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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday - Passion Sunday

2013-03-24 24 Hours That Changed the World - The Crucifixion

A series loosely based on Adam Hamilton's book

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

Mark 15:25-39

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.[ 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!"31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[ until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

Over the past weeks we've been getting ready for Easter. The church calls this, Lent. It's a special season. And seasons, as you know, change. You know how when the wind changes and you can tell a season's coming or going? That's happening today. The wind of the spirit is changing. Lent's about to take a hard turn into Holy Week.  

Today's Palm Sunday. The best part of Palm Sunday is always the children's processional with the palm branches. We let the kids re-enact the story for us. Why? Because most adults wouldn't do it. Some of you would. And we know who you are. But we're Presbyterian. So we make the kids our proxy, our substitutes. They have such innocence. They don't really know what they're doing, but they gladly do it anyway.

In Mark, Chapter 11, we hear the story.

When [Jesus and the disciples] were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?"6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

That's the Palm Sunday story. But Palm Sunday's also known by another name. It's also called, Passion Sunday. As the first day in Holy Week, Passion Sunday is the sad flipside of Palm Sunday. Passion Sunday is for the grown ups, we grown ups, who know what we're doing, and we do it anyway.

In the Bible, the grown-ups with the palms hail Jesus as a conquering hero. There's even a little political jab thrown in. A Roman hero would ride into town on a magnificent white stallion. Jesus rides into town on the back of a borrowed, little gray donkey. It's a not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Roman occupation. Palm Sunday's not quite as innocent as we lead the children to believe. The palm people knew what they were doing. Jesus' Triumphal Entry is a sign that the season's about to change.

Think of a turning point in your life. The end of one season, and the start of another. Learning to ride a bike. Getting your driver's license. Getting married. Getting divorced. Retirement. Seasons change. Sometimes we can see them coming. Sometimes they sneak up on us. Sometimes a sharp turn of life whacks our head against the window and leaves us wondering, "What just happened?"

Any change in life's seasons signals an ending, as well as a beginning. Love blooms, and a long, cold-spell of the heart begins to thaw. We get older, and our feet turn permanently cold; but what we lose in feeling we gain in the warmth of wisdom. Endings are always also beginnings. And that can be confusing. Sometimes we know what's happening, we know what we're doing. Other times, we just get blown around and dropped off. We know not what we're doing, or even where we are.

Somewhere in the time between the Palms and the Passion of the Christ, the season changes. It's hard to say exactly when, but it does. Somewhere between the this Sunday and Easter, the winds start to swirl. Before we get to the miracle of Easter, there's a lot of weather's headed our direction.


From Palm to Passion. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero, and left it a convicted criminal. That's hardly a surprise, if you know human nature.

It's no surprise that people like to knock heroes off their high horses. We do it all the time. One minute you're a conqueror, king of the world. The next minute, 60 Minutes is digging through your trash. The supermarket tabloids have headlines with exclamation points. So, it's no surprise that one day the crowds are singing praise to Jesus, and the next day, they're taunting him and calling for his death. That's the way we treat heroes. The crowds knew what they were doing. A person's a person, no matter how small, and petty, and predictable. People never change.

But that's assuming there's only one crowd in a city the size of Jerusalem. Very possibly, there was the crowd with palms who welcomed Jesus, and another crowd who called for his crucifixion. Maybe the winds of change carried one group out and blew a whole new one in. Groups change. Faces change. The world's so big. Nobody's got the whole picture, and we know not what we're doing, or what that group's doing over there, or what that other bunch is doing over there, with Dennis Rodman, and nuclear warheads. The players are always changing. People change.

Any of you ever gone to a reunion? What's the first thing people say when they see each other? "You haven't changed a bit!" They're lying. And then you hang out with these people for a while, and you talk and swap stories, and you hear the things they say, and you think, "25 years. They haven't changed a bit."

People change. People never change.

But we're changing all the time.

It's Palm Sunday; we're happy.

It's Passion Sunday; we're sad.

Hosanna! Crucify!

We know not what we're doing.

But oh yes, yes we do.

At least, we think we do.

And that's always the thing that gets us.

We THINK we know.

We THINK we know the time, the season, the day, the events.

We THINK we know the people around us.

We THINK we know ourselves.

We THINK we do.

To which Jesus says from the cross, "Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do."


In the According to Luke, chapter 23, verse 34, Jesus looks down from the cross at these... these people. Sees them casting lots for his clothes. Hears their taunts. And he prays the most compassionate prayer, maybe the most compassionate prayer of all time. As these people are driving nails through his hands and feet, he looks to heaven and says, "Father, forgive them." Why? "For they know not what they do."

Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday. Standard time, Savings time. Is it winter, is it spring? Are you getting wiser or is the world just getting dumber? Can we change for the better? Can we change at all? Somedays, yes. Somedays, no. I thought I had things figured out, but then this happened, and it knocked me on my donkey.

Oh, Father, please forgive us, for we know not what we do.

We're just not big enough, or smart enough to be able to see the big picture, from heaven. Or even from the top of a cross. We're children. We know not what we do.

And Jesus prays, "Forgive them."

"Forgive them."

And just like that, the wind changes.

A new season begins.

You might be wanting your life to change. And you're so frustrated, frustrated yourself, with people, with God, that it doesn't change.

You might be sick and tired of living in a whirlwind. And you're worn out, dizzy, anxious. So frustrated with yourself, with people, with God.

Maybe you're just surfing the waves of life. Good for you. But if you ever should get knocked off, you're going to want to know, that Jesus is still praying, "Father forgive him, Father forgive her, for she knows not...."

Whether you're shouting "Hosanna!" or "Crucify!" or "I just don't really know what, not really sure I care?" Whatever crowd you find yourself in today, rest assured, another one will blow in tomorrow. The winds of change won't solve all your problems. A new season will bring problems of its own. But whispered beneath the winds and seasons is the prayer of Jesus that stays the same for all time: "Forgive them." Forgive them.

What if - between today and Easter - we all stopped worrying so much about where we stand, stopped obsessing so much about what's on our minds, and what he or she did to us or didn't do for us? What if set our focus and prayed every day like Jesus did? Prayed every day even for the people who think they know darn well what they do and do it anyway? Prayed for ourselves?

Father, forgive them. Forgive them. Forgive me.