Sermon on “ Palm Sunday” by Rev. Canon Patrick P Augustine, Rector, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-47
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11)

The Week that Changed the World
During the weeks before “the week that changed the world,” Jesus and his disciples walked 80 miles through the Jordan Valley to Jericho. That’s the last place where pilgrims coming for Passover can rest before they climb nearly 3500 feet to Jerusalem. Some may have been out of breath as they walked, but they still sang the traditional verse:
I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 122:1).

Jesus and his disciples stayed in Bethany, an eastern suburb of Jerusalem.
With almost 100,000 extra people in the city, it was nearly impossible to find lodging for thirteen people. And, because Jesus was popular with the common people but not the religious authorities downtown, it made sense to stay with Lazarus, Mary and Martha for a day of Sabbath rest.
On Sunday morning, when Jesus resumed his journey, the word was out. Crowds in Bethany and on the road to Bethphage saw Jesus riding a donkey a sign of peace and humility foretold hundreds of years before by Zechariah, as he described the Messiah’s arrival.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
The pilgrims and the people of Jerusalem hailed “the son of David” with the shouts we made this morning as we entered with our palms. But â€" “the son of David” was a loaded title at a loaded place. The crowd was excited because some thought a revolution might begin. They waved palms, the national emblem of freedom seekers. Those branches had the same effect as if they were Jewish flags, causing great anxiety among the religious elite.

In emergency session, the Jewish Sanhedrin held a loud debate. Above the commotion, the high priest Caiphas said: You do not understand, my brothers, that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” With this encouragement, the chief priests and Pharisees gave orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him” (John 11:57). The street corner signs said:

Wanted: YESHU HANNOZRI
He shall be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf. Anyone who knows where he is, let him declare it to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
The Passion narrative makes it clear the authorities got what they wanted â€" or so they thought. They didn’t anticipate the aftereffects of Jesus’ death. The crowd was disappointed because Rome wasn’t overthrown under Jesus’ leadership. No one seemed to “get it,” although Isaiah made it plain long before.
”Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds
we are healed” Isaiah 53: 4-5.

There were all kinds of people in that Palm Sunday crowd. Some were “disciples”, proclaiming Jesus as their Messiah. Some just watched without commitment. Some were caught up in the moment… just going along with the crowd. Some, like the Pharisees, whispered and plotted. In just a few days, all were shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Ask yourself â€" what would I have done or said if I had been in that crowd?

The Passion reminds us Jesus never lost focus on his mission to liberate the whole of humanity from sin and death that separate us from God…the sins of discrimination, racism, poverty and economic inequality, lack of medical care…hatred among religious factions and communities… terrorism…war and mistreatment of prisoners. From his cross, Jesus tells us to carry our own and fulfill his mission of compassion, redemption and release in the world today. Our response may be small and personal: a cup of cold water, a warm blanket, or a visit with plate of cookies. Or it may be as bold as carrying the cross of Jesus to drive out the evil spirits in the name of Jesus. The church must do more than meet and wave palms on festive occasions. We must pressure governments and corporations for the sake of the disadvantaged or the ravaged earth and lobby for just laws. We must stand in solidarity with oppressed people, end warfare among nations, care for the marginalized and make our culture more compassionate and inclusive. When we act and pray this way, the reign of God that began on the cross can affect every area of our society.

We have services every day this week. Attend as many as you can. Find your own role in the great, unfolding salvation drama. Pray especially for lawmakers who struggle with issues of immigration and seek ways to achieve peace in Iraq and other troubled parts of our world. Like the people on the roadside on that first Palm Sunday, we too are responsible, through our sins, for the Passion and Death of our Lord just days after the cheering ended. But unlike that first crowd, we know by faith the truth of the Resurrection and the promise of everlasting life â€" all the more reason to walk the way of the cross in honor of he who bears the Name which is above every name ( Philippians 2:10).

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