SCRIPTURE: Psalm 118:14-29; Mark 11:1-11


In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


          In November 2001, two months after the 9/11 disaster, the Army command I was assigned to took part in the Veteran’s Day parade in St. Louis. The entire command of over 500 military personnel took part. On a cold and windy Saturday, we formed up in a staging area and then moved to the start of the parade route following the cadence of a drum.

          When we reached the final turn before the main route, we halted and uncased the colors –the national flag, the Army flag, which then with great military tradition and ceremony, the Army battle streamers, were attached and the unit flag. Then we started: the Army band from Ft. Leonard Wood, MO., the flag detail, commander and his staff followed by the rest of the command. 

          The main street had a huge American flag draped across it supported by cranes. We were the only military unit. As we turned the noise from the people along the sidewalks and streets seemed to crescendo as we marched toward them. There were a lot of American flags being waved and chants of USA! USA! USA!

          Parades are important. In John’s gospel, Jesus enters the city, and after hearing the shouts of the crowds, gets a donkey to ride as a corrective to their expectations. The people wanted a conquering military hero. Jesus did not see his calling in that way, so he chose an animal of humility.

          In Mark’s gospel, our text for today, we see a different perspective, one that emphasizes Jesus planned all of this event ahead of time in great detail. His entry into the city was well thought out, including making advanced reservations for a donkey. (I don’t know if it was Hertz or Avis) and informing neighbors of the plans. So, Jesus states in the passage, a donkey will be tied at a particular place (space 24), if someone challenges you say, “The Lord has need of it,” and it will be okay. Sure enough the disciples find the donkey in the appointed place, they are challenged, and when they mention Jesus’ need, it is okay.

          One would not go to such detailed planning if it wasn’t part of a greater plan. We can tell by the people’s response, their shouts of “Save us,” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” that they see these actions as consistent with the meaning of Passover.

          These statements are quotes from Psalm 118, used in the Passover liturgy, and from Exodus 15:2. Passover reminds the people of God’s saving and liberating actions in the Exodus and the return from Exile. By nature of this carefully planned entry into Jerusalem, Jesus proclaims that what God is doing through him is a continuation of God’s liberating actions of the past. Thus, in the Palm Sunday narrative, both Jesus’ actions and the people’s response place the meaning of this event on a level with the Exodus and the return from Exile.

          Psalm 118 begins with a four-fold statement, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” God’s steadfast love was first experienced in the Exodus and then in the return from Exile. The early church proclaims the same steadfast love is experienced in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Psalm’s affirmation, “This is the day the Lord has made,” is also translated in the New English Bible, “This is the day God has acted.”

          The parade itself on the first Palm Sunday is not a monumental event, even though we celebrate it and reenact it some 2000 years later. The big event it points to is the expression of God’s steadfast love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, Easter is the day on which God has acted to liberate us from everything that would keep us less than human, less than free.

          The psalm speaks of the “Gates of righteousness.” Righteousness always refers to right relationships, relationships we share with God and each other. Given the context here of focusing on God’s liberating activity in the past and anticipating God’s liberating activity in the future; the righteous are not those who have proved themselves worthy. They are those who know they owe their past lives and their future of God.

          As we make our way to Easter this year, as we stand at the beginning of Holy Week and seek new life for ourselves, as we pray for hope and peace for our world, what gates do we need to pass through? Remember the powerful image from Revelation 3 where Jesus stands at the door and knocks? As we move through this week, is it like any other time, or do we invite Jesus to knock on the door of our heart, so we seek his guidance and direction? Or do we, like those mentioned in the psalm, reject the stone that will become the chief cornerstone?

          Today we celebrate one who comes to us. But will we receive him? Will we heed his word? Will we seek his will? He comes to us as God’s steadfast love. Will we let God’s love reshape and remold us? Will we let God’s love file down our rough edges? Will we let God’s remove the anger that resides in our hearts, anger that resents what someone has done to us, anger that keeps us from forgiving, and growing, and loving more?

          Today can we pause and reflect? Can we reflect on where God has led us to this point in life? Can we pause and anticipate, hope, and ardently seek for God to guide us through the gates of righteousness? This is the day the Lord has made. This is the day we remember God’s freeing actions. Will we choose to follow God and be free?

          The people of Jerusalem were crying, “Save us!” The nation of Israel at that time was in the midst of an undeclared war with Rome. There were numerous uprisings and insurgencies. Many people wanted a strong warrior type who would unite the people and lead an insurrection against the oppressors.

 Obviously, by the reaction to Jesus, a peacemaker was not popular. They cried for help, but then rejected God’s action. God’s actions were consistent with the past. God’s actions opened to them a new future. Yet they rejected the cornerstone, and thus limited their own future.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of our country’s greatest warriors and one of our greatest workers for peace. In his last public speech as President, this man of war warned the nation against what he termed the “military-industrial” complex.” Then in humility he offered these words: “So-in this my last good night to you as your President-I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.”

He closed his speech with this profound insight: “We pray that people of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; That those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; That all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; That those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; That all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; That the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth; And that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

On this day we remember Jesus planned and led a parade to express God’s steadfast love. God has been steadfast in love. God will be steadfast in love. Yet we, like the Palm Sunday crowds, are anything but steadfast. Through these days may we steadfastly seek God’s guidance for our days.

As we enter Holy Week this year, may we follow Jesus. May we come to realize as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, that grace is costly. This week is the clearest expression of that fact.

As we journey through this week, may Jesus’ willingness to love us at all costs transform us. May it bury our fear of death, and raise us to see death as the portal of the beginning of a new adventure. God has come to us in Christ, may we follow him through the gates of righteousness, grateful for the past, anticipating the future.

Thanks be to God!