Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday, a day when, in my church, we remember the beginning and end of Jesus’s final week – our Holy Week. That is done in part because not everyone can attend the services between Palm Sunday and Easter Day so covering both in one service helps provide people with a sense of the darkness before the light. The darkness makes the light even brighter – if one were to go straight from looking at Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem to Jesus’s triumphant resurrection one would miss the depth and weight of Jesus’s suffering and sacrifice.
My sermon for Palm and Passion Sunday this year links the two. I offer it to you below.
Readings: Matthew 21:1-11 and Matthew 26:14-27:65.
The online and informal service containing both the readings and the sermon, together with prayer, is available on YouTube via this link.
There is little that needs to be said after our readings that bookend Jesus’s final week, and so I will say little.
Our Gospel reading gave us the beginning, our Passion Reading gave us the end… the end of Holy Week and of Jesus’s torment suffered for us, but not the end of the story. The greatest Epilogue-ever-told will have to wait another week to begin its telling.
The contrast between Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His death could not be more starker, even if the nuances and complexities that might pass us by at first glance. It reflects the fickle nature of humanity, and how easily we turn from one thing to another, how mob-rule and momentum can turn people from shouting out their praise to shouting out their condemnation so shockingly quickly that it takes our breath away.
That quick turn around of public opinion from love to hate lies within what we began Lent with on Ash Wednesday. On that day, in that service, the palm crosses that were waved on Palm Sunday the year before are burnt, and the ash used to mark us with the sign of the Cross that those who had waved their palm leaves at Jesus soon after condemned him to die upon. The change from the love of Palm Sunday to the hate of good Friday will be reflected but reversed in the change from the despair of that darkest of days to the joyful celebration of the brightest hope of Easter Day.
Good Friday may loom over us as we begin Holy Week. We know what Jesus knew as he rode on the donkey into Jerusalem, that the smiling faces which welcomed him would turn to snarls within days. But we should be mindful to resist the despondency of Christ’s crucifixion, if only for a moment, if only to open our eyes to the parallels of group or mob-mentality then and now.
I suspect that many of those in the crowd would not have known they could or would have turned from celebration to condemnation so quickly. Consciously or subconsciously, they were caught up in the joy of seeing the person who would make things right once and for all. We can not know how many of the crowd had witnessed or heard of His miracles, or how many had reflected upon what all his life and ministry and concluded Jesus was the saviour. Undoubtedly, some, perhaps many or most, heard the news second-hand or third-hand or even more distantly. Undoubtedly some formed their opinion from what those they knew, trusted or admired said. Undoubtedly, some did not properly examine the facts, think and conclude what they made of Jesus.
We know that in the crowd, in Jerusalem, there were people present who, in their mind, stood to gain if Jesus was removed from the scene. Those that did not examine the facts, those that did not think for themselves, were vulnerable to these people — vulnerable to be manipulated and goaded into thinking and doing things contrary to their benefit.
I’m sure that we all will have seen this in action, whether from the trivial nature of hype which draws people into watching a television programme they wouldn’t normally watch, to the serious nature of journalistic and political rhetoric that draws people into committing acts of harm to democracy and humanity. Just as in the Jerusalem Jesus rode into, there are people today with malevolent or self-centred tendencies who stand to benefit when we fail to ask and examine for ourselves what we read, hear and find ourselves doing.
Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem for the crowd but for the individuals that made up the crowd. He doesn’t just love each and everyone of us, he didn’t just die for each and everyone of us — he did and he does both because he knows each and everyone of us as individuals and encourages us to individually know him too.
This week, this month, this year… Don’t get carried along by either the jubilation or the jeering of a crowd whether it’s condemning or accepting a person, a news article, a policy announcement, or even Christian faith itself. Be like Jesus, be counter-cultural, don’t follow the crowd — investigate and examine the facts for yourself, think for yourself, decide for yourself, believe for yourself.