by Rev. Jason Radmacher
Text: Mark 11:1-11
With its familiar chorus of “Hosanna” sung by green branch waving congregations, Palm Sunday is one of the most dramatic Sundays in the life of the Church.
It’s been since ancient times.
We know about Palm Sunday’s historic significance, in part, because of the diary kept by a Christian pilgrim named Egeria who travelled from her home in western Europe to Jerusalem in the late fourth century.
In her diary, Egeria describes a journey she made around the year 380AD. Her descriptions of the rituals, traditions, and worship services she experienced make her diary one of the most important source documents for people who want to know where some of our most beloved rituals, traditions, and worship services come from.
Her description of what happened on the Sunday before Easter, for example, is one of the first recorded instances of some of the traditions being repeated around the world today.
On Palm Sunday, Egeria and her fellow pilgrims went to church services in the morning as they would on any Sunday in Jerusalem. Afterward, however, everyone rushed home to eat lunch so that they could meet up again at the Mount of Olives at 1:00.
At 1:00, the people and their bishop began an afternoon of worship. They sang, prayed, and read scripture together.
At 3:00, they moved to the nearby spot that marked the site of the Lord’s Ascension, where they’d continue to worship until 5:00.
Egeria recorded what happened next.[At 5:00], the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.
For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner, making these responses, from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city…going very slowly lest the people should be wearied.
It was a long day of worship, yet a suitable beginning for what Egeria and others called The Great Week.
The pilgrim’s journal helps us more clearly understand our own traditions for this day and unites us in worship with the Holy Communion of Saints. It’s true that there are tremendous differences between what she experienced and our time together this morning, but I believe that if Egeria walked into this church this morning, heard us singing “Hosanna” and saw the children with their branches, she’s recognize what we are doing.
She’s understand that this is Palm Sunday and that we’re on the verge of Easter, and as quickly as so many things change, as fleeting as so many moments are, I think that kind of stability and continuity through the centuries is a beautiful things.
On the Sunday before his death, a crowd greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna” and by waving branches along his path. It happened then, so ancient pilgrims repeated the scene, and so do we.
These are very old traditions, and I love them.
But I wonder if there’s a key aspect of the Gospel lesson for this day that our traditions have allowed us to miss.
Is it possible that Jesus did something else on that day that was just as important as taking his place in the procession?
Is it possible that the loudest “Hosanna” and most vigorously waved branches could still leave our Palm Sunday experience wanting?
I think it is possible, because I think we’ve placed so much emphasis on the way Jesus got to Jerusalem that we’ve neglected to pay attention to what he did when he arrived, at least as far as Mark is concerned.
Listen again to the Gospel.
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.
Upon entering the Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple and “looked around at everything.”
Now I suppose that someone could argue that Jesus was just playing the part of the tourist.
“Hey Peter, get a shot of me and James over by the money changers.”
Someone could argue that point, but I think there’s something more to this scene.
Instead of envisioning Jesus as playing the part of a sightseer, I believe the time he spent in the Temple has more in common with a performer walking out to center stage while the house is still empty, just to get a feel for the room, or an athlete standing alone at midcourt or home plate, just to still her nerves so that she can do what she’s prepared and trained to do.
They’ve worked for this chance.
They’ve prepared for this opportunity.
They’ve poured themselves into being ready for this moment so that they can seize it, reach it, and grasp it in their hands.
I think that’s what was happening in the Temple courts on that Sunday afternoon so long ago.
This was the moment to which everything led. Being baptized in the Jordan, calling disciples, preaching in parables, serving the lonely, last, and lost among God’s people—it all led Jesus to this moment—to this day when crowds would receive him as King David’s rightful heir, this week when he would ascend his cruciform throne.
This was his moment and if he would seize it, then nothing would ever be the same again.
In the Temple, Jesus looked around at everything.
He took the measure of the city’s pulse, beheld its glorious architecture, saw the pilgrims, and reminders of Rome’s Imperial might.
He saw sick people there who needed to be healed.
He saw greedy people who needed to be corrected.
He saw the aimless ones who needed a new direction and a better path to follow, sinners who needed salvation.
And he saw us, too.
He saw our brokenness. He saw our children marching for safe schools and freedom for fear. He saw our anger, pain, and grief. He saw us as we really are.
Jesus saw all of this, then he gathered his disciples and went home to rest.
It was going to be a very busy week.
Thanks be to God, then, for the Great Week and for this Good News. Amen.