Sunday, Arpil 5, 2020
Pastor Megan Torgerson
Processional Gospel (Mark 11:1-10)
As [Jesus and the disciples] approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Preaching Gospel (Mark 14:3-9)
While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
In Mark 11, our processional gospel this morning, we hear the crowds proclaiming Jesus as their king. Hosanna, a word meaning “save us”, is their cry of joy and expectation. They had seen everything Jesus had been doing – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the possessed, condemning the unjust, welcoming the outsider – they saw these things and just knew that this man was it. He was the one. Just as he had released so many people from bondage to illness and suffering, so too would Jesus release them from their bondage to Rome and end the occupation of their land. Jesus would be their king, divinely appointed like King David before him, and they rejoiced that Jesus had finally come to Jerusalem to claim what was his.
While I know that technically the people got it wrong, I have no desire to be hard on them today. I know that the people wanted Jesus as a political king, one who would bring revolution and freedom, when his kingdom had nothing to do with borders and bureaucrats. But I won’t shake my head at them this year. I wish I was them this year.
I wish I could be in a crowd. I wish I could get caught up in the energy that comes with large groups of people, all thrilled and excited to be a part of something amazing. I wish I could wave my arms and bump into someone else and not have to worry about sharing anything other than apologies and joy. I wish I could shout and sing together with people united around one purpose. This Palm Sunday, these crowds and their misguided intentions have it exactly right. We should be raising our voices together. But this year, we can’t.
It might feel like maybe there’s no point in Palm Sunday if we can’t be in worship singing alleluias and waving actual palm branches. The day can feel empty of praise and ceremony. But, as I assured my daughters at breakfast this morning, it’s still Palm Sunday even if we can’t be together in worship. So: how do we declare Jesus as our King when all the traditional elements of this day are gone?
Today, I need the reminder that comes to me from this dear woman in Mark 14, the story we read just a few minutes ago. This woman gives us a vision of what Palm Sunday can be when it can’t be throngs of worshipers and songs sung loud. She doesn’t join the crowds, she doesn’t shout hosanna – she doesn’t even say a word. Instead, she takes her offering of expensive oil, the kind one might use to anoint a king with respect and power, the kind one might use to prepare a body for its burial with humility and obedience. It is a quiet act. It is a personal act. It is not meant for public recognition but praises Jesus for who he is all the same. It recognizes Jesus as a king, but it also recognizes what kind of king Jesus is, and what this king will do.
You are invited to take your lead from her this Palm Sunday. Today, the gift of this Palm Sunday and its entry into a Holy Week unlike other we’ve ever known is that it drives us deep into ourselves. It strips away all the noise and ceremony and forces us to ask ourselves: how do I really claim Jesus as my king? And when I say he’s king, what does that actually mean for me? If it’s not about a morning of public worship, what is it? How can I, this day, glorify Jesus through my words and actions? Consider that this woman’s praise and devotion cost her something – a whole year’s worth of salary, enough that even the disciples thought it was too much. But she didn’t do it for show or notoriety. She did it because Jesus is worthy of praise.
He is worthy of praise because he goes to his death for us. He doesn’t want the show and celebration. He wants us to get it. You don’t need crowds or choirs to do that. Wherever you are right now, alone or with your household, at your desk or table, on your phone or your computer, you have what you need. You are able to ask yourself: how do I show that Jesus is my king? What do I give up to give him my devotion? How will I let Palm Sunday speak to my heart with silence, patience, and hope? Jesus is your king, the one who saves us, and on this Palm Sunday more than ever before, he calls you to live out what that means. Thanks be to God. Amen.