Sermon for Palm Sunday by Kenneth Padley
Overturning the tables
Loads of churches go on procession on Palm Sunday.
Many churches have a donkey on Palm Sunday.
Not many churches can recreate the route which Jesus took as well as we can here at St Michael’s.
On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus walked from a hill above the SE corner of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, through the city gate and into the massive Temple at the heart of the city.
We’ve just done the same. We’ve walked from a hill above the Roman Verulamium, across the valley, through the SE gate and into this place of worship at the centre of the former Roman town. Just a few feet to our north, archaeologists are uncovering the footprint of the huge building at the centre of that town, the basilica. Friends, we stand on ancient ground, a place which echoes the city Jesus came to on Palm Sunday.
What the Bible doesn’t tell us about Palm Sunday is that when Jesus was entering the SE of the city, someone else was coming into the city at the opposite corner, the NW.
- Jesus was going up to a festival called Passover. This was a big celebration that would have attracted thousands of people to Jerusalem. It would have worried the Romans who had to keep order in Palestine. How were they going to control all these people? This was a particular problem because the Roman Governor didn’t live in Jerusalem. He was based in Caesarea Maritima, a fort on the coast.
- So, at around the same time Jesus was coming into Jerusalem for the Passover from the SE, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would have been marching in from the NW.
- Jesus’ action on the donkey sets up a contrast. He was on a gentle animal used for farming and trade; Pilate would have been astride a massive warhorse. The contrast is obvious: Jesus’ action questioned how the Romans ruled. What he did said that God’s kingdom is so different from the way humans bully and force one another.
- The crowds realised that Jesus was different. Hosanna! (Praise!) they cried. Blessed is the one who comes in God’s name – the King of Israel. No wonder Pilate felt as if Jesus was a threat to his power.
Usually on Palm Sunday after walking with Dandy the donkey we come into church and hear a dramatised story of Good Friday. Its really important to tell the story of Good Friday – but there are problems with doing this on Palm Sunday.
- I want to hear the story of Good Friday on Good Friday.
- And if we tell the story of Good Friday on Palm Sunday, there is part of the story of Palm Sunday we easily miss out.
So today, instead of the usual dramatised passion, we heard from Matthew 21:
- The tables of the money changers were overthrown. It was a dramatic action – almost as crazy as inviting Steve Walsh into St Michael’s with a ladder and wire to rearrange the furniture.
- Why did Jesus overturn the tables? And what is he overthrowing today?
- some people had come to the Temple to do business – make money by changing the coins of visitors.
- But Jesus said that the Temple was to be a house of prayer.
- Do you come to church for the right reason? Fellowship and singing and (amazing) sermons are all very well but Jesus wants us to put friendship with God first. Above all else, we come to church to pray. On Palm Sunday is Jesus overturning the table of your priorities?
- The money changers were allowed to work in the Temple because Roman coins were offensive to Jews. I had the privilege of holding a Roman coin just ten days ago, dug up beside the basilica. I could see the Emperor’s head on one side and a wild looking pagan god on the back. I can see why the Jews wouldn’t have liked these and why they would have wanted visitors in the Temple to use only special, holy money.
- In getting rid of the moneychangers, Jesus didn’t want to stop people coming to the Temple – quite the opposite. He knew that God was for everyone – and the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations [Mk 11.17].
- What are the barriers to this church being a house of prayer for all nations? Do we really greet and treat one another (especially the stranger) as equals? On Palm Sunday is Jesus overturning the table of your prejudice?
- Jesus also chucked out the seats of those who sold doves. These birds were intended for being killed in sacrifice so as to set people free from sin.
- Jesus knew that his death would be the ultimate sacrifice to set his followers free.
- Do you accept that sacrifice in your hearts? That question lies at the centre of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday is Jesus overturning the table of your doubt?
It is sometimes said that Christ comes to comfort the disturbed – and disturb the comfortable. The overthrowing disturbance of Palm Sunday leaves us with more questions than answers. We need time to see where the story is going. That’s why our invitation is Walk with us to Easter. Details are on the publicity cards So walk the whole path to Easter. Don’t just jump to 9.30 next Sunday. Especially don’t miss out Good Friday – but mark it in its correct place.
Palm Sunday is a dramatic beginning to the greatest week in human history. In one day Jesus challenged Roman generals and Jewish priests by overturning their world. How is he overturning yours? Walk with us to Easter.