many of the
occupants of the land were Jewish, a minority religion in the
Roman Empire. Like human beings from ancient times right
up until today, what they wanted most was to live their lives,
observe their faith, care for their families, and make a living.
But as often happens to humans, events beyond their control
affected their ability to do these things.

Some in Israel wanted to rebel against Rome, and they had
done so in the past, and they would do so again in the future.
Others would keep their heads down and try to live their
lives as quietly and as peacefully as possible. And most
people were somewhere in between. They weren’t happy with the way things were going at all, but they also weren’t
about to enter into a rebellion against all the might of Rome
at the time.

Enter Jesus stage left, the unconventional rabbi that they say
brought a man back from the dead. Could he be the one that
would save them? Could he be the one to save us?
Picture this for a moment in your imagination: we hear that
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Someone sees him, and
they begin to spread the word that he is coming into the city.
Soon, he’s riding into town on the back of a donkey, and we
begin to gather. And there is a huge crowd, with people
shoving, straining, craning their necks to see the famous
rabbi that they say brought a man back to life who had been
dead for four days. We are waving palm branches and
shouting Hosanna!

God save the people.

In today’s Gospel, cloaks and tree branches are spread on
the ground before Jesus as he enters. It is only in John’s
Gospel that the people are waving palms. Palm branches are
an ancient symbol in Jesus’ time of a number of things,
victory, triumph, eternal life, peace. They represented the
phoenix also, rising from the ashes. And if Jesus would have
entered on a horse, it would have told the crowds that Jesus
was a military leader, the traditional Jewish thought of
who/what the Messiah would be. But a donkey? That is
humble, peaceful, really a sign of degradation, or a
foreshadowing of what is to come in the next days.

God save the people.

Two thousand years later, we still look for the one who will
save the people, save us. We put our hopes in all kinds of
people, things, and programs. We look to the latest
technology, to the latest fad diet, to the latest one or thing
that says to us that “I have the answer to all your problems”.
We search for that which will take us from difficulty to
easing our burdens, from sickness to health, from war to
peace, and from death to life.

God, save the people.

Today, let us join the world in craning our necks to see Jesus
and wave the palms in our hands and to put our tired hope in
him. Remember that we are not the first ones to fear, the
first ones to experience suffering, the first ones to want
better lives for ourselves and our families. We are not the
first ones to long for peace. We are not the first ones to
despair or the first ones to offer our tired hope up to the one
who might save us.

Today we get to live through Jesus’ story, our story, again.
Let’s forget that we know how things turn out, just for a bit.
Let’s give over our tired hope to Jesus who rides on a
donkey. Let us dare beyond a fragile hope that he is the one
who takes us from death to life. Let us experience the story
once more, together.

We wave our palms. We journey from this seemingly
triumphant entry in Jerusalem to that room, where feet will
be washed and bread will be broken and wine offered, body
and blood that is memory for us. We move to that garden
where fear and resolve are experienced and forged.

And then, the worst, the unthinkable happens. Our hope is
snuffed out. Let’s forget that we know how things turn out,
just for a bit. When love becomes absent in our own lives,
we allow ourselves to mourn and think that the worst
possible thing has happened. Yet, as Jesus is laid in the
tomb, who knows where love and hope might take us?

God, save the people.

This day, Jesus, our love comes to us all riding on a donkey.
Let us greet him waving our palms and with singing. Let us
journey together with him this week to that upper room, to
wash each others’ feet, and to partake of broken bread and
blessed. Wine. Let us journey with him this week to his
death on the cross, for us. And then let us once again travel
with him from death to life. Let us meet the holy this week,
and let us find our tired hope refreshed and renewed. In him
our hpe, our love, our life.

God, save the people.