Minister's Sermon - Palm Sunday 14th April 2019 10.30am
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenSunday 14th April 2019 10.30am

Did you know that Jesus’ procession probably wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday? In another part of the city, there was a military parade, with the Roman Governor at its head. He came, because Passover time was a time when there was often unrest in Jerusalem, as some of the Jewish people protested against the way the Romans ruled them. They wanted freedom. So, the Romans came to make sure their protests didn’t become riots, and get out of hand. But because they weren’t popular and people wouldn’t have gone to see the Roman parade voluntarily, they’ll have been a rent-a-crowd there, like the crowds in North Korea or in China or Russia in the past. People who were there because they were paid to be. Or because were too frightened not to be. That means that everyone at Jesus’ parade was taking a big risk. And I mean everyone. Jesus’ disciples, the crowd and the Pharisees. As they entered Jerusalem, the crowd threw down their cloaks, waved palm branches and shouted. “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!” There were Pharisees – religious leaders - in the crowd. And they said to Jesus, “Teacher… command your disciples to be quiet!” We’re used to condemning them. But notice that they speak to him with respect. And given the danger they were all in for being there make a quite reasonable request. They’re nervous about what’s happening and they want to keep the parade as low-profile as possible. So, Jesus’ reply is surprising, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting.”

I wonder who you were drawn to in this story? Would you have been a disciple? Collecting the donkey even ‘though you didn’t know why and then leading the praise? Would you have been in the crowd? Throwing down your cloaks, waving palm branches, shouting praise? Or would you have been a Pharisee? Nervous about what’s going on, needing to protect your people from this madness, before someone got killed? Who are you? A disciple? A member of the crowd? A Pharisee? What would it be like to be that person as the week in which Jesus is killed proceeds. What was it like to be in the temple, causing chaos when he threw the money changers out, and antagonising people by his teaching. What was it like to be in his friend’s house in Bethany and a night later in an upper room in Jerusalem. In the garden where he’s arrested and tried. And on the day when he’s crucified. What would it be like to be one of the religious leaders who turned against him because he was becoming too troublesome? What would it be like to be one of the disciples who ran away or Peter who denied him? What would it be like to be among the crowd who’d praised him with Hosannas and them shouted “crucify” and asked for Bar-abas to be freed instead of him?

It’s easy to judge all these people, from a distance, but are we so very different? How quickly do we lose faith when God doesn’t save us from suffering? How easily do we stop being faithful disciples when we realize the cost of following Jesus is greater than we’d expected? How often does putting ourselves before others and God’s world lead us to deny him? Every day, every week, we pray for people suffering in this country and around the world. And last week we offered prayers and commitments about climate change and hung them on this tree. Yet, we continue to live without making the big changes we know we need to make, knowing that people continue to suffer. Every time we don’t stand up for someone who is treated badly. Every time we ignore someone who is suffering. Every time we ignore the impact of our good life on others. We’re not so different from those who turned against Jesus during Holy Week. Like the Pharisees, the crowd, Jesus’ disciples. It’s hard to accept that. But it’s important that we do. Because it’s part of our human condition. And the first step towards change is to accept it. Yet it’s not hopeless. For God does not stop loving us, and when we want to change, God does help us.

Sue Keegan von Allmen