Below is the text for FBC OKC's Palm Sunday service. We invite you to come and join us as we head into the streets of Jerusalem and begin our Holy Week journey toward Easter morning.
The dramatic processional we experienced as we began worship this morning - with banners waving and children bearing palms -give us just a hint of what it must have been like when Jesus came into Jerusalem to begin the week in Jerusalem that would lead to the cross. Luke paints a vibrant picture of Jesus riding in on a small colt or donkey, a symbol of humility rather than claiming the image of the grand stead that would have been claimed by the kings and military leaders of the day. Jesus comes into the city that sits in the center of all of Judaism, the home of the temple; it’s the capital city and the cultural point of identity. The crowds gathered. You could feel something in the air. Something important was about to happen. Luke recounts; 37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" The Gospels of Matthew and Mark add the images of the crowd going in front of Jesus, throwing their cloaks in front of him, ripping limps from the palms trees and laying a path in front of Jesus. The growing crowd added their shouts of “Hosanna to Son of David” “Hosanna in the Highest!” Instead of the grand procession staged by the Roman legions with soldiers clad in imposing helmets and impressive eagle crested shining breast plates waving huge military banners and sounding trumpets; instead of the grand worship processions lead by the temple priest dressed in colorful robes and rife with religious flourishes; the parade staged that morning was defined by the common rabble that followed Jesus and other every day laborers gathered along the roadside that morning. I wish I could have been there and seen this moment with my own eyes, to hear the heartfelt cries of celebration with my own ears. I would have loved to lift my voice with their voices in praise of Jesus.
There were some witnesses of this moment who rather than join in the songs of celebration instead brought judgment and condemnation. The Pharisees, the religious rule keepers, the fundamentalist of that era, could not stand what they were seeing. The one from Nazareth; this itinerant teacher, preacher and healer; this one who claimed he could forgive sin; this one people had begun calling Messiah, now dared to enter the city to the cheers of his disciples and the growing throngs along the road side. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd could not stand it any longer and said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" Make them be quiet. Make them stop.
Jesus was a master of using the common, the ordinary, to help people understand what he was saying clearly. This moment was no different. There on that dusty, rocky road into the city, Jesus responds. I can see him gesturing to his disciples and then the stone along the roadside as he says, “I will tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Can you imagine the look on their faces? I wonder if they huffed off like spoiled children or if anyone of them – even one of them – heard Jesus tell them that God was up to something so big, so improbable, so impossible – that if the disciples were quiet then these lifeless dirt covered stones would come to life and cry out to God in praise?!
Over the Lenten season many in our midst have been taking part in a 40 day journey to hear the whole of the New Testament. Each week I have tried to bring passage that emerged from what they were hearing. They now move toward the close of their journey and in one of the later books of New Testament we hear a return to the image of stones. This time the stones have life. Hear the words of I Peter 2:4-5. 4As you come to him (Jesus), the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We, like the writer of I Peter, come to this passage- come to this moment- on this side of the Easter story. Those gathered on the roadside into Jerusalem singing and shouting God’s praise could not have begun to imagine the week that was to come. Our temptation in Holy Week services, born out of a sincere effort not to rush the Easter story, is to almost pretend that we do not know what it going to happen. The reality is that we do know. We know that the Triumphant Entry will lead to the cleansing of the temple, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross, and the tomb. Jesus understood the significance of what was happen on the road that morning. He understood that something so big, so improbable, so impossible was about to happen – that grace was about to shower down, that forgiveness was about to win out, that death would be transformed into life. Jesus understood that the divine impossibility of God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that the world might be redeemed through Him was about to be played out. If the disciples had not been moved to praise then the dirty lifeless stones stir to life and would cry out.
I Peter tells us that we to be living stones – stones built together to be a temple – place of worship for God; stones lived out as witness – crying out in songs of faith to all those on the road; stones crying out in devotion, ministry, and worship – offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The idea of living stones can seem odd, even difficult for us. We can think about the brick and mortar that define this great church facility being built together, but we know with great confidence that they just clay and concrete. We can imagine the grand stones of marble that are shaped by the sculptures hands into remarkable works of art, but while the art is wondrous, it sits in silence. The dirty dusty stones may have shaped the roadside outside of Jerusalem, but they sat as still, hard, lifeless witnesses to the Triumphant Entry. The fact that we are so clear of bounds of stones makes the picture of their cries of worship, the image of us becoming living stones all the more powerful in contact of the Easter story. God has to do something to bring stones to life. It requires that divine improbability – that which is dead is transformed to life through Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul tries to explain how this happens; 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. I hear the words of the father speaking to the eldest faithful son when his capricious irresponsible son finally comes home in the story known as the Story of the Prodigal Son – I think better heard as the Story of the Loving Father found in the Gospel of Luke. Hear the father’s words that echo the heart of God; (Luke 15:31-32) 31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Here is the promise, we who were as dead to God as the stones on the roadside because of sin;, who were lost in the midst of our own angst; are brought to life by the redeeming act of God through Jesus. This simple idea is the very heart of the gospel. It invites us to let go of the heavy baggage of the yesterdays that haunt us and find forgiveness. It invites us who were a long way off from God to come home. It means that those of us who have claimed Christ for our lives can come again and again into the presence of God to find renewal, a spiritual refreshment that can help rise from the mundane that tends to claim our lives and replace it with the joy of walking with God – the gift of working with God for the sake of others. We get to witness God at work in the lives of others and in the life of our church. A lifeless stones brought to life we are built together to become a place where God is at home and where worship in word and deed rings out.
It is almost time for the parade to begin. Here he comes. You see him riding on that small colt? It is almost time to go with Jesus into the streets of Jerusalem for a week that changes everything. It will be a week of chaos and confusion, of a cross, a tomb, resurrection and redemption. We will celebrate services on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and claim a time of quiet time of prayer on Saturday leading us to Easter morn. Look, the crowds are gathering. Listen, the whole crowd of disciples are joyfully praising God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen. It is times for the living stones to cry out, to join our voices in praise for the Jesus who comes to redeem. Hosanna! Praise Be To God! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Lift your voices. Easter awaits us.