Palm Sunday and Holy Week

We as humans are full of expectations. It isn’t really something we can help, I don’t think, but we all certainly do enjoy making prejudgments and leaning into them. We have expectations that our day will go smoothly and that our coffee will be hot. You have expectations and dreams for your children and grandchildren that they are successful and live up to their potential. I am sure you all have some expectations and preconceptions of me as a 21-year-old college student. I go to UT and we certainly had expectations for the men’s basketball team this year, for better or for worse. We all have hopes and expectations, and occasionally we can have those hopes met, but more often things do not turn out how we expect or perhaps want.

We find the Jewish people at a time full of expectation and desperate hope here in the eleventh chapter of Mark. They have been under the regime of the Roman Empire for years, and the idea that a messiah was nigh to release them from oppression was alluring. It was a time that saw multiple movements of radical men claiming that they were the messiah come to free the people and would then go and lead their followers in violence against the Romans and the Jewish ruling class. Ultimately all these men would be captured and killed, and their followers would scatter in the face of Roman retaliation. Nonetheless, it meant that the expectation was set. The Messiah was coming, and he would be a general finally capable of freeing his people from their captors and reestablishing the Jewish people as independent and self-governing.

Perhaps it was in the face of this expectation that the Jesus we encounter in Mark was determined to lay low in his ministry. With each miracle and encounter people have that insinuates the divine nature of Jesus, he insists that they tell no one. Near the Sea of Galilee, he restores a deaf man’s hearing and commands him to tell no one. After the curing of a blind man in Bethsaida, he implores him not to even go back to the village, in case of questions. He goes so far as to order Peter to tell no one once the apostle declares his realization that Christ is the messiah. One can only imagine that when the idea of being the messiah was linked to such violent men and the wrath of Rome, it was only prudent to keep that title away from his public image for the time being.

It’s this background that makes the Markan account of Palm Sunday all the more exciting. This is a Christ who is going out of His way to lean into the expectations the Jewish people had of what the Messiah looked like. He seeks out an unridden donkey, which was at the time the undisputed ride of a king. He makes no attempt to silence the crowd, to dampen their fervor. Jesus rides into Jerusalem triumphant like a king home-come, a general victorious, a messiah expectant. And the people love it. They wave fronds, make way with their cloaks, and herald him in with cries of hosanna. They rejoice that the time of David has come near again in his descendent Jesus of Nazareth.              But what they wanted, what they thought they were getting, is not what came. Jesus was not there to vanquish Rome or to reestablish Israel as a sovereign nation. He had no interest in stoking the flame of their hate or in violent vengeance. Instead he came in and spoke of forgiveness and love of your neighbor. He told them to pay their taxes to the Emperor they so desperately hated. He had the audacity to come into their temple and rebuke them for their own wickedness. This was not what they had expected. No, this is not what they had wanted at all.

And so, what did they do when they did not get the Messiah they had so desperately wanted? They turned on him. Within the week their cries of hosanna turned to crucify, and they turned him over to the Romans they so despised to be rid of him. And, of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty. We can all sit here on the other side and think to ourselves that they just did not know what they truly needed. That we now know better, and that their king had come to serve and to sacrifice himself, and that they wanted a lesser good than what they received.

But friends, how often we do that. We get wrapped up in our own expectations of what Jesus is or will do for us and feel bitter when we do not get that. The very things that Jesus preached that upset the people of Jerusalem are hard to swallow today. Sometimes it is hard to love our neighbor. It’s difficult to respect a government you may not agree with. It is certainly not easy to face criticism over our corporate worship structures and question if they faithfully reflect God. Other times it is the simple anger we feel when something desperately doesn’t go our way.

So how do we respond? It is vital that we now know Christ’s purpose in Jerusalem in a way the people there could not. Jesus rode into the city like a King triumphant, but his victory was one yet to come. We celebrate Palm Sunday knowing that it is the beginning of Holy Week and in light of what Easter is. So, perhaps it’s time to set our expectations a bit higher. Let’s expect that something better than what we can plan, and desire is in store. Let us come to expect peace in the face of our anger, compassion in our suffering, love when we cannot find it within ourselves. It is easy to expect and desire a Christ that reflects our own predilections and wants, that conforms to the justice that we see as fitting.

But instead he calls us to come and join him in a standard that expects more. That we care for our neighbor, without regard for who that is. That we do not get to hold onto our anger, spite, and desire for revenge. To hold our churches and establishment to reflecting God in an honest way. To ensure that we ourselves reflect God faithfully as well. That we love. That we love deeply and passionately all that God loves. I don’t know what that looks like for you. Who you find hardest to love. Your family, sometimes certainly. Your colleagues. Your Rome. Christ calls us to meet them all, lay down our anger, and pick up peace. The messiah the Jewish people expected was one of war and revenge against those they hated, but that’s not what they got. They were met with a messiah of love who called them to do the same. So, then we’re presented with a choice. We know how they responded, how do we?

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Kyla Duncan
Junior, Religious Studies Major
UKirk at UTK

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