Palm Sunday Sermon

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Sermon: Is there a reason to celebrate Palm Sunday during COVID19 Pandemic?

Who were the people gathering to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” at the Jerusalem’s gate? Who were looking forward to seeing Jesus as their messiah?

Throughout his ministry Jesus was very clear on for whom he came. Jesus said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ (Mark 2:17) He was seen with tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, and those who were at the margins of society. He made it very clear that for them he came. He often were in conflict with Pharisees, Sadducees group and priests.

In today’s passage he was entering Jerusalem and his disciples who came from the people at the margins—none of them was a Pharisee, Sadducee or priest. These outcast sinners were the ones shouting with excitement as Jesus was entering the gate of Jerusalem. Those in power were probably absent and could not understand what the commotion was all about.

Why would these people at the margins be so excited?

In history we see many times when people who are poor, powerless, oppressed, enslaved and discarded by their societies rose up around charismatic leaders to over throw their rulers. Their sufferings were too severe. Their hope was totally lost. Death and suffering were rampant while their masters were able to live well at their expense. They had nothing to lose. People at the margin gravitate to leaders who offer them hope. Revolts by them were usually severely put down until the poor became too powerful. Then, the oppressed rose up and upended the kings and governments. Like Spartacus in Roman times and Lenin and Mao in the 20th century, charismatic leaders used the anger of the populations to overthrow the existing powers. Was Jesus like these leaders?

From the very beginning Jesus resisted temptation to replace the political and social leaders of his time. He was very clear that he did not come for social and political change that many people were expecting. Instead, Jesus came to proclaim the arrival of God’s reign on earth—“the kingdom of heaven is near,” he cried.

As God’s reign came near, sinners and people at the margins of Israelie society could experience God’s love and how the world would change for them. In God’s reign, they could see themselves living as they would enjoy justice, peace and most of all love. It was not the overthrowing of the political and social structures that gave them hope. Instead, what they saw was how their lives would change because God’s reign would bring justice and peace for them. Probably they could imagine how they were loved and how they could live to their hearts content. Jesus ate, talked and laughed with them. He walked and lived among them. He healed them. Perhaps that was why many joined with Jesus’ disciples and proclaimed Jesus as the one bringing God’s reign.

As they proclaimed the ushering in of God’s reign by shouting hosannas, they could live in hope again, find faith again, and be part of loving creation again. Why would they not shout out in joy and expectation? So far so good.

But what can this passage mean for us in this time of COVID19 Pandemic in 2020? Doctors and nurses are exhausted, leaders plead people to keep distance and everyone is doing their best to keep to themselves and news from around the world is terribly grim. Is there a hope? How can Christians celebrate Palm Sunday when the world is in this pang of pain?

The power of this virus is truly deadly. We are seeing huge numbers as people are dying all over the world in ways we have never seen in the past half century. We can only imagine what it will be like to lose 15,000 people in Ontario alone in the worst case scenario. All of us shudder in fear. In this terrifying fear, almost all of our paying jobs are put on hold. The leaders are doing their best to keep the virus from spreading.

Christians do not have any special answers to those who are seeking a way out for the world. We pray for vaccines to be developed quickly. We share concerns with our neighbours whose family members are infected with the virus. We, like everyone else, do our part by staying home as much as we can. Yes, it seems like the Palm Sunday celebration ought to be the last thing on our minds.

As we work through this COVID19 Pandemic, we need to remember that one basic thing does not change. Life and death are intertwined. Death is as much part of life as it has ever been. Deaths by this virus means life ending sooner for many. Because death has always been with us our perspective on life is not changed even now. That is, our hope is in God who offers us life in the new creation as revealed through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I am not saying this lightly and making a claim that we will survive only if we put our faith in God like those Christians who are gathering to worship to prove their faith against their governments’ pleas. Our hope is in God only if we are able to have faith in life today but also tomorrow. Our faith has to lead us to meaningful tomorrow. This shocking pandemic makes us to take a good look at who we are and what we are living for. In a way this pandemic refocuses us on the life that is true and truthful away from superficial life full of vanity.

As Christians we know that the true and truthful life is found only in Christ. This life places us in the new creation. There, fear is no more because it is full of God’s love. This immense love for us was shown in Christ through his death. In his death, then, we find true meaning of what it is to live. Especially in this fearful time with death everywhere, it is important for us to remember that our life is always with God under God’s reign. We are with God always because God loves us through Christ. This love is ours because Jesus laid down his life for us.

When we read Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem we see and experience this love in action. In this love we meet Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. In Jesus, then, we no longer fear death. After all, Christ defeated death. This is what it means to live under God’s reign. Going to Jerusalem to die for us, he shows us the way for us to face our own deaths. Walking with him, then, we find strength to lay down our lives for others in all circumstances. This is why we read over and over again about Jesus entering Jerusalem to face death as we struggle to take up our cross. We ask ways to lay down our lives for those who are suffering in our world today not only with death brought on by this virus but also by many other diseases and unjust evil acts.

Living in God’s reign, our task is to find ways to share this hope of new life especially with those who are afflicted with this disease. Earlier we wondered if this passage has anything to say to us today. Of course it does! In shouting hosannas, we share with the world that God’s reign is already here in Jesus. In the world full of fear of the COVID19 Pandemic, we proclaim God’s reign so that all may have hope in God’s love and have hope in the new creation. Sharing in this proclamation, we help the world to begin living in hope. In the meantime, we live out this hope by steadfastly loving those who are struggling with COVID 19 as well as feeding the hungry, giving our last shirt to one who does not have, and reaching out to those who are ignored by our society. Then, only then, they, the people at the margin, will join us and shout together, “Hosanna!” for they, too, shall have hope in God’s reign.

As they shout with us and proclaim God’s reign, they will share with the world the life in which all tears are wiped away, all their cries are heard, all their needs are satisfied and all their fears are cast out by God's unfailing love. Amen.