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
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.