Sermons are part of a conversation between the preacher and the congregation.
You can read most of the sermons preached at Faith in the past few years here. This archive is a blog, which is duplicated on Blogger. You may add comments here or in the blog if you wish.
If you would like to see the readings planned for the next few weeks, click here.
Text: Mark 1:11–11 and Mark 14:1—15:47
The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It is also moves the quickest. It starts fast and ends suddenly. Scenes are jammed together, one thing happens immediately—Mark’s favorite word—immediately after the other. Short and sweet.
Which is also what sermons are supposed to be on this day. Preachers are advised, the handbook says, not to preach at all, or at least hardly at all. The text is supposed to speak for itself.
Except it does not. At least the way things are arranged on this unusual, double-named Sunday. Palm and Passion. One moment Jesus is greeted as a king would be. The next, as we will hear about in a few minutes, he is condemned to death, mocked as king, and executed. Immediately, it seems, from glory to humiliation.
But that abruptness is not in the Gospel story. It is an artifact of the church’s fear that people would skip the Passion, the church’s crabbiness that many people go from the triumph of the Palms to the triumph of Easter, skipping over the carefully detailed drama of Holy Week and the cross altogether. So we get the Passion now, a few days premature.
In Mark, the frantic pace of things at the beginning of the Gospel is not present at the end. Time flows differently, more slowly. Two thirds of Mark is about the life of Jesus up until his arrival in Jerusalem about which we just heard. (There are no palms, by the way, in Mark’s of account of Palm Sunday, or in Luke’s or Matthew’s. They appear only in John). One third of Mark’s Gospel is about Jesus’ last week. And half of that is about the trial and execution. It is as if the camera zooms quickly in from the big picture, gradually slowing down as it focuses on what Mark, as director, wants us to see as the main point.
Organizing the readings as we do today is like showing clips rather than the whole movie. We would do well sometime, on this Sunday of the year, to read the entire Gospel of Mark. It would take about ninety minutes. What we would learn is that it is all one story about one Jesus.
We would learn that something happens with Jesus from the time he arrives in Jerusalem until his trial. It is not just empty space. We would hear some of the most memorable parts of Mark that we now miss. Of Jesus tossing the check-cashers and religious objects salespeople from the Temple (calling these honest merchants a bunch of thieves). Of his teaching that with enough faith we might throw a mountain into the sea, that we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to God that which is God’s. And of his admiration for the widow who gave all she had. We would hear him denounce those in authority and predict the destruction of God’s house, the Temple. We would see that the death of Jesus is the predictable end of the life of Jesus. And that he is killed not because people hate the good but because Jesus actions make them as worried, angry, afraid, and protective as we would be, and often are.
We would learn that the life of Jesus is not a bunch of episodes, like beads on a string, any more than ours is. One event does not explain or validate another, nor does one thing undo another. The ministry of Jesus is not vindicated by his Palm Sunday procession. And that triumph is not undone by the events of the Passion. And that sorrow is not overturned by his resurrection, which we celebrate one short week from today. His life, like ours, was glory and sadness woven together; hopes met and unmet, both; plans both fulfilled and frustrated, like ours.
Perhaps it seems absurd to say so, but in Mark it is not all about Jesus. In Mark, the people by the roadside cry “blessed is the coming kingdom” not, as in the other Gospels, the king. The joy of Palm Sunday, and the heartbreak of Passion Sunday, and the hope of Easter Sunday are all one story, the same story. We cannot, do not, have one without the rest. It is a story about a new realm, God’s kingdom. And about our deep longing for it, and about our struggles finding it, and about the promise of hope given to us by God through Christ that it will come to be. It is a story that speaks for itself. Let us hear it. (reading follows).