Sermon for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Mark 11:1-11+Psalm 118:1-2.19-29
Philippians 2:5-11+Psalm 31:9-16+Mark 14:1-15:47

Given the texts that we read for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it is easy to see this as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. The part about the messiah coming in humility on a colt comes straight out of the prophet Zechariah (9:9). The shouts of hosanna and “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”  is Psalm 118. Everyone who joined in this celebration would have absolutely understood the symbolism.

I wonder, though, if there wasn’t a bit of theater included, as well. During the tense summer of hate in Charlottesville, a carnival troupe of artists and actors joined the demonstrations. The Carnival de Resistance showed up in protest but in a way that mirrors that of an old court jester – poking fun at very serious business. Using life-size puppets and acrobatic antics, the Carnival, in a way, laughed at the danger in front of it.

Jesus may have been the only one who understood this bit of theater as he rode on the back of that donkey. His followers never quite comprehended just how precarious his position was. He had been trying to tell them that he would suffer and die and rise again, but how could they believe something so preposterous? The messiah was going to inaugurate the reign of God, not die at the hands of the Roman oppressors! He was going to topple the powers and principalities so that the first would be last and the last would be first. Die and rise again? They couldn’t imagine such a thing.

I’m not sure that we, two millennia later, can really imagine such a thing, either. Somehow, we thought that God would do the heavy lifting to make this a world of justice and peace. That God would stop the mass shootings and the separation of families and the pandemic that continues to multiply in its deadly strains. We just get to walk along beside Jesus and shout “hosanna,” right?

The Methodist theologian and preacher Will Willimon preached a Palm Sunday sermon in which he drew on another famous preacher, Tom Long, in pondering the question, “who gets donkey duty?”[1] I mean, if everything is all up to Jesus, the details just get taken care of, right? Well, no. Jesus sends two of the disciples to find this donkey for him to ride. Long speculates that James and John got this unglamorous job. Just a few verses earlier, they were asking Jesus if they could sit at his right and his left. Apparently, Jesus’s response is to do the work that needs to be done. Someone had to arrange the transportation and the lodging, and the food for the Passover. It wasn’t all about being sent out to preach and heal and proclaim God’s reign.

And it still isn’t. The work of a disciple of Jesus is in the day-to-day caring for one another, picking up groceries for someone whose health puts them at risk right now, cooking a meal for someone (as so many of you did for me) in recovery from surgery, folding laundry at the shelter, writing letters and making phone calls to those in authority who can end this plague of gun violence. The long, slow work of the gospel is, and always has been, ours to do. God’s reign is not fully come until we make it so for everyone.

Maybe donkey duty isn’t what you thought you signed up for. The disciples and other followers of Jesus soon learned that they signed up for that and much more, with beatings, imprisonments, and martyrdom telling the story of the early Church.

Jesus came into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday in humility. He knew that his triumph was not the kind of triumph the world understood. We still don’t. Not entirely. So let us continue to do the work of the Church – the unheralded, unglamorous, sometimes messy ministries set before us. One day, we might look up and find God’s reign a little bit closer to fulfillment.


ASEPSermon for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas