Palm Sunday Remarks

I have the head table in church today, and this is what I plan to say. I need to prepare my remarks somewhere. By "head table", I am officiating the Lord’s Supper. In my church, we take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. One layperson takes the podium (pulpit) and shares some thoughts to prepare the congregation’s hearts and minds for the Lord’s Supper. Four men take the bread (Matzo crackers) then fruit of the vine (Welch’s Grape Juice) and serve them to the congregation. Then out of convenience the collection is taken up. Then the ministers get up to do the sermon. It’s simply the way the church I attend handles things. I believe most Churches of Christ do it the same way. Though many churches have traditions and other ways of taking the Lord’s Supper, I can’t find any specific chapter on how often or or exactly how to go about it. We simply try to "this do in remembrance of me" as best we can. A thought did occur to me as I was processing my thoughts for my remarks that Jesus possibly meant this to be done as part of the Passover celebration, which the church normally doesn’t observe. I was thinking of the anti-Semitism that developed in the early church and how the church parted ways with the Judaism it was born of. There is a lot of interesting reading on that subject; more than I have time to go into here.

As a side note, although many Christians believe that the wine is to be non-alcoholic and as such serve grape juice instead, I do personally believe that it was alcoholic wine served at the Last Supper based on a simple fact of agriculture. The grape harvest was in October in ancient Israel. Until I see a special on the History Channel showing some ancient refrigeration system used to keep grape juice fresh all year, I’ll have to assume that the only way to keep grapes until March or April is to ferment them. It would have to have been wine that was used in the cup at the Last Supper based on that. However, I am aware that many Christians prefer the non-alcoholic grape juice. I have better things to do than fight about it. I’m also sure that Jesus passed more than a little plastic thimble-cup around, but again, we do the best we can with what we have on a Sunday morning in between the opening songs and the sermon.

Remarks:

Good morning. Many of you know that I love history, and so I love to get up here and officiate the Lord’s Supper on a day that has some historical or prophetic significance. It’s much easier for me to come up with something to say on days like this. I was talking with my wife yesterday asking for her input on what I’m going to say today, and I brought up that we’re approaching the holiest day of the year for Christians. She said "No, it’s the holiest week." I honestly never thought of it that way. We all know that next Sunday is Easter, the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Messiah. The Jews were given a set of days to observe in the Torah, the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. They had seventy days in all, counting the Sabbaths and all of the holy days such as Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Under ancient Judaism, only on Yom Kippur could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the temple after an extensive ritual of cleansing, sacrifice, and preparation. The High Priest entered with a rope tied to him in case he did something wrong and God struck him dead. With the rope, the other priests could drag him out. I have no idea what was done for the rest of Yom Kippur in those cases, which I’m sure were rare.

Our faith was born out of Judaism. Our Lord is a Jew. The first Christians were Jews. Somewhere along the early path, however, the two split. We can see from the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s early writings that many Jews were hostile to the early Christians. The first persecutions came from Jews, including the very writer of some of our favorite books in the Bible, Saul of Tarsus. The church, for a variety of reasons, parted ways with Judaism. For Jews, the holiest day of the year is still Yom Kippur, for us, it’s Easter, which I call Resurrection Day at times.

I’ve heard somewhere that you can tell what is most important to someone by how much time, money, or energy he or she devotes to it. How much of the Bible is devoted to the Creation? A couple of chapters in Genesis, some spattering of verses in the Psalms, a little bit in Isaiah… How much of the Bible is devoted to the redemption? Pretty much the rest of it. What did the creation cost God? Seven days. How much did the redemption cost Him? His son.

Before I continue, I thought it would be interesting to see how much each of the Gospel writers devoted just to this week.

Out of 28 Chapters, 8 of Matthew’s are about this very week we’re celebrating. That is 28%. Mark spent 6 of 16 chapters, or 38%. Luke wrote about this week for 5 1/2 out of 24 chapters, or 23%. John must have really wanted to make a point because 8 1/2 of his 21 chapters or roughly 40% were devoted just to this week. I don’t even count Chapter 21 as it talks about events that happened AFTER the resurrection. Perhaps whoever is up here next week, if you haven’t thought of anything else yet, could figure out the percentage of text devoted just to the resurrection.

Now for the point. Many of you know that I like rabbit trails and it can take me a while to make a point.  Today is the day on our Christian calendar known as Palm Sunday. This is the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as He came knowing that He would be put to death and raised three days later. Jesus did not enter Jerusalem in a vacuum. Though we know and believe that He will return, we know not the day nor the hour. Many waste a lot of time and credibility speculating when Jesus will come back. Many have done foolish things expecting the return of Jesus. In about 1847 or 1848, one movement believed that Jesus would return that year. I am probably oversimplifying when I say that most of them sold their houses and sat on a hill waiting for Jesus’ return. I’m not sure what part of "occupy till I return" that they missed. His return may be a mystery for very good reasons, but his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey on a specific day was not, and He held them accountable to know that. Many of the people seemed to know, and the religious leaders seemed to understand but rather than joy they acted angrily. Let’s read this account:

Please turn to Luke 19. You can also find accounts of the triumphal entry in Matt 21, Mark 11, and John 12, but I think Luke captures the Pharisees’ reaction the best. Dan and Steve, I know you’re both working very hard on a sermon series from Luke about the road to Jerusalem, and I pray that I don’t take anything you had planned to say this morning.

[28] When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.[29] And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage* and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples,[30] saying, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here.[31] “And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”[32] So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.[33] But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, “Why are you loosing the colt?”[34] And they said, “The Lord has need of him.”[35] Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.[36] And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.[37] Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen,[38] saying:

‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’*

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

[39] And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”[40] But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

I think the other Gospel writers capture the quote from Psalm 118 better, but Luke’s account is worth the read for verses 39 and 40. We sing Psalm 118 verse 24 often enough. "This is the day that the Lord has made." The people were singing from verse 26. I think the triumphal entry was the day that the Lord has made, which is the point Jesus is making in verse 40. This day has been so appointed on God’s calendar that the stones would have sung Jesus in if the people didn’t. The Pharisees understood this, but rather than welcome Jesus as Messiah, they saw Him as a blasphemer.

This is what we’re observing today as we prepare to follow Jesus’ instruction to "this do in remembrance of me." As Matthew quotes the people in Matt 21:9 "

[9] Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’*

Hosanna in the highest!”

Hosanna to the Son of David. Let us pray.

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