Sermon: Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023

It is approximately 30 CE, though we wouldn’t call it that because we keep a different calendar. And who am I? I am Hannah. I am the wife of a blacksmith. We live just outside of the city of Jerusalem. I am fortunate. I have reached the age of 50. My what an ancient age that is. Not many of my friends have reached this fine age, and not only have I made it, but so has my husband. I have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. My daughters married good men, and my sons good women. My husband and sons are able workers and good at making many kinds of people happy. Our customers are Sadducees, Pharisees, Romans, and ordinary people. Somehow my husband is able to keep everyone happy and to take the side of no one, a difficult thing to do in a city that has only known turmoil and conflict for most of its history. And our time is no different.

Do we side with the Pharisees who want to teach us how to practice a “pure” Judaism and understand how it applies to our everyday lives and want us to center our lives on the synagogue? Do we side with the Sadducees who say that God can only be found in the Temple, and we should be obedient to our Roman overlords? Do we side with the Zealots who want to rid us of our Roman rulers? Do we go out into the desert like the Essenes and live an austere life in an effort to find God? My husband believes we should simply put our heads down and pretend to be on the side of all of them and earn our daily bread. So we attend our local synagogue and we participate in the great Jewish festivals in the Temple, offering our expected sacrifices. We pay our taxes to the Romans, though sometimes it threatens our ability to take care of ourselves. We take care of ourselves, and our family and we try not to worry about too much else. We are not ambitious; we are simply practical.

But lately, as I’ve reached my old age, I’ve been wondering if this is enough. What about all the poor people who surround us? Is it enough that my family and I have enough to eat? What about the people who are breaking their backs to survive and are still not able to feed their children? Is this what God wants for them? Or what about all the beggars I pass every day as I go to the market to buy our food? Is it enough that I give them coins when I am able? Why do they have to live as beggars? In the synagogue we are told that they are blind, deaf, and lame because they are sinners or children of sinners, but is this really true? Would God really cause a man to be born blind because of something his parents did? I saw a woman stoned in the square the other day. She had been accused of adultery. She grew up with my granddaughters. Her mother is distraught. She told me her daughter’s story. She was travelling home to her new husband late one evening after helping a neighbor woman give birth to a child. She was cornered by a man who raped her and became pregnant. Her husband publicly accused her of adultery and she was stoned to death in the square. What exactly was her crime? Why did nothing happen to her rapist?

My husband thinks my brain is becoming a bit addled in my old age, but I don’t know. He thinks I should forget all my questions and just be thankful that we, he and I, and our family are well and have enough. “Don’t upset the apple cart” he tells me, “You are doing what God wants you to do. You are taking care of me, your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Isn’t that enough for you?” And I smile and nod because I don’t want to upset him. After all he is a good man. He has taken good care of me and our family for many years. I have nothing to complain about.

And yet, I can’t let go of my questions. I can’t let go of the feeling that there is more to life than just getting by and taking care of my immediate family. I can’t let go of the feeling that God wants more for all of us and expects more from all of us and needs all of us to do more. I can’t let go of the feeling that the world is not how it is supposed to be, how God wants it to be. And I don’t know what to do with this feeling.

Lately, I’ve not been such a good wife. I’ve been sneaking out to hear this new teacher that everyone has been talking about. His name is Jesus. His message just makes sense to me. “Love your God with all your heart mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” “If you have two coats give one to someone who has none.” “Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When I hear him speak and look upon his face I feel like I see the world as God intends the world to be and I feel at peace.

And so, I did something really bad today. I told my husband I was going into Jerusalem to find some cloth that I could not find in our village. He did not want me to go. It is the beginning of Passover and Jerusalem is a tumultuous place when the great festival begins. After all Passover is when we Jews remember God saving us from slavery in Egypt. It stirs up a lot of resentment in our people. Those who are struggling and chaffing under Roman rule are reminded that God freed us once and they wonder if it might be time for God to free us again. People begin to grumble more. The weight of Roman rule feels even more oppressive than usual. And the Romans know this, and though they don’t normally post a lot of soldiers in our city, they do at this time. My husband prefers to avoid Jerusalem during Passover. He goes in quietly and offers his sacrifice and leaves. He never takes me with him.

But I have learned a lot from him over the years about persuasion. And I convinced him that I would be ok and would go in and out of the city as quickly and quietly as possible. What he didn’t know was that I had already found the cloth I needed a week ago. What I really wanted to do was see Jesus again. I had been told by a friend of mine that he would be entering Jerusalem this morning. There have been a lot of rumors that he will be arrested soon because those in power, particularly the religious leaders, are unhappy with what he is saying and doing and the crowds he is attracting. I am afraid that he won’t be with us much longer and I just wanted to see him again in case he is taken from us. My friend told me there was to be a parade for him as he entered Jerusalem. So, I lied to my husband and snuck to see the parade.

I am not quite sure what I expected. The only parades I have ever seen were Roman military parades. They also parade into the city at the beginning of every Passover. They arrive on their enormous white stallions with all their weaponry and armor. They want to remind us all of who is in charge and what will happen to us if we forget. This parade could not have been more different. In some ways it was almost comical. Jesus wasn’t wearing armor. He did not carry any weapon. Indeed, his clothes were plain and even a little dirty from his travels. He was sitting astride a female donkey and had her colt with him too. There is nothing majestic about a man riding a donkey. He was not accompanied by a great army or even a lot of people. There was a great crowd gathered to watch, and we waved branches and spread cloaks on the ground. But it certainly wasn’t the thrill of watching the Romans enter the city. One of the people standing with me was one of his inner circle. I told him of my confusion, and he told me that this was exactly how Jesus wanted it to be. When I asked him why, he told me that he did not know.

As I journeyed back home I stumbled upon the Roman parade, and my what a difference. It was thrilling. The giant white stallions were beautiful. The soldiers were powerful. But somehow the whole thing left me feeling flat. “So what?” I thought to myself. “What good does all this power, pomp and circumstance do? It hasn’t made the world a better place. People are still hungry. The disabled are still begging in the square. Women are still being stoned for things they didn’t do. Does God really want this parade? Does God really want the world to be this way?” And it hit me like a ton of bricks. That is exactly Jesus’ point. Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey in humility and with no show of earthly power because God’s power is different from human power. The power of God is humility. The power of God is lowliness. The power of God is love. And God’s love is for those who the world does not love—the poor, the sick, the disabled, the powerless. God is on the side of everyone the powerful in the world are against.

And God is asking, actually demanding that we choose too. Are we on the side of earthly power? Power that excludes. Power that keeps some in poverty and some in wealth. Power that condemns some to a life of misery and death while others have more than could ever use in a hundred lifetimes. Power that stones and maims and crucifies. Or are we on the side of God’s power? Power that lifts up. Power that makes sure everyone has enough. Power that heals. Power that includes. Power that brings life, health, and wholeness to all.

That’s what Jesus is asking us in his preaching, teaching, healing, miracles and in his parade this morning. Will we choose the power of the world or the power of God? Are we on the side of earthly power or on the side of those that earthly power excludes? But what a risk it is to choose for God. I hear that those in power want to kill Jesus. If we join him, will we be killed too? Or even if we aren’t killed what would it do to my husband’s business or to our marriage? But is this really a life worth living if it is not a life with God? I simply don’t know what I am going to choose and what I am going to do. What would you do? What will you do? How will you choose?