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Palm Sunday

Sermon for Palm Sunday

Readings: Isaiah 50:4–9a; Philippians 2:5–11 & Luke 19:28–40

As I was reading today’s gospel passage, while preparing my sermon for today, I was reminded of an incident at the MCG in 1999 involving Shane Warne. 

Australia was playing England in a one day match, and after having bowled England out for 178 runs, Australia was racing toward a nine wicket demolition of England which would finish with 10 overs to spare. However, at one stage, it appeared likely that the game might be abandoned as sections of the MCG crowd had gotten totally out of hand and were peppering the filed with rubbish, golf balls and beer bottles. The England captain, Alec Stewart, together with the umpires, called for Shane Warne to come and calm the crowd.

Warne came onto the ground and went to the worst trouble spot, which just happened to be the infamous Bay 13, and incredibly, following a personal plea from Warne to the crowd to stop throwing things onto the ground, the crowd complied. The rubbish was quickly removed from the ground and the match was able to resume and be completed without any further interruption. Such was the esteem that Warne was held in by the cricketing public, that he was able to single-handedly control a crowd of 82,000 people.

In today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel, which describes the scene as Jesus enters Jerusalem several days before the feast of Passover, Luke tells us that as Jesus was approaching the city from the Mount of Olives, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully” saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” We don’t know if this crowd of disciples rivalled the size of the crowd that day at the MCG, but it certainly appears that it was a large crowd, and they too were making a lot of noise, but rather than throwing rubbish in front of Jesus, they were spreading their cloaks in front of him. Luke also tells us that in the same way that the England captain Alec Stewart asked Warne to intervene on that day to control the crowd, several Pharisees in the crowd ask Jesus to make his disciples stop what they are doing.

Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that Shane Warne was Christ-like, but it did make me stop and think about just how charismatic Jesus must have been. Yes, people obviously followed him because of the healing and miracles they had witnessed him perform, but there must have been more to it than that. Jesus must have had an incredible aura or character about him that drew people to him, in the same way that people from all different walks of life were drawn to Shane Warne. And like Warne, Jesus in some way, must have been a larger than life character. 

Permit me to continue a little longer with the comparison between Shane Warne and Jesus. Warne was often referred to by his fans, and some within the cricket media, as the “King”. He was certainly widely acknowledged as the “King of spin”. In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is also heralded as a king. He is the king who comes in the name of God, an allusion to Jesus being the Messiah that the prophets of Israel had predicted would come. The Second Book of Kings, in the Old Testament, contains a reference to the practice of placing one’s garment on the crowd for the king to walk over, and Luke tells us that the disciples place their cloaks on the ground in the same manner before Jesus. 

However Jesus doesn’t enter Jerusalem in the fashion that Jewish people expected the Messiah to enter. Rather than riding in on a warrior’s mighty steed, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a young colt. But Luke is using a clear messianic reference to the Book of the Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah. 9:9) who wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus is a king, but he is a humble king. 

The Apostle Paul describes the humility of Jesus beautifully in today’s reading from his letter to the Philippians when he says that though Jesus was in the form of God, he didn’t regard this as something to be exploited, but having been born in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Jesus could quite easily have used the power at his disposal to make an even grander entrance into Jerusalem than he did, and not only that, he could have used that same power to avoid suffering and death. But he chose not to, because that wasn’t part of his mission. He was born as a human being, and he allowed himself to suffer and die as a human being – to be obedient to the point of death – because that was his mission. He came to reveal God to all of humankind, and to sacrifice himself so that all of humankind could be reconciled in a right relationship with God.

Our first reading for today was from the Book of Isaiah, and while it isn’t one of the four Servant Songs that Isaiah is famous for, there is a suggestion of the figure of the ‘Servant’ in the reading, particularly the reference to suffering in silence, which was definitely something that Jesus, as God’s servant, also did. The question posed by the servant figure in today’s passage from Isaiah, “It is the Lord God who helps me, who will declare me guilty?”, is also uncannily similar to the question that Jesus asks the Jewish religious leaders in John 8:46: “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” Jesus bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Servant’ figure in the Book of Isaiah.

‘The great characteristics of Jesus life were humility, obedience and self-renunciation.’ He didn’t seek to dominate others, but to serve them; and he wasn’t interested in his own way, but in God’s way. Paul suggests that these characteristics of Jesus should be the hallmarks of all Christians, and that we should strive to be like Jesus, who was able to win people over not by the use of the power he had at his disposal, but by the love he showed for them. He demonstrated the ultimate act of love for others by sacrificing himself on the cross so that all people might be saved.

Perhaps that love, was the aura and charisma that surrounded Jesus and drew people to him. 

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