Message by Pastor Pokora from Sunday, April 5 – Palm Sunday

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.

One day I stopped by the Life Fitness Center to swim laps late in the afternoon. Mary, who managed the registration desk, gave me a cheery smile and said, “How are you?” That’s part of her job; she brings a smile and a cheerful greeting to members who work out at the center.

My response to her inquiry was not what she expected. I said, “Well, you never really know, do you?” She knit her brow and gave me a quizzical look, probably wondering, if I was teasing her or being a smart aleck. But I wasn’t being smart aleck. It was an honest answer. We don’t always know how we are doing.

Almost reflexively, we greet others by asking, “How are you?” The response we anticipate hearing is, “Fine” or “Okay.” Maybe we really don’t want to know how someone else is doing. We might be in a hurry, not know the person well, or maybe just don’t care. We ask about someone’s health or well-being to be polite, but without expecting a substantial response.

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Psalm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week leading to our observance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and ultimately Easter. We associate Easter with spring coming. Our moods improve, as winter weather slowly dissipates. Finally, the snow, sub-zero temperatures end. We learned a new word this year, polar vortex.

But today is not about a change of season. Instead, we intend to reflect on a sequence of events in the life of Jesus. We might call these penultimate events. The final events in the life of Jesus will be his resurrection and ascension. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday lead to, but stop just short of the Easter miracle. These are the penultimate events.

When I was growing up as a child, Palm Sunday was simply Palm Sunday. The day had a simple focus, the joyful procession with Palms that marked the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. In recent years, Palm Sunday events have become linked directly to what occurred on Good Friday. Note the heading at the top of your celebrate. It reads Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday. This designation marks a huge change of emphasis for the day. It’s as if Good Friday has been brought forward, obscuring Palm Sunday.

The combination of Palm Sunday with Sunday of the Passion serves a significant purpose for the mission and ministry of the church. The great irony of Holy Week has been lifted up for us. That irony focuses our attention on the conundrum that lies behind the crucifixion of Jesus.

Imagine for a moment you are standing in the crowd along a street in Jerusalem, waiting to see Jesus pass by, as he enters the city. Also imagine you happen to rub elbows, so to speak, with one of the disciples, such as Peter or John or James. You might ask them, “How are things going for Jesus?’ They would smile big and say, “Look how he has been received by the people.” A large crowd gathers to welcome him. They spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from trees and spread them too on the road. The crowds that went ahead and follows Jesus shouts. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” What a festive occasion!

But, if by chance, you happened to speak to Jesus and asked him, how things are going? he would have had a different response from his disciples. He could honestly say, “You never really know.” God’s purpose and our expectation are often two different things.

Remember, when Jesus and his disciples traveled in the region of Caesarea Philippi? Jesus taught them the Messiah, the Son of Man, must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, but rise again three days later. The Apostle Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Jesus said to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Jesus understood the day of his passion inevitably approached. God’s purpose will be worked out in an unexpected way.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, to the hosanna of the crowd, the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests worked furiously to put together a plan to end the threat Jesus posed for them. Jesus understood their scheming. He is fully aware Palm Sunday leads to his own crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Imagine how he must have felt riding that donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, knowing full well the crowds will melt away and the religious authorities will deliver him to the Romans for crucifixion. If you asked Jesus how he was doing on Palm Sunday, he could easily have replied, “You never know, do you?”

We learn several powerful lessons by link Palm Sunday to Good Friday. One lesson is that life moves on multiple levels. Many days I arrive at the church, feeling optimistic and upbeat. But then we receive a call from the hospital, letting us know someone has been injured or sick. We receive an email announcing someone else has died who is related to one of our members. Suddenly, the joy of the day disappears. We learn again and again how unpredictable and defeating life can be. Our passion, our suffering, cannot be limited to Good Friday.

Bad news knocks us off our pins, depresses us, upends our plans. It’s never easy to be Christian and deal with our own suffering or the suffering of ones we love. We learn quickly Christians are not immune to suffering. To be human means we experience disappointment and conflict. It’s woven into the very fabric of life itself.

I am reminded of the story of William James, the great 19th century psychologist and philosopher. He suffered depression and lost his will to live. Most importantly, however, he came to believe that faith in a fact helps create a fact. He learned that life will be built in doing and suffering and creating. That insight helps us understand how Jesus moved from Palm Sunday to Good Friday with resolution. His faith in God was the fact that gave him the strength and determination to accept God’s purpose for himself revealed on the cross on Good Friday.

Someone might ask us how we are doing. We could reply, you never know for sure. Life remains utterly unpredictable with disappointment and failure woven into its daily fabric. We recall and affirm, however, belief in a fact that helps create a fact. We believe the fact of God’s power and grace creates a new reality. Belief in the fact of God’s love and purpose offers us the meaning and strength necessary to confront uncertainty, fears, and defeats. Jesus understood the irony that Palm Sunday leads directly to Good Friday. But the fact of God’s promise to him created the fact of faith in God’s power to be made visible on Easter day. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ our Lord. Amen.