Toorak Uniting Church

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The servant King

Luke 19: 28 – 40
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
4 April 2004

Isn’t Palm Sunday a bit of an odd Sunday? Waving Palm leaves in a celebratory atmosphere while we all know what is going to happen next week? Doesn’t it seem a bit pointless and even a bit hypocritical to be celebrating at the beginning of a week where we will think of the suffering and death of our Messiah?

We all know what is going to happen, don’t we? We all know that the people in the story were rejoicing for all the wrong reasons, should we then join them? Wave our own palm leaves and shout hosanna with them? Will it not be better to wait for Easter and do a proper celebration after the whole story has been told?
Would not muted and quiet tones be more appropriate at the beginning of a week of remember the dreadful things that happened to our Lord and Master?
What is there to rejoice about today?
We read the story of a man cheered on one moment and condemned the next. By the same people.
A man who knows he is travelling to a gruesome death while others are still happily unaware and dreaming all sorts of illusionary dreams. A lonely man whose friends haven’t yet cottoned on to the fact that they are heading for disaster and whose enemies are watching him with Argus’ eyes hoping to find something they can nail him to the cross with. Shouting hosanna and Son of David is definitely not going to help is it?

Isn’t it a rather sad and tragic story? Shouldn’t this be a day where we should feel compassion and grief at so much misunderstanding, mis-representing, mis-interpretation?

Well, in a way it is. The other name for this Sunday is Passion Sunday. Usually used when not the gospel reading about Jesus entry into Jerusalem on a foal is the main focus but the reading from Philippians:

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross."

And it is in this text from Philippians it becomes clear why we celebrate today. What is worth waving leaves around and joining in with the hosannas and praises to the Son of David that sounded so long ago.

Because this entry into Jerusalem is the beginning of a sea change in human history. Here is a man who is equal to God in all but form, righteous, loving, full of mercy, healing those around him with astounding power, giving life, sharing wholeness and peace. Somebody who’d deserve to be King, who would have had all the power and the leadership potential to start a revolution but who chooses, consciously, not to travel down that road. Who shies away from a show of power, who on the contrary shows his vulnerability and refuses to be on a par with those who move in the corridors of power on mighty horses clad in armour. This king enters the city on the back of a donkey, a foal, without so much as a saddle.

A man who is greeted as king, a model of calm authority and humility: Tell them the Lord needs it…… A man who expects to be obeyed and knows that even the stones would pay homage to him if the people would fail. A man that very consciously lets the Cadillac that could have been his, go for a mount of little status. A man who shows he is free to go and suffer and die for God’s purposes and has come to accept his fate. Obedient onto death. Humbling himself, taking the form of a slave, choosing not to exploit his being Godlike. Not in any way mounting any high horse.

That is what we celebrate today. That such is the King of our lives: free from the hunger for power and the craving of possession. Obedient to death is what makes him God, committed to living a life of love and peace and mercy even where it might have dire consequences.

That is what we celebrate today: That there is a King that is different and that it is that King who, through suffering and death showed us the way to new life. That somebody showed that when we manage to break loose from the power struggles and desire to prove ourselves, but instead become servants and practice a life directed by humility and the obedience of God’s will rather than the acquiring of status and more status, we are in God’s hands, with God bringing us and the whole world through us to rights.

A King on a donkey. It is not surprising that a lot of those who shouted hosanna on that first Palm Sunday (we don’t even know if it was a Sunday) turned away after they found out what kind of King they had been cheering on. Because it is not easy to follow in his footsteps and let go of all status and standing and live in obedience to God a life of love, peace and servanthood. And perhaps that is another reason to celebrate, that through the centuries there still are people who chose to follow that King, consciously chose to follow in his footsteps, let themselves be liberated from what the world sees as desirable and opportune, but instead travel the road that leads to the new creation.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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