Last week as I prepared my Palm Sunday sermon I went through at least four drafts. As I told the congregation usually multiple drafts means the expulsion of several hundred if not a couple thousand words. Last week, however, the words kept coming - eight full pages plus an additional couple in extended notes and questions I wanted to tackle. Finally on Friday afternoon I asked myself what was going on.
My main quandary centered on all of the questions of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Even though I do not like the combination of Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday - I understand the liturgical importance of celebrating both on the day. I tried to ask questions from the point of view of the religious and political authorities: why was Jesus perceived as such a threat? I have a shelf full of books answering this question, all from a social-scientific perspective. I can describe countless peasant bandits in first century Palestine, Roman taxation policies, and importance of Mark's specific usage of "Gentiles" in chapter 10. But this stuff is hard to formulate in a narrative more or less a sermon. Nevertheless if folk do not spend some time on why Jesus was killed then the surprise of Easter Sunday aint what it could be.
So I scrapped my lengthy sermon and went with a hybrid bible study/sermon. I wanted to wrestle with some questions: What was Jesus doing in Jerusalem the day we call Palm Sunday? Why were the folk waving palms and singing portions of Psalm 118? What did the cleansing of the Temple and the foretelling of its destruction look like from a Roman perspective?
The reaction: I could not believe how receptive folk were to it. I even surprised myself with some of the stuff I said! As we walked through Jesus' time in the City I was struck by how if the story ended on Good Friday it would still have been a transformational story. Why? Take the Last Supper story - God in Jesus Christ giving everything God has, Godself. Of course we read the story on the other side of the Resurrection but it is quite a story on pre-Resurrection side (but is there really any pre-Resurrection portion of the New Testament? Or any word that is not shaped by the Resurrection?). I asked folk this week just to stay with the story up till then so we can be surprised by God's mighty work on Easter.