a sermon on Mark 15:1-39 for Palm & Passion Sunday
As they shouted their “Hosannas,” the people were clearly ready for a king for the ages, for someone to come and make everything different. They wanted someone to cast off the chains of oppressive Roman rule, to cut off the aggressive and corrupt tax system, to free them to make their own decisions about life in their beloved holy city. They sought a king to stand in the line of their beloved ancestor David, to have the good of the people in mind at every turn, to bring the temple and the city out of the shadows of the empire and back to its former glory. They longed for someone to bring them together again, to set up a new and glorious age of home rule, to make a way for the scattered people of Israel to be one once more.
The crowds gathered expecting a king for the ages, but the echoes of their “Hosannas” had barely died down before Jesus began to shatter their expectations. He overturned tables in the temple and drove out those who were selling things there. He repeatedly questioned the authority of the religious leaders who focused on the letter of the law while missing its spirit. He taught that love of God and love of neighbor stand far above duty to any earthly kingdom. And when he was confronted by the authorities of the day and charged with upsetting the order of things, he shattered their expectations completely by going to his death when he could have denied it and saved his own life.
With each passing day, Jesus turned their expectations of a king for the ages upside down again and again. By time Friday rolled around, with their expectations of a king for the ages completely shattered, the crowd’s exaltation of this one coming to save turned to new shouts of “Crucify him!” And by the end of that gruesome day, this king for the ages lay dead, convicted on trumped-up charges, sent to his death on the shouts of a blood-hungry crowd, executed by the most cruel means imaginable, all expectations of a king for the ages abandoned forever on that forlorn hill.
Our expectations of Jesus are just as easily shattered. We look to him to give us easy answers that require little further consideration—and instead receive hard truths that leave us pondering how to respond. We turn to him expecting a magic solution to our problems—only to find that the fixes we expected were not what he intends. We think of Jesus as “ours,” as one who belongs to us and so fits in a little box of our own design and construction—while missing the point that we cannot define him at all, let alone try to limit who he is or how he works in our world. And we figure that more careful adherence to his standards will set our world on a better course—while missing the core understandings of justice, peace, and transformation that stand at the center of his words and actions.
The events of this Holy Week remind us that our expectations of Jesus do not define him as king for the ages—instead, he shows us a new and different way of living in the world as he redefines what it means to be king altogether. In Mark’s telling of this story, we hear Jesus repeatedly named as “King of the Jews” or “Messiah”—even though we know that that he will never be the kind of king recognized by his royal robes or bejeweled scepter. This king casts off the chains of Roman oppression not by overturning the government of the day that promised the “peace of Rome” through military power but by instituting a kingdom of peace through submission to the powers of the world that mock his kingdom altogether. This king suffers violence beyond imagination without ever succumbing to it, opening a way beyond domination and bloodshed that still guides us today. And this king brings us hope for something more, for just when we think that all is lost in his death, we learn that God has more in store for him and for us.
Jesus is king for the ages not because the crowds shout “Hosanna” upon his arrival or because they see one who will overturn the political and religious rulers of the day. Instead, he is king for the ages because he shatters every human expectation for a king and gives us a new pattern for life in our world that begins when he sets aside all our fear of death and its minions by opening the way to new life.
So as we journey through this Holy Week, as the echoes of our “Hosannas” quickly fade, as Jesus’ path of self-giving service and love opens before us, as we remember the last meal he shared with his disciples, as we retrace his footsteps through trial, execution, and death, may we set aside our expectations of glory and proclaim this king for the ages in all our living so that we can experience all the more the gift of this week and share it with joy and hope as the pathway through death to resurrection is opened for all. Thanks be to God! Amen.