This is the text of my message for Palm Sunday, March 25 using the Narrative Lectionary lessons of John 12:12-27, the Triumphal Entry, and John 19:16b-22, the writing of the charge against Jesus.
Our lessons for today intentionally provide a clash of contexts. We continue with our Lenten readings of the Passion and Suffering of Christ from chapters 18 and 19 of John‘s Gospel. But we also celebrate Palm Sunday, and remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They are connected because in each, Jesus is called the King of Israel.
Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify!
How did so much go so wrong so fast?
It is the Sunday before Passover; Jesus enters Jerusalem, a top a young donkey, a sign of the anointed leader of Israel.
It is just days after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and Jerusalem still buzzing about that. Now, with the Passover festival approaching, Jesus comes into the capital city. The people greet him as a potential king.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel. Hosanna! Crucify!
It is the day before Passover, and it was the practice of the Roman Empire to make a crucifixion a public example. Should you dare to defy the Empire, this will be your fate. So to inflict terror to the community, the crime these pour souls were charged with was placed above their heads.
Pilate had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
Crucify! We have no king but Caesar!
Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel!
It is Sunday, and the people of Jerusalem are thrilled by the possible promised Messiah. Could this be the one the Scriptures have prophesied? Hosanna! They have seen his signs.
This is the third time Jesus has come to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem know Jesus. They know of his signs. He fed 5,000 with what one would eat for lunch. He has healed the blind, the crippled. He has raised the dead.
They wave palm branches as a sign of a conquering hero, just as we would wave flags on the 4th of July, or school colors at a game. Hosanna!
All that is needed is for the Temple leaders to signal their support. But they have already rejected Jesus. They have already decided that he must die.
He cannot be the Messiah. He doesn't do things the way they expect. He doesn't act how they want the Messiah to act. So they lead the call against him. Take him away! Crucify! Crucify him!
It is Friday, and the people have rejected this possible Messiah, calling instead for the rebel bandit Barabbas.
The man who was hailed as king on Sunday has been rejected. The crowd’s claim of being the King of Israel is now the charge of which Pontius Pilate has placed above Jesus’ head. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
The Temple leaders complain, that's what he said. It's not what we said. It is not what we have said about him. That is what we want to avoid. Pilate tells them he has made his decision; What I have written I have written.
Hosanna! It is Sunday and travellers from Greece fight through the crowds to seek out Jesus. His disciples allow them to meet the celebrated hero. He says that it is the time for his glory.
But he says that the glory will come as that of a single grain of wheat. When it dies and is buried, it flourishes and provides countless grains. Much fruit comes from one who dies. He, and his followers, must be willing to set aside their lives, to be willing to live for others, and die to themselves. His followers must be willing to go where he goes, and do what he does.
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from celebration to condemnation. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from praise to rejection. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from Hosanna! to Crucify!
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, how far are we willing to follow Christ? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to risk? How far are we willing to go?
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
If we are the disciples we claim to be, we will follow our teacher, our rabbi, our master. But how far will we follow?
As the King of Israel, the Son of God went without resistance to the cross. He knew that his crucifixion and resurrection would bring glory to God. He knew the price. He paid the cost.
He calls us to follow him. He calls us to leave the comfortable and take up the challenge. He calls us to live out the values and priorities we speak out.
While we may not lead the call to crucify, we simply stay silent or fade away. While we remember that Judas betrayed him, and Peter denied him, we often forget that the other disciples simply stayed away.
Unlike the Temple leaders, we do not reject Jesus, but we resist him. They rejected Jesus because he wasn't the Messiah they expected. We resist because the Messiah expects too much of us. He calls us out of our comfort zone.
But his words to the visiting Greeks ring in my ears.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
What are we willing to do to bear much fruit?
What are we willing to risk?
How far are we willing to follow Christ?
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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