Sermons for Holy Week – Palm Sunday

Busy week, of course, being Holy Week, with services every day, so only just catching up with sermon posting. However, for those of you with a bit of stamina I’m about to post all our sermons from Holy Week. The first, from Palm Sunday, was preached by Mother Anne-Marie.

Mark 11.1-11; Mark 15.1-39

Jerusalem was a conquered city, a city under Roman occupation. Not unusual. Throughout the entire history of the known world, people have conquered other people, Kings have sought to rule the world and empires have come and gone. Jesus enters the Roman occupied city of Jerusalem to the triumphal waving of palms and the victorious cries of the crowd “Hosanna, blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David”.  Is Jesus coming to reclaim Jerusalem – coming to conquer it back? The cries of the crowd would indicate that perhaps they thought so. “Hosanna” – the Hebrew “hosha’na” – God save us – that was what the crowd were shouting – hosha’na – God save us. Jesus was interested in conquering territory – in conquering a place as yet unconquered. He wasn’t there to win back Jerusalem but there to win for the first time a far more precious territory. A place as yet unconquered, the unconquered territory of the human heart. He was entering Jerusalem, but more interested in entering the heart of every person lining the road.

Today we celebrate together one of the great feasts of the Church calendar, the feast of Palm Sunday. Today we gather together to celebrate Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. But we also celebrate Christ as the king who enters our own personal Jerusalem – our heart. Today’s feast day is a momentary feast of joy and celebration. It doesn’t even last a whole service, because as you will have witnessed the service turns in the middle – we have just read the passion gospel and the hymns turn from the joy of Palm Sunday to the passion of our Lord. We have already begun the journey to the cross. Our mood changes from one of joy at the beginning to one of solemnity, almost of sorrow, in the second half of the service, as we lead up to the great sacrifice that Jesus performed for us on the cross.

The feast of Palm Sunday has been celebrated since the earliest days of Christianity, but the use of Palms in connection with religious celebrations goes all the way back to Old Testament times. They were used at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles as a visual tool proclaiming the sovereignty of God as the true king of the Israelites. Today we use them to proclaim the sovereignty of Jesus as the true king of the human  heart. The problem is that as people we are both those who welcome Jesus – wave our palms and proclaim him king, and also those who reject Jesus, who shout “crucify him”. Within ourselves, within our hearts, wrestle those two natures – the one which welcomes and the one that rejects. Yes, we want Jesus in our lives, we want to be saved from all that is wrong, all that troubles us, burdens us – want above all to be saved from death, to have eternal life. But part of us always wants to close the door on Jesus too – we don’t quite want him to conquer our hearts, we don’t quite want him to be king of our lives and rule over what we do in every aspect of those lives – career, money, possessions, leisure time, our own needs.

We can make it quite difficult for Christ to enter? We can make sure there is very little room in our hearts for him to rule as king? Often the doors of our hearts are locked. Often Christ is unable to enter because there is already another king in possession of the heart – our self.

Today, we have received a Palm cross. It reminds us of the two natures within us. It is made of palm and reminds us that we have welcomed Jesus, waved our branches and sung Hosha’na, Hosanna, God save us. We have recognised our need to be saved, our need to let Christ enter. And we have rejoiced that he comes as King of our heart. But our palm is made in the shape of cross, and reminds us that we continue to shout “crucify” every time we close the door of our heart to Jesus. The liturgy today, the service, allows us to be our two natures. We sing hosanna and we shout crucify. This is the reality, the conflict we live with every day. We want Jesus to save us, but we would rather he didn’t rule.

Our palm cross can be our reminder all year – place it somewhere very visible and remember each day we have a choice to shout “hosanna” or “crucify”. We have a choice each day to let Christ be king or self be king.