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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Palm Sunday – Year B

It is good to be together again for the annual
Stuart Circle Parishes Palm Sunday Procession.
Today we gather as more than just
St. James’s Episcopal Church
and First English Lutheran Church
and Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
and St. John’s United Church of Christ
and Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Today we also gather as the body of Christ
in our little corner of God’s Kingdom.
While our respective churches
may differ slightly here and there
on matters of doctrine or practice,
we share so many things:
love of Christ,
a heart for service,
and these wonderful stories of scripture.
Today we focus on and celebrate
one of the many stories we have in common:
the story of our Lord’s entrance
into the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Let’s try and picture the geography of it, shall we?
Jesus and his disciples have been traveling
toward Jerusalem from the Galilee region
of Palestine in the north.
Most recently they were in
the lakeside town of Capernaum.
So if we make Stuart Circle
the Eastern Wall of the Temple,
that would put Capernaum
some 90 miles north of here—say, Mount Vernon.
Now since it was almost Passover,
Jewish pilgrims from all over Israel
were making their way to Jerusalem too.
And not just Jewish pilgrims.
The Roman Empire had a governor
named Pontius Pilate.
Every year at Passover he traveled to Jerusalem
to make sure nobody caused any trouble.
Pilate was traveling from Caesarea,
a vibrant city on the Mediterranean Sea,
about 60 miles northwest of Jerusalem,
So for our purposes Caesarea
would be right around Culpeper.
Can’t you just picture Culpeper
as a swanky Mediterranean resort town?
During his visit to Jerusalem,
Pontius Pilate would be enjoying
the luxury accommodations
of the late King Herod’s Royal Palace across town.
But Jerusalem was very small at that time,
so “across town” was really just a few blocks away.
We’ll say the Royal Palace is Joe’s Inn.
Now Jesus, you recall,
was heading toward Jerusalem on foot
from Capernaum AKA Mount Vernon.
On the way, he stops in Jericho,
which would be just east of Mechanicsville.
He performs a quick healing there, and moves on.
But as he nears Jerusalem,
he veers eastward and approaches the Temple
via the Mount of Olives,
a vast hill overlooking the city from the East.
Kind of like Church Hill, except much closer.
The Mount of Olives
would really be the VCU campus.
On the Mount of Olives he visits two villages
by the names of Bethphage and Bethany.
Let’s call them Jackson Ward and Monroe Park.
In Bethany / Monroe Park,
Jesus climbs on a donkey
and parades on into Jerusalem like a King.

This parade must have looked so…ridiculous.
Like some elaborate April Fool’s joke.
A king cannot be poor.
A king is wealthy and powerful, like David was.
And a king surrounds himself with a court
of other wealthy and powerful advisors.
A king’s court does not consist of fishermen
and other peasants.
A king commands his cavalry of soldiers.
A king does not converse with women or lepers.
A king dines in luxurious palaces.
A king does not eat with outcasts and misfits.
And most notably for today,
a king rides a war horse,
not a donkey or a colt.
We have a donkey here today.
My sweet donkey friend,
you are a noble beast,
but you are no war horse.

So why did this joke of a procession
strike a nerve?
Why did it make the Roman authorities
and the Temple establishment so nervous?
Why did this so-called “king”
get into trouble with the law?

The crowds who gathered knew why.
They knew the difference
between a war horse and a donkey.
A donkey is an animal of peace.
The crowd knew that a king
who rides a donkey
rather than a war horse
is a king who is humble,
who cares about them.
A king who rides a donkey
rather than a war horse
is no ordinary king.
He is a Prince of Peace.
And he’s seen as a threat to an Empire
that uses violence and execution
to maintain their control.

A peaceful King?
It was impossible for the authorities
To comprehend such a thing.
But perhaps together,
we can comprehend it.
Now we are the pilgrims
gathered along the road to Jerusalem.
We are the crowds
at the base of the Mount of Olives
and at the entrance to the Temple.
And we know that this Prince of Peace
is building a new Kingdom,
a Kingdom not of violence but of love,
a Kingdom not of oppression but of justice.
This humble, peaceful King is our Messiah.
Blessed indeed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna indeed! Amen.

The Liturgy of the Passion
Mark 14:32-15:47

In case you missed
the Stuart Circle Palm Sunday Procession,
here’s a quick recap
of the Liturgy of the Palms.
There were palms.
And ‘Hosannas.’
And Lutherans.
And Presbyterians.
And the United Church of Christ
And Roman Catholics.
And Episcopalians.
There was ecumenism.
And Jesus.
And a donkey!
We left off in the Gospel of Mark at Chapter 11.
Now we’re about to pick up the story again.
And this time we are faced
with the hard part of the story.
The chapters we would prefer to skip over.
But we cannot skip over them.
We cannot skim them.
We must read them again today
As we do every year.

As I noted out in Stuart Circle,
Jesus processed into Jerusalem
riding on the back of a colt or a donkey.
And this would have looked
fairly unusual to those watching.
To the hopeful, he would have seemed
like a humble, peace-loving King.
But to the powerful and the cynical,
this procession would have looked utterly ridiculous,
like the punch line of an April Fool’s joke.
A king who is poor?
A royal entourage
made up of fishermen and peasants?
A king who socializes
with women and lepers
and breaks bread with outcasts?
Totally hilarious.

In a few moments, we will hear
Mark’s version of the Passion narrative.
As you listen, notice how the authorities
and the crowds go to great lengths
to continue the mockery of Jesus.
Everybody loves a good joke
as long as we’re not the target of it, right?
Watch how they try
to make our Lord into a laughingstock.
Pay attention as they urge him to “Prophesy!”
Notice as they repeat over and over again
that sarcasm-soaked title:
“The King of the Jews.”
See how they take him to the royal palace.
Observe how they dress him up
in purple—the color of royalty,
and place a makeshift crown on his head.
Then they pretend to salute him:
“Hail, King of the Jews”
And after hitting him
and spitting on him,
they kneel down in mock homage
to this pathetic King.
So hysterical.
Then observe how they strip him
and subsequently execute him,
slowly and mercilessly.
They do everything they can
to humiliate him,
to make fun of him,
to make him into the ultimate April Fool.
But does it work?
Will their efforts to make the Messiah
into an object of ridicule succeed?
God only knows.
For now, God only knows.

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