Palm Sunday-April 9, 2017 – Look, your king is coming

Palm Sunday   April 9, 2017   Psalm 118, John 11:45-57, 12:1-11, 12:12-19  

Look, your king is coming

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Signs are meant to point to something. And some signs are easier to understand than others. It’s relatively easy to know what a STOP sign means. (Even before we can read, we can learn to recognize the stop-sign’s message by its shape, size, color and that four-letter-word meaning something we don’t always want to do…)

Other roadside signs can be a bit harder to decipher… traveling at highway speed in unfamiliar surroundings. Did that sign mean downtown Providence this exit? Or was it Providence, next exit?

And then, of course, sometimes even clear obvious signs are widely ignored. It’s not considered unusual in Massachusetts to be going 9 miles over the speed limit and be the slowest car on the road. I’ve even seen motorists slow down just a little, glance both ways, then run the red light at Barlow’s Landing and County Road… And I confess, sometimes especially at night, that “No Right Turn on Red” sign can be hard for me to see… coming out of Market Basket when no one’s coming…

Some signs are easier to read, believe, and interpret than other signs. St John the gospel writer uses the word “sign” to describe anything miraculous Jesus does. And just to keep us on our toes – John will also use the word sign sometimes to describe some less-obviously miraculous things Jesus does. Sign is a big word in the vocabulary of John’s gospel. And even way back when, not everybody notices every sign equally…

When Jesus feeds thousands from just a few loaves and fishes, everyone who sees and eats that meal is ready to make him king then and there on the spot. But elsewhere in John’s gospel, people are often slow to see and slower still to understand signs Jesus does. Possibly partly as a result, Jesus does many signs almost in private. Only a few even notice what’s he’s doing when he turns water into wine. Only a few disciples see him walking on water. And when Jesus does signs that point to his divine power in public – healing a lame man, giving eyesight to the blind – many religious leaders are not only not impressed – they’re profoundly disturbed and angry with Jesus… for what they see as violation of good order… Since these healings take place on Sabbath days.

Now Jesus has just raised his friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, up from the dead… (We’re picking up now where we left off last week.) And this giving of new life to the dead is the sign that seals the fate of Jesus (in John’s telling of the gospel)… Because, we’re told…

Religious leaders are convinced this unauthorized raising of the dead will cause people to follow Jesus and name him king. And if Jesus is acclaimed as king – so the religious leaders reason – the Roman Empire will come down like a hammer on Israel, and destroy the temple and crush the nation. And Caiaphas, the high priest, says, “It’s better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation be destroyed.”

With plenty of unconscious irony, Caiaphas speaks prophetically John tells us. Jesus indeed will die for the people of Israel – and not just for the nation but all people on earth. Jesus will indeed be the perfect sacrifice. Though unrecognized by the high priest who prophesies about him.

And John’s gospel was written at least fifteen or twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD. And there’s yet-more irony here in that by the time this gospel’s written, everyone knows – the execution of Jesus did not stop the Empire from destroying the Temple and scattering the nation.  But now we may be running ahead of the story…

As meanwhile, still in our first prelude to Palm Sunday reading, we overhear religious authorities deciding to have Jesus executed – and now the word goes out on the street –  anyone who knows the whereabouts of Jesus should inform the powers-that-be so he can be arrested. Jesus now is The Most Wanted Man in Jerusalem…

Yet here he comes – Jesus, riding into Jerusalem – with the crowds shouting and hollering Hosannas… Quoting Psalm 118 (the psalm we’ve read today), shouting Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord the king of Israel!

Jesus comes into Jerusalem… Knowing full well the authorities have given orders for his arrest and execution. This parade Jesus leads is not much like any Super Bowl, St Patrick’s Day, or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade…

Yet…This Parade is a celebration. These crowds shouting Hosanna! are getting it right – Jesus indeed is our King. And it’s always right to be praising him joyfully.

And – these Hosannas we’re shouting are also prayers. The word hosanna means “Save us, we beseech you…” Crowds are getting it right… Beginning now to recognize Jesus as both savior and king…

True enough, they’re not seeing him yet as all of who he is as king and Savior. But to be fair to the crowds, we need to remember – even his closest disciples who’ve been traveling with him for several years now didn’t understand this sign Jesus is doing here at the time. They seem to understand Jesus is fulfilling here the quote we’ve heard from the prophet Zechariah about Israel’s king coming, riding on a donkey’s colt…But they probably either don’t remember or don’t understand the rest of that quote from Zechariah, who foretold a king who will, in the prophet’s words, “cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and… to the ends of the earth.”

Only after Jesus has risen from the dead, John tells us, will the disciples really start to figure out what kind of king Jesus is. And begin to understand all the signs he’s been performing…

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Meanwhile, Mary and Martha of Bethany are probably the only ones besides Jesus who understand what Jesus is all about… Where he’s heading, and what he’s about to go through… As they serve a banquet for Jesus, celebrating the return of their brother Lazarus from the dead, thanks be to Jesus… We see Mary pouring out her costly gift on the feet of Jesus…Anointing him with oil of pure nard. Giving her very best….Somehow knowing that she is anointing him for his death and burial…

We too, try to give our very best to Jesus. Recognizing we have to pay close attention to Jesus to know what kinds of actions really serve him… And thus what it means to be ‘giving our best.’

Through the ages, some have read our second reading too quickly, missing Jesus’ point. When Jesus says “the poor you always have with you” he’s quoting  Deuteronomy 15 (verse 11), where its written: Since there will never cease to be some in need on earth, I (the Lord) therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in the land.” Jesus expects us to always be open-handed and open-hearted to the poor… And devoted to Jesus. The love of Jesus and love of the poor are meant to be both-and – not either/or.

But Jesus’ main point here is that we need to be paying close attention to him – recognizing him for who he is – in order to be able to recognize each precious moment of this life given to us – for the gift of God it is – and not to be letting God-given opportunities to really be in the presence of God (and/or of people whom God is putting in front of us to reveal God’s presence…) go by us, un-noticed… And….

Looking to our king and savior… and recognizing what he’s doing… is the key to his kingdom – the key to knowing Jesus…and… If we think Jesus is like other kings only bigger, better, tougher, stronger–

We’re not recognizing King Jesus yet…

‘The kings of this world lord it over others,’ Jesus says (Luke 22)… ‘But here I am among you as one who serves’… And as Mary has tenderly anointed his feet… Soon Jesus will be washing the feet of his disciples… (As some of us will also be doing Thursday night…and… )

The kings of this world ride in chauffeured chariots and limousines…But Jesus rides on the back of a lowly donkey… Not a Cadillac or Mercedes, but the first- century equivalent of a Dodge Dart with a few hundred thousand miles on it…

And those who know Zechariah’s prophesy know Jesus is revealing himself as our king by this sign… Yet few besides Mary and Martha know… Anything close to the fullness… of the kind of king Jesus is…

‘We don’t see Jesus,’ Martin Luther said, ‘because we don’t look low enough.’ We tend to be looking for Jesus to rule like the powerful CEO of the universe, putting everything right in a hurry, and making heads roll to get ‘er done…

But Jesus keeps coming in under our radar… unarmed… unguarded… often unnoticed…

And we still often don’t see Jesus for who he is… because we’re chronically over-exposed to all the mix of the world’s siren sounds, sights, symbols, and signs designed to crowd our minds and cloud our vision…

Making it harder to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus… Even when he’s coming into town to the sounds of our shouts and songs of joyous praises…

Harder, much harder… to keep our focus on Jesus…

As he’s heading for the Last Supper…Where he will be breaking bread with us and washing our feet… and letting us know he knows…

Most of us will take our eyes off Jesus often… Even flee from his presence and deny him…

Yet still Jesus keeps his eyes on us…His hands, arms, heart always open to us…

Even as he travels on into Jerusalem, knowing all that’s to come…

Inviting, hoping, and praying for us to stay close by him…

All through this week we call Holy Week…

So may we do our best to make Jesus glad… Keeping our eyes on him…

Singing his praises together…

All glory, laud and honor… to our Redeemer King…

Amen.