Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B
Why are you doing this? What are you doing?
These two questions are front and center in Mark’s version of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We could add a few more questions from the other Gospel accounts of this story. Matthew asks: Who is this? Luke’s version posits a specific query: Why are you untying the colt? John doesn’t ask questions so much as state the disciples’ ongoing confusion: “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.” John’s Gospel must always be read back to front. But Mark emphasizes basic human curiosity: Why are you doing this? What are you doing? It’s the bystanders who ask the disciples as they are untying the colt, “What are you doing?”
The disciples do as they are told and relay the message Jesus instructed them to share: “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” The colt is on loan for a specific, ritual task. Not unlike the silver communion ware that is polished, passed and returned to the locked cabinet, needed for a particular, holy function, borrowed not kept. These bystanders, whoever they are, “allow them to take it,” trusting Jesus and his followers at their word.
Why are you doing this? What are you doing? These seem reasonable questions for crowds, bystanders and disciples alike to ask of Palm and Passion Sunday. We must look an odd sight to those passing by our sanctuaries on Sunday morning as we stand outside with palm branches, some of us dressed in our finest and others in robes, children roaming, youth huddling, all ages gathering to sing and process. Anyone unfamiliar with what week it is (and many will have no idea what week it is on the liturgical calendar) might ask: Why are you doing this? What are you doing?
Most of the world will know what the signs and the march the day before this day are about. Even those who vehemently disagree with the premise and proposed policies of March for Our Lives know the why: Parkland, Newtown, Columbine. It would be difficult for anyone not completely off the grid to miss the what: a march to end gun violence in schools and communities. But this Sunday’s procession around the neighborhood or inside the sanctuary coupled with palm branches and hymns – not poster boards, speeches and chants – begs the questions from crowds, bystanders and some confused disciples: Why are you doing this? What are you doing?
Can we answer those questions should anyone care to ask us? Shouldn’t we be able to say: Jesus told us to relay this message to anyone who asks, “This is for the Lord”? The Lord is coming into our cities and towns, our sanctuaries and streets. That’s why we are doing this. We are preparing for his entry into the midst of chaos, crowds, killers, suffering and exploitation. That’s what we are doing.
Saturday’s march against gun violence is not untethered from Sunday’s procession for Jesus no matter where you come out on kids walking out or walking up, bump stocks, assault weapons or background checks. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is Jesus’ entry into Washington and Parkland, Newtown and Columbine, Aleppo and Ferguson, Charlottesville and St. Louis, Kabul and Taiz. Jesus is coming to all the places in desperate need of him — the places and the people who need to know that the Prince of Peace, Son of David, is the Priest with the power to heal, the Prophet who brings God’s justice and the King who is rules both heaven and earth.
What are you doing? We are waving palms and singing Hosanna, welcoming the Lord, prophet, priest and king, who is coming into our streets, on the way to the cross, to turn the current world order upside down.
Why are you doing this? Because we want to follow Jesus and be part of the new, life-giving, creation-redeeming thing God is doing through him.
Jesus is Lord of all. What we do on Sunday cannot be extricated from marches on Saturday or our actions on Monday. The one who enters Jerusalem, humble and on a donkey, is the very one who will take on the sin of the world, be executed, die and be buried, raised from the grave and ascend into heaven, to judge the living and the dead. Nothing is off limits to our Lord. That’s why we do what we do on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday and every Sunday afterwards. We make public our loyalty and our love for Jesus Christ, and our commitment to follow the Lord of All, every day, everywhere, anywhere.
Palm branches are not as explicit to the world as poster board, but we are a far more powerful force for transformation when we recognize the what and why of our waving them this week.
The Lord, the Prophet who rides the ritually pure colt, is the culminating call of God’s cries for justice on behalf of the oppressed. He is the King anointed by cloak and the crowd’s declaration who rules heaven and earth. He is the Priest called Son of David who has shown relentless mercy. This Lord – the Lord, our Lord – is entering our streets, our towns, our sanctuaries, our lives to turn the world upside down and save it and we want to testify to this truth.
Our parades of leaves and choruses of Hosannas pale in scale to the louder, larger gatherings we see on the news, but this Sunday, this week, makes all the other demonstrations penultimate. God will have the last Word and when we wave our branches and warble our hymns, we are declaring our allegiance to that Word and no other.
It is our allegiance, total and ultimate, that leads us back into the very streets where we lauded Jesus. Washington. Newtown. Columbine. Aleppo. Charlottesville. Schools. Hospitals. Prisons. Homes. Any place or person in need of the saving grace, compassionate mercy, healing justice and transformative love of God made know to us through our Lord. That’s why we are doing this. That’s what’s at stake. That’s the meaning of our palms, cloaks, colts, choruses and lives.
- If someone were to ask you about Palm Sunday or Holy Week, “Why are you doing this?” how would you answer?
- Note the connections in the Mark text to other Scripture passages that mark Jesus’ identity as prophet, priest and king. For example, read Zechariah 14:4 and 9:9; 1 Samuel 1:6:7; 2 Kings 9:13; and Mark 10:47. What do we learn about Jesus when we think about him in these three ways?
- Read the accounts of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the other three Gospels: Matthew 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-38; and John 12:12-16. What is distinct about each account? What, do you think, is significant about those distinctions?
- What Christian practices do we do that cause others to be curious and ask, “What are you doing?” or “Why are you doing this?” Have you ever had someone ask you about your Christian practices?
- Notice how Jesus asks from people that which they have: a colt, a spare room, etc. Can you think of other biblical examples of Jesus asking to use something for his purposes? What were those things? What did Jesus do with them? What might Jesus be asking of from you?
- Where are you called to follow Jesus this week? What will it require of you?
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