Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11; Mark 15:16-39;
MESSAGE: HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
It was just a week really. Things change so quickly. From Palms to Passion.
- A year ago we went into a level 4 lockdown after two days’ notice. It was the anniversary of that day on Thursday. Things change very quickly.
- Many things have changed.
- Successful businesses are gone.
- Long standing meaningful jobs have disappeared.
- Around the world families have been devastated as people of all ages and stages have died.
- Families have been torn apart. A friend of mine landed in the country a couple of days before lockdown and hasn’t seen his wife and children since. They are stuck in another country with all the family’s possessions in a container going nowhere.
- Hopes have been dashed.
We deliberately have both the so-called palms and passion stories on this 6th Sunday in Lent.
In many churches there is a celebration with children waving palm branches.
A friend of mine had a couple of addresses to go to this week to take Palm branches from people’s homes – to decorate their church. I guess It’s best to get the addresses right, otherwise you could be in trouble for wrecking people’s gardens.
The jump from Mark 11 to Mark 15 is a few chapters, but not many days and a whole shift in the balance of power.
In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. Quite a bit of the passage is about Jesus telling the disciples exactly what to do to set up this provocative procession. The first six verses are all about the task given to these two disciples to get the right colt for Jesus to ride on.
Mar 11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, Mar 11:2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. Mar 11:3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly. ‘”Mar 11:4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, Mar 11:5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” Mar 11:6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
The actual Palm Sunday procession is just recorded in a couple of verses:
Mar 11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Mar 11:9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mar 11:10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
And then there’s this brief look around at the Temple in verse 11:
Mar 11:11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
The reading for Passion Sunday is much longer of course.
From Palms to the Passion – things change so quickly.
How did it come to this?
If you think about it, like two acts of the same play, all the characters are there throughout.
- The authorities on Palm Sunday – Roman soldiers would have been keeping an eye out for trouble at the festival.
- The religious authorities when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem – they would be there looking over their domain where they had such powerful influence and vested interest.
- And the people were there. The crowds. Adulation and great excitement.
In Act 1 there is a king riding into town, cheered on for the good he had done.
In Act 2 there’s a man suffering and dying on a cross between criminals, convicted of doing nothing but good really.
- Acclaim turns to mocking.
- Honour to humiliation.
- The bright light of Palm Sunday is snuffed out by the darkness of that Good Friday.
What were they doing in the days in between?
What will we be doing in the days in between?
I remember years when we had services of some sort every day through this week. It was called Holy Week. We were quite willing to go each night and reflect.
On The Friday we used to have a morning service and then a shared three-hour one from midday to 3.00pm. Three hours in church is not nearly as challenging as three hours on a cross.
- Easter Saturday was fairly subdued.
- On Easter Sunday we got up early and rode on our bikes to the beach to greet the risen Son again.
These days we might get the same 20 to 30 loyal people at Tenebrae.
More on Good Friday – although because it’s not the same as the years before, many might just do their own thing.
And another group of loyal people will be up at dawn on Easter Sunday..
In that first holy week I imagine that in the days in between some people would have been oblivious of what was happening behind the scenes. The plotting and the scheming. I doubt the idea of paying Judas to betray Jesus was the only way they thought of to capture him. People go to great lengths to retain power and control, and keep themselves out of harm’s way.
The characters on Palm Sunday all turn up at his Passion.
- Soldiers spit and strike and spurn.
- Passers by shale their heads and mock.
- The religious rulers taunt him.
- There are the few loyal ones there too. Women mainly.
- A poor African man called Simon is forced to carry Jesus’ cross – he is coerced and must have wondered what he had done to get that lousy job.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
Do we take it all seriously?
And in our own lives and our church life, when people lose interest and enthusiasm, when they forget all that Jesus went through for them, the same question can always be asked
- How did it come to this?
- Many have drifted away over the years and months.
- They no longer make special preparations to gather here and in local churches around the world.
- Through the COVID year they have fallen out of good worship habits.
- The King is still here. We still meet with Jesus the king.
And there are also some questions that even the Palm Sunday passage asks us today.
- Are we ready to put our property at his disposal? (The Lord needs it)
- Will we obey even if the orders puzzle us? (Wander in and take the colt you find and walk away with it? Like my friend this week randomly going into people’s gardens and cutting up Palm leaves from their plants.)
- Will we go out of our way to honour him? (branches and our clothes spread on the road to welcome him?)
- Do we still welcome him in our lives today?
There’s a great Graham Kendrick song we’ve sung a few times here over the years.
Make way, make way, For Christ the King In splendour arrives
Fling wide the gates and welcome Him Into your lives
It has this last verse:
We call you now to worship Him
As Lord of all
To have no gods before Him
Their thrones must fall!
Do we take it all seriously?
Or following Tom Wright’s questioning, has our Christian commitment become domesticated and trivialized in our devotion to Jesus, that we him mainly as someone to help us get what we want, or do our own thing with a little comfort thrown into the picture?
Jesus still claims us for his own and calls us to follow him.
Life is just as challenging for us. There are still soldiers who abuse their power and bully and torment or make fun of people – just as there are bullies at school and at work. And religious and state leaders who cling to power.
He has a claim on all of them too. Whether they see him on a donkey or on a cross, the question is: what will they do with Jesus the Son of God?
And those characters in the story at the cross. What were they thinking?
Who stands out in the account for you?
Tom Wright also says this: The Roman centurion becomes the first sane human being in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus God’s son, and mean it. Yes, says Mark to his possibly Roman audience; and if him, why not more? (Wright, N. T. Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
- In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. With every breath he pushes on in obedience to Jerusalem and his cruel end.
- By the end of Mark 15 he has relinquished all control, and his breathing his last. Heaving his body up for each rasping breath.
- But without jumping the gun, three days later there was a rush of air and life-giving oxygen into his dead lungs, and he roared to life again like a fire that appears to be dead but rages when the bellows pump in new oxygen to burn.
Through this week we will focus on the struggle unto death.
On Easter Sunday we will see life again and reflect on the implications of resurrection for us. The next Act of the play – The story of this King.
What will you do with this Jesus?