Sermon Palm Sunday March 28, 2021 by David Hodgson

For A World About To Dawn

“The Pharisees then said to one another,

 ‘…Look, the world has gone after him!’”

John 12:19

For three years Jesus spun his yarns for all who would listen. He was the consummate storyteller, with a knack for using the ordinary to illustrate the extraordinary.  Who could ever forget the way he used field lilies (wild flowers) to demonstrate the faithfulness of God or a fallen sparrow to show the mercy of God?  And what of the mustard seed he used to dramatize the mystery of spiritual growth, and the lost sheep to reveal the nature of God’s love?  All of them, and so many more, are parables of life designed to challenge the mind with new ways of being relevant, and the heart with new ways of being faithful.

His giftedness as a storyteller clearly made him very popular with the people, but his message never posed a serious threat to the status quo because the guardians of mediocrity understood, what we forget at our own peril, that truth is harmless so long as it stays in the mind or remains in the heart.  Truth only threatens to turn the world upside down and inside out when it is lived!

So it was, when the spotlight of history shone most brightly upon his ministry, that Jesus stepped out of the role of storyteller, adorned himself as the central character in a sacred drama, and lived his truth by riding triumphantly into the Holy City, declaring himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords! 

With His triumphal entry, he was intentionally taking his message out of the realms of thought and feeling and was carrying it courageously right into the center of political power and religious authority.  And he did it clearly hoping that when the people saw that truth had come among them, and understood its profound implications, that they would rise up with him and change the world forever by living the truth of his life!

A word about the pageantry.  In ancient Israel, when God chose the king, the king would ride to his place of coronation humbly upon a donkey to show that he was the humble servant of God and of the people.  And the king was allowed to rule only so long as the king obeyed the will of God.  That ancient practice may not have been evident to the Romans, but to the Jews it was part of their collective memory ~ the very image of the reign of God upon the earth, and it was intended to rally a chosen people.

The message of Palm Sunday was clear.  Jesus was boldly presenting himself to the people as the King of kings, as the Messiah for whom they had waited for centuries.  It was a brilliant piece of pageantry designed to awaken both the patriotic fervor and the spiritual passion of the Hebrews in defiance of the authority of Rome.

From all outward appearances, it seemed to be a resounding success.  The palm branches they waved and the Hosannas they shouted as Jesus passed among them gave every indication that the people recognized the significance of what was happening, and were prepared to rise up and follow him into a new world order.  Even the Pharisees, looking on from the sidelines, felt that Jesus’ political reform and religious revival were un-stoppable.  “Look!” they said to one another, “The world has gone after him!’

But herein is the tragedy of it all.  The people did not rise up for reformation and revival.  For reasons that historians have never thoughtfully explained, they slipped back into the shadows where it was safer than living their faith boldly upon the stage of history.  That is why Jesus died alone.  And those who looked on derided him because he was not what they wanted him to be, a Savior of the people.  So they put his truth back into their minds (where it is known to this day as orthodox theology), and they put his passion back into their hearts (where it is known to this day as personal spiritual experience), because it was, after all, a safer alternative to living out a truth that promised to challenge the popular political narrative and to change the world forever.

The tragic flaw in the Palm Sunday experience is also brilliantly portrayed in the musical drama Les Miserables.  Just as Jesus lived his truth to usher in a new Kingdom, so also the students of France boldly lived their creed for what they believed was a world about to dawn.  And they, too, did it with the hope that when the oppressed masses in France saw them living their truth that they would rise up and give the nation rebirth.  But like the multitudes that turned away when the Palm Sunday parade was over, the people of France just went back to their daily routines, choosing to be spectators and victims rather than participants and victors.

Yet Les Miserables, also offers us a timeless reason to hope!  For in the drama we are allowed to see through the veil of time and space that separates this world from the next, and there in glory we see the souls of those who perished for the sake of a world reborn!  And our ears are permitted to hear them singing, as though their song in glory were still able to inspire our lives upon the earth.  I will paraphrase their song for you in a moment, but first let me show you how it relates to our experience of Palm Sunday today.

The book of Revelation, as in the musical drama, also permits us to stand upon the earth and look through the veil of time and space, enabling us to see the triumphal entry of Jesus being celebrated by the souls of those who live in glory!  The elders, as they are called, are all adorned in white robes to indicate their ethereal nature, and they are waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna in the highest!  Salvation belongs to God!  Blessing and glory and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!”   Their perspective from the other side, you see, gives us reason to hope that the Palm Sunday experience will be fulfilled in the world because of those who are bold enough to live their creed in a world gone mad!

Whether in glory or upon the earth, the Palm Sunday drama demonstrates the way God comes to us in every setting and season of life, triumphantly yet humbly.  That coming, however, is never intended as entertainment for spectators or as an opiate for the people, but as incentive to change the world forever by living boldly into God’s truth for our time!

Here then, my paraphrase of the great closing chorus of Les Miserables as it applies to our experience of Palm Sunday ~ in this dimension and in glory.  May I ask of you…

Do you hear the people sing…

Singing from far beyond the grave?

It is the music of a people

who once lived among the brave!

When the music that they sing

Stirs our hearts to common things,

There is a world about to dawn.

For the Kingdom comes!

As their song is sung in glory

Let us live it now on earth,

That the beauty of their story

May accomplish a rebirth;

For blessing and glory, honor and power

Are God’s!

Do you hear the people sing…

Singing from just beyond the dawn?

It is the music of a people

Who have lived their lives of song!

When Hosannas that they shout

Call us to deeds which are devout,

There is a world about to dawn,

For the Kingdom comes!

When that glorious day comes, then what once was said in disdain from the sidelines of history will be celebrated with joy in heaven and on earth.  “Look!” we will say to one another, “The world has gone after him!”