This Week’s News Here

Sermon: Palms and calm amidst the storm

5th April 2020

Unlike the other gospel writers, Matthew has Jesus riding on both the donkey and its colt, a faithfulness to Zechariah prophecy of the messiah

That Jesus rides not a horse, which was “an animal of war”, but a donkey, which was emphatically not, is also important. 

In this way Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem subverts what was expected of a king: “Matthew here shapes his Jesus as an alternative ‘king’ who told His followers to ‘put the sword back in its place’ (26:52) and imitate His way of life—the way of the ‘peacemakers’

Hosanna means to save, or salvation 

The crowds were calling Hosanna because they recognised in Christ salvation - they were clear that this was the messiah
However which crowd are we talking about?
Matthew writes:
8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The 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!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Interesting that there is the crowd that meet Jesus on the road and lay down their cloaks and tree branched for him.
And this they did as a sign of royalty.
Because a King’s feet was never to touch the bare ground.
And so one crowd that meets him on the road and goes ahead of him to Jerusalem is calling him King and shouting Hosanna - claiming him as the Messiah of prophecy 
And then there was the whole city of Jerusalem which was in turmoil - saying who is this?
And saying Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.
This second crowd - the people of the city have a much more cautious view - preferring to call Jesus by his family title - there are no ringing endorsements of Messiah here…
And this is because Jerusalem was the seat of power.
Jerusalem had seen it all before.
I mean Jerusalem was known as the place prophets crime to die…
Maybe Jerusalem never wanted to hear a prophet because prophets always brought change

And so Jesus Christ, this teacher, prophet, Messiah enters Jerusalem also as a King come in from the country to challenge the city authorities.

Because Jesus had built up a following in the country side - out there on the margins, with the common people.

No temple priest or wealthy noble - Jesus was a travelling rabbi, a teacher that built a following that because of its momentum and power had no other choice than to encompass Jerusalem as well.

So Jesus goes from travelling in the vast countryside to entering a walled city, 

from the poorer rural areas to a wealthy and powerful gated community of Jerusalem.

From the freedom to move and roam to the confined streets, that gradually grew tighter and tighter around him until the only way left to walk was with his cross to die.

Now this is important for us because Jesus did this willingly and he did it so well.

He embraced the confines that we placed upon him even unto death on a cross.

I mean let that sink in he allowed even death to close in on him.

And as we go through Holy Week we take that journey with him.

From the intimacy of companionship and betrayal on Maundy Thursday

To the ever tightening restriction, torture and agony of Good Friday 

Until we sit in the despair of Saturday - knowing Jesus is actually dead.

Then and so joyously then we rise with Jesus on Easter Sunday to see the stone rolled away 

And the strict confines of the tomb are shown to not be able to hold the freedom of the Risen Christ.

The one who walks wherever he may.

Thus the Hosanna’s that ring out before the gates of Jerusalem are fulfilled 

Because in the resurrection Jesus truly saves us all.

Bringing freedom into the most confined and oppressive places ever.  Bringing eternal life to even death.

And so this action of Hosanna needs no example no special image, no emotional plea from me as preacher.

This salvific act of Christ stands alone as the most significant event to happen to creation.

What is does need however.

Is to be shared, to be retold, over and over and over again 

Because there is no other news greater than this.

And this good news is for us as followers of Christ to share wherever we are.

Whether we are free to move as we would like or whether we are in lockdown

Easter Resurrection life is good news for any time and place.

And that’s where I want to highlight some beautiful imagery from our psalm today

Psalm 118 was most likely an entrance liturgy to the Temple, used at the festival of Passover. 

It proclaimed God's deliverance from Egypt and, later on, from the Exile

And so we have these strong themes of trusting in God to get us through harrowing times.It reads:

5Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
6With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?
7The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals.
9It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
Martin Luther also made a strong connection with Psalm 118.  
While in hiding in the Coburg Castle during 1530, he wrote (among other things) an extensive commentary on Psalm 118.  
On the wall of the room where he worked was written his personal motto: "I shall not die, but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord" (118:17).
Just as the Psalmist was delivered by God, so now Christ empowers us, comforts us, and snatches us out of the realm of death. 
All this is done, says Luther, so that we might proclaim the deeds of the Lord. Easter is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! (118:24).
And Luther was not someone who shrank from times of challenge.
He lived in time where “the black death’ or bubonic plague was a real danger
in 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague hit in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg 
And if we were to compare it what we are going through now  a healthy individual could contract the plague and die within as little as three to ten days. 
The likelihood of survival was incredibly low.
and Luther wrote a letter to a friend entitled Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague –, explaining how churches should deal with such complicated circumstances.
He writes:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Luther covers all the bases about being both practical and theological 
Keep as safe as you can as you continue to help others in need.
And so when I look at Palm Sunday today. 
I think its a facepalm Sunday because its not supposed to be like this.
A day where we cannot be in our church physically  laying down palms and fronds 
A day where we are instead confined by a modern day plague 
Today I cannot help but highlight and carry up those cries of Hosanna ! Hosanna!
Because I remember that Jesus in his places of confinement and his ever narrowing road to the cross
Jesus did not let this confinement define him.
No he looked beyond his distress to ours.
He carried the cross, the tool of his execution along the only road left to him - to his death
Because he knew he was indeed our Hosanna.
He was and is the salvation of the world.
And so when you think you are confined, or in distress remember the words of the psalm
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
When we call out to God in distress we are then set in a broad place.
God moves us to a place so broad and vast that we are not captive.
Even though physically and practically we may be limited 
Spiritually we are free to walk where we may.
This is the freedom of Hosanna
The one who saves.
The one for whom there is no such thing as a lockdown.
Because even the tomb could not hold him.
Praise be to God, Amen.