Once there was a man who said and did such amazing things people began to follow him everywhere.
They followed him up and down mountainsides, river valleys, and into cities in the surrounding regions of ancient Palestine.
They followed him from the Jordan River to Caesarea Philippi in Galilee, and to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
In their wanderings together, they witnessed God’s healing and transformative love in and through the person of Jesus, the Christ.
Together, they broke and shared bread, and together, they built community.
Together, they began to live out this man, Jesus’ vision-the coming of God’s kingdom where all would be welcomed, loved, and fed.
Together, they strived to ensure that wherever two or more gathered, the last would be first and the first last.
Our stories from our ancient texts tell us that many, many people’s lives were changed by Jesus and those first followers in the Way.
Sharing the good news of God incarnate among them meant that people began to lift themselves beyond the culture and convention of the time.
Many, from blind men to scholars alike began to think in new ways.
Many, many people began to put the building blocks in place for compassion, justice, and peace to flourish.
There was hope for a new and decidedly different future than what was happening in the present moment.
Soon people were convinced that Jesus was more than a prophet sent by God for their liberation. Some called him, the Messiah, the Christ.
The word on the street was that Jesus was the longed-for king.
And so it was, that Jesus’ movement among the poor and the downtrodden began to take on more and more momentum.
It was an exciting time as more and more people were drawn to Jesus’ courageous clarity, his candour, his self awareness, and his ability to tell the truth in love.
People became so engaged with Jesus’ teachings and his call to action, they willingly risked living a faith that was uncertain, a hope that was not optimistic, and a love he reminded them would not be without cost or pain. *
As Jesus’ ministry took on new momentum, he began to push his faithful followers a little harder.
Encouraging them to think beyond the mind they had, he began to talk in strange ways.
In order to save their lives, he told them, they would have to lose them.
They would have to die to the ways of the world in which they lived.
He also began to prophesy his own death at the hands of the authorities.
As we know, whenever two or more are gathered, conflict emerges and some of Jesus’ closest followers begin to question his authority and his sense of mission.
Others on the margin of the movement begin to fear the costs of being involved with Jesus.
Some pull back. Others do not.
Clashing needs leads to mistrust and much foreboding.
Still, Jesus’ clarity of vision is so compelling his followers are willing to risk the journey to the Holy City.
And so it was they arrive at the city gates in time for the festival of Passover.
The annual festival of Passover brings hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to the Holy City at this time of year.
Here, the thronging crowds come to give thanks and pay tribute to the God of their ancestors who had brought them up out bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land.
With so many pilgrims streaming into the Holy City, the religious authorities and the political leaders are on edge.
Together, they are ready for some serious crowd control.
Into this mix of fear and excitement, Jesus arrives with his faithful followers.
This is the context of our Palm Sunday service today as we re-visit the story of how Jesus and his faithful ones arrive at the city gates according to the gospel of Mark.
Entrusting all their hopes and dreams and expectations to their beloved Jesus, they follow his arrival directions to the letter.
Things go exactly as Jesus directs for his entry from the Mount of Olives down into the city. Surely there must be some unseen hand at work in the preparations?
Riding on a donkey, longstanding symbol of royalty and peaceful triumph, Jesus finds himself surrounded by the thronging crowd who take up the banner cry: ‘Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us, Jesus!’
For a brief moment, everyone present is swept up in the excitement of his arrival.
Cloaks and olive branches are spread on the road paving the way for his royal arrival.
Perhaps, we, too, feel the wave of excitement in the raising of our own symbolic palm branches and in our shared singing of All Glory, Laud, Honour.
Perhaps, we too, would fling our cloaks before him if we had been there.
Perhaps for just a moment, we too, might imagine ourselves there in the crowd as we sang together, “Hosanna!” or “Save Us!”
In some ways, perhaps we are not so very different from our ancient forebears.
Perhaps, we, too, come seeking faith in the midst of uncertainty, hope in spite of skepticism.
Perhaps, we too, like our faith ancestors, know the agony of love endured despite cherished dreams and visions lost.
Perhaps for one brief moment if we will allow ourselves permission, we might imagine ourselves drawn to shout out ‘Hosanna’ or ‘Save us, Jesus!’
Dear, sweet Jesus, save us from our own skeptical, rational minds.
Save us from our own expectations that the work of ministry in this time and in this place belongs to someone other than our own selves.
Save us from our own expectations that God calls someone different from us to speak truth to power in our institutions and in our workplaces.
Save us from our own expectations that God calls someone different from us to address the growing opioid crisis right here in the city of Vernon.
Save us from our own expectations that God calls someone other than our own selves to bring the good news of God’s abiding and steadfast love to the homeless and the hungry.
Save us from our own expectations that God calls someone else to respond to the issues of climate change and our own complicity in the degradation of the cosmos.
Instead, help us to find new ways to come ready and open to hear more clearly your invitation and to find new ways to respond to your passionate love for the building of God’s kingdom.
Here in our reading from Mark’s gospel this morning, Jesus’ entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem at Passover feels somewhat sparse and anticlimactic compared with the drama and dialogue of the stories in the other gospel accounts.
Even as the last echoes of “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” fade into the background, I see Jesus, alone in the shadows, surveying the temple scene. He will be back tomorrow for the turning of the moneychangers’ tables but for today, our reading stops here.
In the coming days, as clashing expectations not met segue into searing taunts, betrayal, and rejection, Jesus himself will know abandonment and the most unpleasant of deaths by torture.
But the story of Jesus’ passion needs its own worship service.
Come, join us for all of this and more on Good Friday.
In the meantime, we can rest in the good news that there once there was a man who said and did such amazing things that people began to follow him everywhere.
People who felt lost and alone, excluded, marginalized, and scorned for just being their own true selves took up their cross and followed him.
People who believed in an embodied love that changed and continues to change lives to this very day said ‘yes’ to his vision of healing and wholeness.
This is the man we celebrate today.
Jesus, of Nazareth, whose courageous candour, self awareness, and his capacity to tell the truth in love turned the whole world upside down and still does today.
For all of this and more, we are deeply thankful.
May we, like our ancient forebears, take up the banner to become a people so engaged with Jesus’ teachings and his call to action, that we might willingly risk living a faith that is uncertain. May we discover ways to embody a hope that is not optimistic, and may we learn to live lives of love shot through with joy even in spite of cost or pain. * (adapted)
* Paraphrase of a quote attributed to Joseph Small, Feasting on the Word, Year B, p. 72, 2008, Westminster Press
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