Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Palm Sunday Sermon

(A little later than normal.)

This week as I began preparing for this sermon, I found it interesting that the second lesson designated this week was the Christ hymn from Philippians chapter two. Many scholars believe this is one of the earliest hymns of the early Church, and it begins with a rather intriguing stanza. "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. As I reflect upon that statement, I reflect upon it with some difficulty. I mean, is it possible to think with the same mind as Jesus Christ? Is it possible to entertain the idea that our thoughts should line up in the same manner as Jesus’ own thoughts? I mean, that’s a true mind stretcher if there ever was one.

For instance, let’s apply this principle to this day in the Church year. It is Palm Sunday. It is the day we remember the beginning of the end. We remember how Jesus rode on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem. The crowd is whipped into a frenzy. They are celebrating His entry and rejoicing. They are placing palm fronds and robes in His path. They are crying out, "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!" There is little doubt the people believed that Jesus was there to do something spectacular. There is little doubt they believed Jesus was full of power. There is little doubt they believed Jesus came in the Lord’s name and was somehow going to be involved in the arrival of the kingdom–although we see revealed in Mark’s text they believed it would be the kingdom of their ancestor David. Apparently, they believed Jesus was going to re-establish the kingdom of Israel and overthrow those who were occupying it currently. This is the milieu Jesus is riding into.

And, to be faithful to the text in Philippians chapter 2, one must ask, "What was going on in Jesus’ mind at that point and time? What were His thoughts?"

These are tough questions. We do know in the Gospel of Luke, some folks told Jesus to silence the crowd, and Jesus responded by saying, "If they were told to be silent, even the stones would cry out." Does this mean Jesus is reveling in the attention He is getting? Does this mean that as Jesus sat astride the donkey, He was waving at the crowd, smiling, and taking in all the attention? Does this mean Jesus was caught up in the celebration and elation of His arrival into Jerusalem?

I personally have a tough time imagining this. I have a tough time imagining Jesus playing to the crowd at this juncture. Why? Because I believe Jesus knew what would be happening next. We know unequivocally that throughout the Gospels, Jesus made known to His followers the truth that He would come to Jerusalem to be handed over to the elders, chief priests, and scribes. He would be arrested, tried, and executed. We know Jesus said this earlier, and if He knew He was headed to His execution, do you think He would have seen His entry into Jerusalem as an occasion for celebration? As I said before, I have a hard time believing that.

So what was Jesus thinking? Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. As I was on one of my bike rides this week and was thinking about this text, an old hymn title popped into my head. It’s a hymn that has lost much of its luster, and some would argue that it has no place in worship any longer. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it didn’t offer some insight into Jesus’ thoughts on that day He entered Jerusalem. The hymn is actually found in our green hymnal. Hymn number 183: "The Son of God Goes Forth to War."

The opening stanza reads:

The Son of God goes forth to war, A kingly crown to gain.
As I thought about this hymn and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I began to wonder if there was some connection. I began to wonder if Jesus didn’t think of Himself astride His mount heading into war. No, not a war with Rome. Not a war with poverty. Not a war with injustice. Not a war with oppression. But rather a war with the root cause of all of these things. A war with the forces of evil, the Devil, and all his empty promises. A war with sin itself and everything that would draw us away from placing God first in our lives and living by God’s will and command. Jesus was marching into combat.

And just as soldiers head into combat cheered on by throngs, Jesus too was cheered on by those around Him. How often do we see video or pictures of flag waving supporters as armies prepare for war? But amidst the smiling throngs, do the generals and others buy into the flag waving and cheers? Not if they are seasoned soldiers because they know the reality of which they are facing. They know the reality of war. They know the horrors the soldiers will soon face. They know they will see death and destruction and the nastiness of humankind.

Jesus knew He would see that shortly. Jesus knew He would be attacked. Jesus knew there would be blood and sweat and tears. It’s hard to imagine Jesus smiling and cheering on such a thing as He rode into Jerusalem that day.

And as is apt to happen during war, many times the same crowd who is so anxious to cheer their soldiers on turns. We’ve seen it happen in our country numerous times. When the expectations of war are not met; when things don’t go as people see them in their heads, they rail against the war. Sometimes they even rail against the soldiers. The voices that were once singing praises begin shouting insults. It happens, and I have a sneaky suspicion Jesus realized this crowd would turn on Him as well. I have a sneaky suspicion Jesus looked at all the faces gathered there and realized their smiles and laughter would disappear into shouts of anger, frustration, and ill will. Their Hosannas! would turn into "Crucify Him!" I find it hard to believe Jesus would be smiling and laughing as He rode with this in His mind.

So what kept Him going? What kept Him focused? As He rode into this cheering throng, headed toward bloody battle with evil, knowing that these same people would turn on Him, what did He think? Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus–who though He was in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited, but rather He humbled Himself becoming obedient unto death even death on a cross.

Jesus knew the cross was coming. Amidst the celebration and the palm branches and the cloaks and the shouts, Jesus knew it was the beginning of the end. The beginning of God’s reconciling the world unto Himself. Jesus knew God’s great love for us. He knew God’s desire to defeat death and sin and the devil. He knew He was the instrument to be used to accomplish that purpose. He would ride to war even though He knew it would cost everything. But He was willing to give it because He shared His Father’s love.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Amen.
His blood red banner streams a-far; Who follows in his train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe, Triumphant over pain;
Who patient bears his cross below–He follows in his train.

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