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Mark 11:1-11a

Palm Sunday, March 24, 2024

Holy Trinity Cathedral


“The Power of One”


I speak to you in the power of our crucified Lord, who lived, died, and rose again that we may be part of God’s saving work now.  Amen.


Powerful people can do great harm or great good.  They have ability to direct armies, build empires, set laws, and change the lives of ordinary people with a word or a weapon.  Power comes in various ways.  It may be the result of democratic decision that thrusts individuals into the spotlight.  Others build economic empires, which then have an impact on many systems.  Some grasp military might.  A few are born into power, through hereditary monarchies and positions.  Still more parlay their influence through intrigue and allegiances.  And once in power, these titans have to work to retain their hold over people.  Often, it is through persuasion and fear that there is no alternative; that we cannot trust any other narrative.  Believe in the one: there is no other. 


Look at who is powerful in our world today.  Not the people we admire, but the ones who hold a real balance of power over lives of many.  Donald Trump? Elon Musk? Vladimir Putin? Not all powerful people are in the spotlight.  Behind the scenes of some of the world’s largest conflicts and crises are shadowy figures.  Think of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, cartels, criminal networks, party committees and company boards.  Yet inside each group, there is a leader or leaders that are directing the action.  They just haven’t stepped forward to show the rest of the world that they are the one.  The group protects their anonymity in order to protect the power base. 


In Jesus’ time, some familiar names in the Bible stories point to who had control over society.  The emperor of Rome was far away but exercised domination over occupied Israel through his appointed legate, Pontius Pilate.  The military might of the Roman army was on the ground throughout the country to make sure everyone kept in line.  The Jewish king, Herod, was a puppet of Rome, allowed to be a figurehead of the subject population in return for not interfering with politics or programs.  Herod was supported by the other families of the Jewish aristocracy, who wanted to hold onto the wealth and status they could retain.  And as long as they didn’t mess with anything that mattered, the Jewish Temple functionaries under Caiphas the high priest, and the Council- or Sanhedrin- could practice their religion.  This appeared to keep the status quo without giving away power.


Problems emerged when Jews challenged the right or might of Roman power.  Anyone who started dangerous conversations about reclamation, revision, or revolution had to be eliminated.  The Jewish authorities didn’t want their tenuous privileges cut off.  The Romans couldn’t risk a home-grown plot against the empire.  Both groups had been watching this Jesus of Nazareth very carefully, as his teaching and ministry brought him closer to the centre of power in Jerusalem.  They had been looking for an opportunity to shut him down.  The title “Messiah” that had been given to him by the people is the catch point.  It was seditious to the Roman Empire, and blasphemous to the Jewish priests and scribes.  Now this Messiah is coming into Jerusalem.  The stage is set for a showdown.


Jesus challenges the power of Rome and Jerusalem by entering the city, but not in the way they had expected.  He doesn’t ride in on a warhorse like a conqueror returning to claim the throne of David.  He orchestrates his entrance to demonstrate humility and sacred purpose.  Instead of a horse, his disciples are directed to bring him a colt-a young donkey.  Instead of armour and jewelled harnesses, he is seated on a follower’s cloak.  But despite (or maybe because) of the expectations of the people, he is greeted with Messianic acclamations.  People strew their cloaks and leafy branches in the road like a royal carpet.  They sing his praises and gather in procession to lead him to the sacred centre of the Temple.  They even have a campaign slogan: “Hosanna!” which means “Save Now!”.  It is both a cry to God and to Jesus to make Israel great again.  In this moment, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, are swept up in the joy that here is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 


He is, but his power will not lie in human might.  He is not here to start an armed revolt against Rome.  He is not going to depose Herod.  Nor is he going to take on the role of chief priest or head of the Council.  His challenge to the status quo will take him on a path that few of these people in the crowds will follow.  In this next week, they will abandon Jesus because he does not meet their expectations.  They do not see his power.  What happened to “Save Now”?


For the disciples who witness the passion and death, salvation happens at the cross.  In Jesus’ death, they come to see the power of God to change the world.  Each person who comes to be known as a Christian is called to be what that word means: a “little Christ”.  In accepting his suffering and sacrifice, we become part of the one power.  We are made part of the Body of Christ.  Our hands take up the cross.  Our feet carry it into the world to challenge the powers of our age. 


This morning, we bless and distribute palm crosses in remembrance of our sacred story.  But they are not just keepsakes to tuck in a special place in our homes.  These are signs of our true power base.  Most Christians are not rich, or noble, influential, educated, or clever.  But we are one with Jesus.  As we process out of this church, we carry these palm crosses high because each of us is a crucifer.  Each of us is a cross-bearer to the world.  When we cry “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” we are affirming that Jesus is the one with the power to save, now.  Hosanna!  Amen.