Sermon for Palm Sunday: Voices

When Jesus had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

After the parade and the palm-waving and the borrowed donkey, after the confusion and the hosannas – after all this, Luke tells us. Jesus went into the temple and threw out the money changers. Maybe then, he stopped to look around for one last quiet time.

He did not speak a word that Luke records. He did not heal anyone. Here, in the sacred space at the heart of his people, Jesus was simply alone, alone with the shadows and reflections and memories –  and maybe premonitions.

Did he hear echoes of the voices of Mary and Joseph telling him the story about how they brought him to this temple when he was only eight days old? An elderly prophet named Simeon had taken him in his arms, saying, “Now let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen salvation: a light for the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.” Simeon had blessed them then and told Mary that “your child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel – a sign that will be opposed, so a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Did he think about how this was the week when Simeon’s words to his mother would come so horribly true?

Might the lingering scent of temple incense have sparked a premonition of the woman who would open an alabaster jar of perfume to anoint him? “Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world,” he would marvel, “what she has done will be told in memory of her.” She was the one who believed him. “I will anoint you now” her action said, “because I believe you are the Messiah, the son of David, the lamb of God.

Or do you think he might have heard the bleating of the Passover lambs in the cold dark temple? Or that the scent of their fear might have stirred up his own? He could still change his mind, after all. It was all still possible – he could just go back to Nazareth, stop the healing, stop the talking, live a long life. All he had to do was hug his God tightly to himself and never share another hint with another living soul. That’s all he needed to do and he’d be safe – safe from Jerusalem’s scorn, safe from Rome’s violent rage. Why didn’t he turn back while there was still time?

When he looked up, Jesus could see the veil of the temple that separated the courts of the people from the Holy of Holies. The veil was huge – 60 feet tall – woven from bright linen threads and embroidered with golden cherubim. It protected the place of the Shekinah – the ancient compassionate feminine presence of God-with-us. And so while the veil signified separation – separation of people from each other, separation of humanity from God, the Shekinah was the comfort Jesus longed for. In the moment of his death, the veil would rip from top to bottom and in the days and years to come, Jesus would be understood as the presence of God. It was a lot for one mortal being to contemplate at the end of an overwhelming day.

Later, back in Bethany, Mary would anoint him with precious nard. Was she the first to see that Jesus’ life was driven not by survival, but by an overwhelming love that enabled him to give his life away? The first to understand that this love allowed him to see God as the source of unending life and freeing him to love beyond human boundaries and fears .

“Father, everything is still possible,” he would pray a few days later. “Take this cup away. Let me live out my life.” I believe that lonely choice in Gethsemane’s garden matters more than all the pain on Calvary’s rocky hill because that was when Jesus chose his own high integrity. That was the night he trusted enough to die for us.

But Friday would come and the voices that shouted hosanna would be replaced by the voices shouting “Crucify Him!” And then all the voices would be quiet because the one that would whisper “Father, forgive them” would be stilled.

What was Jesus doing that evening in the shadows of the temple? Perhaps he was choosing to trust God to the end by choosing love for others, no matter where it led him. That trust would kill him, it’s true. But there is no death in the nature of God – that’s true too. Jesus’ way was God’s way. Jesus’ compassion was God’s compassion. Jesus’ life would be taken into God’s life.

But that was all for later. For this one moment on a Spring evening, in this holy place at the heart of his people, Jesus simply looked. And listened. And perhaps in this place, where the voices of memory mingled with the voices of prophecy, perhaps the voices of those dear to him spoke out too  – offering their prayers for the dark days ahead.

Perhaps in this sacred space, Jesus was able to remember voices of love and reflection along with the ones of betrayal and violence. Perhaps there was time to be blessed for one last moment by the sweetness of mortal life. So Hosanna! Hosanna to the son of Mary…the son of David…the son of God!   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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