Home      Back to Palm Sunday





A Sermon for Palm Sunday

The Rev. Dr. David Smith

St. George's Church, Prince Albert Saskatchewan

March 20th, 2005

All of us have a desire to see, for once, a complete victory for the good.  We all wish that what is right would win completely over what is wrong, that our side would win over the other side, that things would work out perfectly.  When the Prince Albert Raiders win the Memorial Cup this year we would like to look back and say, "that was perfect.  It was just the way I dreamed it would be."  It almost happened for the Calgary Flames in the playoffs last year, but we don't want it to be "almost."  We want the victory to be complete.

In this world, our hopes for the good are usually deferred.  We learn to be happy with part of what we want.  Young children are heart-broken sometimes when they don't get absolutely everything that they want, but we know that they will learn.  Nevertheless, we are all made with that hope to "have it all".  In the Peanuts comic strip, someone asked Linus what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Linus thought about it for a moment and said, "insanely happy"!  And we want to be mature enough that when it doesn't seem quite that way, we go into a tailspin, and yet we don't want to give up that hope for complete happiness, complete goodness, because that hope is part of our God-given makeup.

Our Lord during his mission on earth dealt with that desire all the time.  Once there was even a hint in people's minds that he might be the Messiah, the chosen King, then people looked to him to make everything right.  They thought that in him the rule of God would come to earth and everything would be made right.  This aroused very powerful feelings in the people around Jesus. He had to deal with these feelings.  Right after the feeding of the five thousand we read in the gospels that Jesus had to go away because the people wanted to crown him King.  He had to avoid being made the focus of emotions that would sweep him along with them in a direction that was not the direction of his ministry.

And yet he couldn't just avoid these emotions altogether because his mission was to announce the coming of the rule of God.  His miracles displayed to everyone that the rule of God was present in him.  What he did aroused the passionate sense that in him was the fulfillment of all of God's promises, and yet he had to keep from being caught up in a movement that led in the wrong direction.  In order to sail a sailboat you have to have a wind.  But the wind in itself won't take the boat where you want to go.  You have to have a counterbalance to the wind - the keel and the rudder - to harness the wind's force to move you in the right direction.  Jesus' mission was a little like that - he did things and taught things that brought out the strongest responses in people, but he had to keep the whole mission from capsizing from the passions that were aroused.  He had to say to people, "I am what you think I am, but at the same time, I'm not what you think I am."

The Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem  is where we see these conflicting forces all at work. Because in that ride into Jerusalem, Jesus was finally allowing the people to acclaim him.  He allows them to cheer and wave branches and say, "this is the one!"  But at the same time the procession is not a military one, but on a donkey, the symbol of humility.  When the religious leaders tell him to keep his followers quiet he says, "if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!"  Up to now, he has been keeping his followers quiet.  But now it's as if he let's loose the reins, and allows them to let loose with their hopes and their joy!  They have their moment of triumph.

The people were hoping for a victory there and then.  They were hoping that Jesus would become the King they expected, and because God was with him, he would be able to set up the Kingdom of Israel and bring in God's rule on earth.  And it is part of the makeup of every person to hope for that kind of a victory.  But we know that it did not go that way.

It did not go that way because the mission of our Lord was not to bring that kind of victory.  His mission was to bring a different kind of victory.  His victory was to be a victory over sin and over death, rather than over the Roman rulers.  The rule of God that he came to bring was a spiritual rule rather than an earthly one.

The Bible tells us that to win his victory, the victory over sin and death, the road  he had to travel wasn't straight to an earthly crown.  Instead, to win that victory he had to travel the road to the Cross.  Not what the people were expecting, not what he himself wanted, but that was the road to his triumph.  The Bible teaches us many things about why Jesus had to be rejected and die to win his victory and during this Holy Week we are going to look at some of them.  We are going to learn a little more about why the victory over sin and death was won on the Cross.  The whole answer that the Bible gives has many parts to it, so we will look at it a bit at a time to try and put together the whole picture.

We know from Scripture that when Jesus found it necessary to go to the Cross to triumph over sin and death, that that fit with the rest of his teaching.  What did Jesus teach about how we should respond to violence and oppression?  "I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;  and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile."  We all know this teaching and probably most of us have puzzled over what it means and how to apply it.  I don't think Jesus meant to teach that we should never defend ourselves, that we should give away all our clothing on demand, and so on.

What I do think he meant was that when we meet with evil, selfishness, oppression, we should go to any lengths not to respond with the same things.  He meant that it is much better to be struck, to have our things taken away, to give in to unjust demands, than to allow ourselves to be turned into the same kind of people in resisting.  If we allow evil to strike us, without responding with evil, then God can use us to redeem the situation.  He can use our meekness to bring the evildoer to repentance, while we ourselves stay pure-hearted.

When we see evil at work, what else can break the cycle?  Otherwise one wrong leads to another wrong and another and another.  But if someone  is willing to suffer innocently, without returning the wrong, then that can lead to victory over the evil.

This was what Jesus taught, and in the journey to the Cross, this is what we see Jesus living.  He allowed hate and fear and the desire for power strike him and he did not resist.  As the Bible says of him, "I gave my back to the smiters...I hid not my face from shame and spitting."  If innocent suffering can bring victory over sin and evil, then the innocent suffering of our Lord, could bring a much greater victory.  Jesus allowed himself to be struck by evil so that God could use him to bring redemption.  His teaching to us and his actions were all of one piece, as he followed the will of God.

That is one way that the Bible helps us to understand the journey to the Cross.  As Jesus was rejected and suffered, he was breaking the cycle of evil.  He was offering his innocent suffering to God, so that God could use it to bring victory over sin and death.

We all have in us the desire for the good to triumph, for the right to win over the wrong, for God's rule to be seen right before our eyes.  And we should never give up on this desire, because it is part of our makeup.  The gospel tells us that there is indeed a real, final victory over evil.  It is a victory we can cheer for, and praise God for.  But the journey to that victory is by way of the innocent suffering of our Lord on the Cross.  Without that, there is no victory, no triumph.  But with the Cross, there is a victory that nothing can overcome.  We share in that victory, when we take up our Cross, and follow him.