April 9, 2017 Sermon: “Walking Through Holy Week”

April 9, 2017

“Walking through Holy Week”

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

 Matthew 21:1-17

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 

3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 

8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 

13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”

Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.



We stand at the beginning of Holy Week.  Today we wave our palms in awe of a king, trying to pay attention to all the remarkable details of the story.

There is the energy of the crowd, of hundreds of thousands of people who have been waiting, waiting for centuries, for God’s warrior, God’s superman, to ride in from the Mount of Olives.

The noise almost overwhelms us, ringing in our ears are the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The people who raise their voices have been waiting since the author of Psalm 118 put pen to paper and wrote these very words, and we can feel their longing and desperation.


We watch Jesus ride from the conqueror’s mountain (according to Zechariah 14:4) to God’s holy temple and take charge with a show of might.  We might notice that the last time the city was in this kind of upheaval was over thirty years ago when there were rumors that a new king had been born and foreign kings marched into the city with gifts.


We watch Jesus’ face throughout it all.  We think he should be elated – this is the height of his popularity, a glorious moment of triumph, the people are with him – but his face is grim and his eyes look to a future we cannot yet see from our place in the crowd.


It has already begun – the plans to have Jesus arrested and tried and sentenced to death.

Jesus knows that once the crowds discover he is not who they expect, that he is not the superman they have been waiting for, they will turn on him and the people he loves, and cry out for his death.


Today on Palm Sunday we begin a great journey with Jesus toward Easter.


Our journey will take us through the heady feeling of joy when it feels like we might get everything that we want, when God is everything we expect, and it looks like what we hope for will be fulfilled.


Our journey will take us through disappointment – God does not do what we expect – what we want and what God wants turn out to be two very different things – and now we are angry.


Our journey will take us through friendship and a meal shared and feet washed, and then through betrayal.


Our journey will take us through injustice, through chaos and violence, through tears and pain, our journey will take us through death and the loss of all hope.


Our journey will take us through doubt and God-forsakenness.


Our journey will set us down in a place of darkness for a while.


Our journey will bring us at last to a new living hope, a hope so bright it almost blinds us, this is not at all the ending that we expected, but it was what God had planned all along.


And we will rejoice together at the end of this long week’s journey – because death has been overcome by life, our tears have become our song of joy, our expectations of God have been transformed, and we will walk together out of the darkness into God’s glorious new day.


Let me encourage you to walk through this week with intention.


Read the texts assigned for each day.  Hear the story.


Experience the story in worship if you can.


Today we hear the Hosannas, at the Maundy Thursday service at 7pm in the Fellowship Hall we will watch as the final meal is shared and Jesus says, “This is my body broken for you.” We will watch as the light of Jesus life goes out, as one by one the people nearest to him abandon him.  On Good Friday at Grace Lutheran church at noon we will sit with God’s suffering and death, feeling the weight of it on our own shoulders.  And on Easter morning we will together proclaim, “Christ is risen!”  Let this week overwhelm you.


Roman Catholic writer Ida Gorres writes, “Holy Week is beginning again, and here I am once more, feeling so unadjusted to it, so utterly inadequate.


Not that ‘heart of stone’ feeling, simply the sense of being completely out of proportion – something momentous, like Niagara Falls is thundering down, right beside me, and there I stand, with a thimble in my hand, and I’m supposed to dip in and collect something, catch it up, assimilate it, reacting properly, goodness knows how.”


This captures how I feel reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – it is like trying to catch a piece of Niagara Falls in a thimble.


What struck me reading it this time, was how quickly things can change.  In a matter of days, those crowds who cheer Jesus on became the executioners.


It only takes a moment for everything to change for us.  And we are very tempted to think that either God failed or we failed.


United Church of Christ pastor Lillian Daniel tells the story of one Palm Sunday many years ago.[1]  She writes how she loves Palm Sunday, all the pageantry and joy.


Shortly before Sunday her son was under the weather and her husband volunteered to do the doctor’s appointment and pick up the prescription, and she went to the gym to blow off some pre-holy week stress.


Her husband Lou called to say that their son Calvin had been admitted to the hospital because the doctor said he had diabetes.


Lillian says her first thought was, “I should have never let Lou take Cal to that appointment.  Lou has gone and messed everything up.”


And so she drove over to the hospital to set everyone straight.  But she instead was set straight about her son’s very serious type 1 diabetes that would make him dependent on insulin for the rest of his life.


The hospital would not release their 8 year old son until they, as parents, could prove that they could help him manage his condition, including giving him shots.


The parents were given saline in syringes to practice giving shots.  Lillian tried and hit muscle and her son cried out in pain and pulled away.  She left the hospital on Saturday to go home for a sleepless night, not knowing when her son could come home, having no idea what his life was going to be like from now on, not knowing if the hospital would release him for a couple hours the next day to come to church on Palm Sunday.


Lillian writes that because she loves Palm Sunday so much she had planned a triumphal procession with loud, joyful music and the introduction of new members.

But she sat in her office on Sunday morning wondering how she would make it through the morning and in came a young man in the medical field who was joining the church that day.


He asked how she was and she answered honestly, “I’m not doing great.  My son is in the hospital, diagnosed with diabetes out of nowhere.  Honestly, I’m a little shaky.”


And the young man said, “Type 1 or type 2 diabetes?”


And then he explained that he had type 1 diabetes also. It was the thing that drove him into medicine to be able to help others live healthy lives with this condition.


And then he said, “I think this is why I am joining the church today.  I am going to be a friend to your son, and help him deal with this.”  And he did.


When her son bounded into church later that morning he was full of hope.  He had decided that he didn’t want anyone else to give him his shot; he was going to do it himself from now on, and he did, and he was released from the hospital later that day.


Lillian writes, “I thought back to my devastating failure to give the shot.  I remember thinking that I had hit an all-time low, not just unable to help but contributing to the hurt.


But the lesson of Holy Week is that pain and sorrow do not have the last word.

My failure had opened up the way for my son to succeed.


While I would have given anything to have gotten it right, in the midst of my getting it wrong, God was working on the bigger picture.”


Palm Sunday reminds us that things can change for us –pain and struggle show up at our doors uninvited, disrupting our plans, doubts creep in, we feel like we have failed, or God has failed.


This is not what we signed up for.


Holy Week reminds us that even as we move through these unfamiliar and uncomfortable places in our lives, there is always Easter ahead of us.  There is always hope, and pain and sorrow never have the final word.  Amen.

[1] Lillian Daniel, “Things Turn Around,” Christian Century, April 21,2009.