MARK 11:1-11

MARCH 20, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            A little girl came home from worship on Palm Sunday. Her father asked what she had learned that day. She told him she learned all about the crowd waving their palm branches and singing a song to Jesus.

            The father was pleased that she had learned so much. He asked, “What was the song they were singing to Jesus?”

            The little girl paused, then said, “I think it was ‘O Susanna’.”

            Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week when crowds of people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem and they sang, O Susanna.” Well, not exactly. They sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and imagine what it must have been like that day.

            Some in the crowd were no doubt curious about this guy riding into town. They had come to see what they hoped might be the long-awaited Messiah. They had heard amazing stories about this man about his feeding thousands of people with two fish and five small loaves, about his ability to heal, and even about his raising of Lazarus from the dead. Could this be the One for whom they had long been waiting? They were curious. They came to check him out.

            Some among the curious, however, were likely put off. This man about whom they had heard so much, whom they hoped would deliver them from the iron grip of the Romans, rode into town on a donkey. What kind of Messiah was this? Where was his armor? Where was the pomp and grandeur that was expected out of a leader? He should have come into town on a white stallion, not a donkey. Think if one of our candidates for president came into town in a rusted-out Ford Pinto instead of a campaign bus! What kind of leader would that be?

            It didn’t occur to those disappointed that day that the prophet Zechariah had foretold that the Messiah would indeed enter Jerusalem while riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Later, some of them might have remembered, but at the time it was happening it felt like a prank, someone punking them.

            Many in the crowd that day, however, were not put off by Jesus’ means of transportation. They had seen his miracles first hand. They had listened to his teachings in person and knew he taught not like the Pharisees but with an authority that could only have come from God. And so, as he made his entrance into their city they spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road in front of him, and sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

            By the way, did you notice how Mark’s telling of the events of Palm Sunday ends rather abruptly? After a brief description of the Palm Sunday parade, we read these words,


            Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.


            I wonder what was on Jesus’ mind as he surveyed the temple courts that Palm Sunday evening? After all, much that will happen over the last week of Jesus’ life will be centered in or near the temple courts.

            Was he already offended by the moneychangers taking advantage of worshipers there in the temple before Passover? Was it then he decided to confront them the following day?

            Or perhaps he looked around at the massive stones of the temple. Was it then it occurred to him to say to his disciples that this mighty temple would soon be destroyed? Which indeed happened forty years after his death.

            Or did his mind turn toward the curtain in the temple the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, the curtain that would be mysteriously torn in two at the hour of his death?

            We, of course, do not know. We can only speculate. We do know he spent the night in a little nearby town, Bethany where his good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. He would commute into town each day from their home.

            Whatever was on his mind, I want to focus on three things that we will see this week.

            First of all, during this week we will see Christ’s courage in the face of unbelievable cruelty. He knew it didn’t matter how many palm branches they threw at his feet that first Palm Sunday. He knew the crowd would turn against him. His head was not turned by the hosannas or the garments which paved the road. He knew what lay ahead. He had been sent with a purpose.

            Twenty-two years ago this month, an all too familiar episode played out in Salt Lake City, albeit with a happy ending. A young man, armed with a handgun and a bomb, walked into the Salt Lake City Public Library and took everyone hostage. The young man, Clifford Lynn Draper, seemed to be mentally unbalanced. He gathered up the people on the second floor of the library and forced them all into a conference room. Among his hostages, however, was a man who had chosen to be there. This man was Lloyd Prescott, a local policeman.

            Prescott had been on the first floor of the library when he heard the news that an armed man had taken the second floor hostage. He sneaked upstairs and mingled in with the hostages who were being herded into the conference room. Prescott knew that the best way to solve this situation was to hide his own identity and become a hostage himself. Their young captor was angry, violent, and unstable, but he eventually made the mistake that Lloyd Prescott was waiting for. Prescott caught Draper by surprise and shot him, saving the lives of all the other hostages.

            In the same way, our faith teaches us, humanity was held hostage by sin and death, and Jesus snuck into our world in a little, out of the way place called Bethlehem in order to set us free. He would do so on Friday of Holy Week, on the cross. There are many Christians who are uncomfortable focusing on the cross.  Two of my best friends come to mind, yet it is at the very heart of our faith.

            Henri Nouwen, the Catholic priest and author, tells a story about a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, was active in protests against the military. He spoke out repeatedly against its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge by arresting his teenage son and torturing him until he was dead. It was a horrible crime. Townsfolk wanted to turn the funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest. The father displayed his son’s body in the local church, however, not dressed in a fine suit. And the funeral director applied no make-up. The father displayed his son as he had found him in the jail. The son was naked, his body marked with scars from the electric shocks and cigarette burns and beatings. It did not lie in a coffin but on the blood‑soaked mattress from the jail. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.

            See Christ hanging on the cross. In reverence paintings show him with a loin cloth, but that was not the practice for crucifixion. The condemned man hung there naked. The execution was always carried out publicly, which enhanced the humiliation for those so punished.

            So first of all this Holy Week we will see Christ’s courage as he faced incredible cruelty and suffering. Second, we will see God’s love poured out in the death of His Son. “God so loved the world that He gave His own Son . . .” (John 3:16)

            A father, Tim Miller, writes about a time when he experienced what God, the Father, surely experienced that day on Calvary. Miller’s nine‑year‑old daughter Jennifer was looking forward to their family’s vacation. But she became ill, and a long anticipated trip was replaced by an all‑night series of CT scans, X‑rays, and blood work at the hospital.

            As morning approached, the doctors told this exhausted little girl that she would need to have one more test, a spinal tap. The procedure would be painful, they said. The doctor then asked Tim Miller if he planned to stay in the room. He nodded, knowing he couldn’t leave Jennifer alone during the ordeal.

            When the needle went in, Jennifer cried. As the searing pain increased, she sobbingly repeated, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” her voice becoming more earnest with each word. It was as if she were saying, “Oh Daddy, please, can’t you do something?” Tim’s tears mingled with hers. His heart was broken. He felt nauseated. Because he loved her, he was allowing her to go through the most agonizing experience of her life, and he could hardly stand it.

            In the middle of that spinal tap, his thoughts went to the cross of Christ. What unspeakable pain both the Son and the Father went through that day, says Tim Miller.

            And it’s true. We see Christ’s courage. And we see the Father’s amazing love poured out. And one more thing we will see this Holy Week: It was all for us.

            I love the Harry Potter story. I’ve read all the books.  I’ve seen all the movies. I love the Harry Potter story, and in case you have been living on Mars the past couple of decades and don’t know, Harry Potter is the adolescent star of a series of seven fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling, all of which have been made into movies.

            There is, of course, a villain in this series of adventures, an evil wizard named Lord Voldemort. At the end of the first book, Harry Potter learns that Voldemort murdered both his parents when Harry was only a baby. He first murdered Harry’s father and then tried to murder Harry, to be sure that Harry, as his father’s heir, would not be a threat to Voldemort as he grew to maturity.

            But, of course, he did not succeed in murdering Harry. When he tries to do so, Harry’s mother throws herself in the way, taking the blow and dying in Harry’s place. When Voldemort then tries to kill Harry, he cannot. In fact, the curse that he hurls at Harry rebounds onto Voldemort and drains him of his powers. All he can do is leave a lightning-bolt scar across Harry’s forehead. Because of his mother’s sacrificial love, Harry lives and Voldemort’s powers are greatly diminished. Throughout the Harry Potter novels, others immediately recognize young Harry because of his scar.

            Throughout the series Voldemort makes repeated attempts to capture and kill Harry Potter, but each time he fails. At last Harry asks the wise Headmaster of his school, Dumbledore, why Voldemort could not kill him. This is what Dumbledore tells him:

            “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark . . . To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin . . . Voldemort could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”

            The reason Harry could not be killed was his mother’s sacrificial love for him. The reason you and I can be victorious over sin and death is Christ’s sacrificial love for us. That is the reason Holy Week is so important to us. It is not a lightening bolt scar on our forehead but the cross above our communion table that tells us someone died on our behalf. It was done for us. That’s what we will see this week. Amen.

[1] Borrowed and adapted from a sermon of the same title by King Duncan.