High Hopes

A sermon on Palm Sunday

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” Matthew 27:27-31

Children’s Time: High hopes. Do you ever get your hopes up – only to be disappointed? Like when your favorite sports team is in an important game (maybe even a championship game) and they lose! Or, when you’re hoping for a special present for Christmas or your birthday and it doesn’t come? How do you handle it when you get your hopes up only to see them come crashing down? This is what Palm Sunday is like… the people were so hopeful when Jesus came riding into town on a donkey that they shouted: “Hosanna!” (meaning, ‘God save us!’) And, by the end of the week, they saw Jesus get arrested and then die on the cross. “What happened?” They were very disappointed. Until when? Yes, until he rose again 3 days later on Easter. Let’s pray that we can trust God even when we feel let down and disappointed.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s Betrayal all over this story – not to mention in the weather this weekend! “I had plans, doggone it!” And yet, I know, and trust, that Spring will come. It always does. This present darkness is only temporary. That’s the lesson of Palm Sunday: amid all the pomp and circumstance – amid the grand parade and shouts of victory – there’s disappointment. A temporary setback, if you will. But a permanent hope for tomorrow through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

So we reenact theses last days: we march with him down that street, strewing our palms at his donkey’s feet. We join our voices and raise high our hopes. We walk with him to the Upper Room and to the Garden at Gethsemane. We journey to the cross with him and find ourselves amid the voices of those who taunt or question or perhaps just remain silent.

And then there’s Pilate – he gets the short end of the stick. Coming across as powerless among the people. Don’t buy it. Pilate was ruthless despot, who thought nothing of putting to death a trouble-maker to maintain order in his district. It was all in a day’s work to carry out a brutal execution to keep the people in their place. In fact, this has caused some scholars to question whether he really did have such a hard time passing judgment on Jesus. All the hand-wringing and the secret dream his wife had, warning him about Jesus: “Have nothing to do with that man,” she told him. (No one ever asks how Matthew is privy to a private conversation between Pilate and his wife.) So, rather than focus all our attention on him, let’s look again at ourselves and the crowd and the closest friends of Jesus.

It’s been said, “Winning shows some of your character… losing shows all of it!”

Jesus told his friends: “One of you will betray me,” he told them at the Last Supper.
“Lord, is it I?” they began to ask. And, the answer, of course, to that question is always, “Yes.” It is ‘I.’ You and I will, time and again, turn away and pretend we never knew him – we never supped at his table – we never really believed.

I once had a teacher who said that when were baptized God gave each of us a ship that would sail us to heaven! It’s fully stocked with all we need for the journey through life and death – calm seas and gale force winds. “But,” he said “we jump ship every day.” Somehow we imagine we’re better swimmers than we are. We bail on God, choosing to go it alone.

This Holy Week we will encounter all the mood swings that come with this story of Jesus’ final days and triumph at Easter.

This week we will ask “Is it I, Lord? I who betrayed you?” We, ourselves, will be betrayed this week! “I had plans, doggone it!” And yet, we know, and trust, that Spring will come, as it always does. This present darkness is only temporary. When disappointment sets in, as it is sure to do: let us believe that it is temporary – only a setback on the way to the permanent hope for tomorrow through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Let us pray:

O God, we give you thanks that you stand by us even when we jump ship in betrayal and lose faith. Pull us back on deck and set a course for home, our Lord, our captain, our God. Amen.

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