Palm Sunday
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Mark 11:1-11

FIRST CENTURY JERUSALEM WAS NOT A VERY LARGE CITY, YET CONTEMPORARY SECULAR ACCOUNTS STATE THAT 2.5 TO 3 MILLION PEOPLE WOULD ATTEND THE ANNUAL PASSOVER FESTIVAL. EVERY JEW FOR TWENTY MILES AROUND JERUSALEM WAS EXPECTED TO ATTEND, AND THERE WERE LARGE GROUPS OF FAMILIES, EVEN ENTIRE VILLAGES THAT HAD TRADITIONAL GATHERING PLACES IN NEARBY VILLAGES, AS WELL AS JEWS FROM ALL OVER THE ROMAN WORLD. PASSOVER IS STILL CELEBRATED BY THE JEWS, USUALLY IN THEIR HOMES, BUT JERUSALEM STILL GETS PACKED WITH PEOPLE, SINCE THE LAST TOAST OF THE CELEBRATION IS ALWAYS, “NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM.”

PASSOVER IS THE GREAT FESTIVAL OF THE LIBERATION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE FROM THEIR SLAVERY IN EGYPT. IT IS ALL ABOUT HOW THE HAND OF GOD SAVED THEM WITH MIGHTY WORKS, DESTROYED THEIR ENEMY, AND MADE THEM INTO HIS OWN PEOPLE. LIVING UNDER THE OPPRESSIVE RULE OF THE ROMANS, THE FESTIVAL, WHILE CELEBRATING THE PAST, ALSO INCLUDED A YEARNING FOR THEIR LOST FREEDOM, AND THE HOPE THAT THE MESSIAH WOULD SOON COME TO SET THEM FREE. IT IS NO WONDER THAT THE ROMAN OVERLORDS WATCHED VERY CAREFULLY FOR ANY SIGN OF UNREST OR REBELLION DURING PASSOVER WEEK. THUS THE ROMAN PROCURATOR WOULD COME UP TO JERUSALEM FROM CAESAREA ON THE COAST WITH ADDITIONAL TROOPS FOR THE FESTIVAL TO KEEP A LID ON THINGS.

THIS PASSOVER WEEK STARTED WITH TWO PARADES. THE FIRST ENTERED THE CITY BY THE WESTERN GATE, ANNOUNCING ITS ARRIVAL WITH THE SOUND OF BRASS HORNS, THE RHYTHMIC TRAMPING OF HOBNAILED SANDALS, AND THE CLOPPING OF IRON SHOD HOOFS, AS PILATE SHOWED THE JEWISH PEOPLE THE PRESENCE OF THE POWER OF ROME. THIS PARADE WAS PROBABLY GREETED BY SILENCE AS THE PEOPLE GOT OUT OF THE WAY, ALTHOUGH THERE WERE SOME WHO BOWED BEFORE THEIR MASTERS. THE SECOND PARADE STARTED AT THE MOUNT OF OLIVES AND ENTERED THE CITY BY THE EASTERN GATE CALLED THE GOLDEN GATE. THIS WAS A STRANGE KIND OF PARADE; ONE MAN, RIDING ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A DONKEY, FOLLOWED BY A GROUP OF HIS DISCIPLES. WHEN THE PEOPLE IN THE CITY SAW THIS PROCESSION COMING DOWN FROM THE MOUNT OF OLIVES, MANY RUSHED OUT TO LINE THE WAY, TO CAST THEIR CLOAKS AND BRANCHES ON THE PATH TO CUSHION HIS SHORT JOURNEY, AND TO WAVE PALM BRANCHES AS THEY SHOUTED “HOSANNA.”

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THE DATE PALM BRANCH WAS THE SYMBOL FOR THE JEWISH NATION. WAVING PALM BRANCHES WAS LIKE OUR WAVING THE AMERICAN FLAG. THE STAR OF DAVID DID NOT BECOME THE SYMBOL FOR JUDAISM UNTIL THE MIDDLE AGES. THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE PALM BRANCH WITH THE JEWISH NATION WAS SO STRONG THAT, AFTER THE SECOND JEWISH REVOLT, THE ROMANS CUT DOWN EVERY DATE PALM IN JUDEA. THE CRY OF HOSANNA IS A TRANSLITERATION OF THE HEBREW HOSI – AN – AH, WHICH MEANS OH SAVE US OR SAVE US NOW. SO AT THE FESTIVAL OF THE LIBERATION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE FROM SLAVERY, THE CROWDS SAW THIS STRANGE PROCESSION AS A SIGN OF THEIR IMPENDING FREEDOM AND THE IMMINENT COMING OF THE RESTORED KINGDOM OF DAVID BECAUSE THE MESSIAH HAD ARRIVED.

MARK PREPARES THE READER FOR THIS REACTION OF THE PEOPLE BY THE STORY OF JESUS TELLING HIS DISCIPLES TO GET THE COLT, CLEARLY POINTING TO THE PROPHECY OF ZECHARIAH:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter 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. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.

WHEN THE PEOPLE CRY OUT HOSANNA, THEY ARE LESS WELCOMING THE MESSIAH, AS CRYING OUT FOR THEIR POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE AND SELF INTEREST. TO ALL OF THIS, JESUS SAID NOT A WORD, BUT WENT INTO THE TEMPLE, LOOKED AROUND, AND THEN WENT BACK TO BETHANY. HE DID NOT COME TO BE A KING LIKE CAESAR.

THE PEOPLE KNEW THE PROPHECY OF ZECHARIAH, BUT THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND IT; THEY CRIED OUT FOR THE RESTORATION OF THE KINGDOM OF DAVID, BECAUSE THEY SAW THE MESSIAH AS THE WARRIOR KING COME TO SAVE THEM. THE KING THEY WERE EXPECTING, HOWEVER, CAME AS THE HUMBLE ONE, THE PEACEMAKER, THE ONE WHO WAS TO COMMAND PEACE TO THE NATIONS. HE DID NOT COME TO BE A KING LIKE CAESAR, TO DEMAND OBEDIENCE WITH THE THREAT OF DEATH, BUT TO RULE THE HEARTS AND SPIRITS OF THOSE WHO WOULD FOLLOW HIM IN THE WAY OF PEACE. THUS THE CROWDS THAT SHOUTED HOSANNA, OH SAVE US, ON THIS DAY WERE THE SAME THAT WOULD SHOUT “CRUCIFY HIM” LATER IN THE WEEK, AND WHO WOULD MOCK HIM ON HIS CROSS AS THEY TOLD HIM TO “SAVE YOURSELF.”

WE COMMEMORATE THE ENTRANCE OF OUR LORD AND KING INTO THE HOLY CITY ON THIS DAY, AND WE AWKWARDLY WAVE PALM BRANCHES AND SHOUT HOSANNA LIKE THE CROWDS THAT GREETED HIS FIRST ARRIVAL, BUT WE DO SO FOR ENTIRELY DIFFERENT REASONS. OUR JOY AT HIS COMING IS TEMPERED BY OUR KNOWLEDGE OF WHY HE CAME, AND WHAT HE WAS ABOUT TO ENDURE FOR OUR SAKES. WE LOOK NOT FOR A NEW CAESAR TO SAVE US, FOR WE KNOW THAT SALVATION COMES ONLY FROM GOD. WE LOOK NOT TO ANY EARTHLY POWER TO WHOM WE GIVE OBEDIENCE, BUT TO THE ONE WHO COMES FROM GOD IN HUMILITY AND PEACE, AND WHO SHOWS US TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS OBEDIENCE TO GOD. OUR SHOUTS OF HOSANNA ARE NO LONGER A CRY FOR SALVATION, BUT ARE NOW SHOUTS OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING FOR THE KING WHO HAS COME TO US “HUMBLE AND RIDING ON A DONKEY:” NOT IN PRIDE AND RIDING ON THE HORSE OF WAR. OUR KING IS JESUS, YESHUA, WHO’S VERY NAME MEANS “YAHWEH SAVES.”

AS WE LEAVE IN SILENCE AT THE CLOSE OF THIS REMEMBRANCE, WE WILL CARRY THE PALM BRANCHES WE HAVE JOYOUSLY WAVED, AND WILL TAKE THEM HOME AND WONDER WHAT TO DO WITH THEM. I SUGGEST THAT YOU BIND THEM TOGETHER AND TACK THEM TO THE DOOR POST OF YOUR HOUSE, AND LEAVE THEM THERE UNTIL NEXT YEAR; OR AT LEAST UNTIL EASTER MORNING. WE NEED NOT THE BLOOD OF THE PASSOVER LAMB SPLASHED ON OUR DOOR POSTS; THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB OF GOD WAS SPILLED ON THE CROSS OF OUR SALVATION. THE PALMS ON OUR DOORPOSTS WILL REMIND US, AT OUR GOING OUT AND OUR COMING IN, THAT OUR SALVATION IS NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE HORSE, AND THE BOW, OR THE MAIN BATTLE TANKS OF CAESAR, BUT ONLY IN OUR LORD AND KING WHO CAME TO US IN ALL HUMILITY TO DIE FOR OUR SALVATION. THE PALMS ON OUR DOORPOSTS WILL REMIND US THAT SALVATION COMES FROM GOD AND GOD ALONE, THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS.
AMEN

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