Palm Sunday: “Revelation” 04/09/2017 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Today, on this Palm Sunday, scripture takes us from the back paths of Galilee to the great city of Jerusalem.  And, the transformation that Jesus brings moves from something quite personal to something provocatively public.  But before we step into the text for today, let us pray:  may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  AMEN.


Stacy: Two leaders enter into Jerusalem.

Kent: Two leaders come to the great city.

Stacy: One leader travels in a grand entourage, a military caravan. Surrounded by weapons, ornamented by gold, his purpose is to inspire awe and fear in the crowds. He is Pilate, the governor in Jerusalem, making his appearance for the Passover feast.

Kent: One leader travels on a donkey, with his fishermen disciples trailing behind. Surrounded by people calling to him for help, his purpose is to show the crowds God’s love and compassion. He is Jesus, the rogue rabbi, coming to celebrate the Passover feast.

Stacy: As the military caravan passes through the gate, people draw back in fear. Mothers grab their children and pull them out of the road lest they be trampled beneath careless feet. The people duck their heads, fearful of making eye contact, not wanting to be noticed by this man of war.

Kent: As the donkey passes through the gate, people rush forward to get near him. Mothers grab their children to hold them up in hopes of receiving a blessing. The people call out, “Hosanna” and throw their cloaks and palm branches in the street, hoping to be seen by this man of peace.

Stacy: Pilate proceeds to his palace where he will receive refreshment and rest, and where he will stand in judgment of those accused of being enemies of Caesar. He will be Caesar’s Angel of Death, deciding who should be imprisoned, who flogged, who crucified as a warning of the government’s wrath.

Kent: Jesus proceeds to the temple where he overthrows the money-changers, blesses the offering of widows, and delivers the great commandment to love one another. He will be the Angel of Deliverance, the Passover lamb who will bring mercy and peace to a people in darkness.

Stacy: Pilate will have the dust of the road washed from his body with water scented with aromatic oils. He will be perfectly groomed, his ornaments polished until they shine gloriously with precious metals and jewels.

Kent: Jesus will carry the dust of the road in his clothes, having only his feet bathed and perfumed by the touch of an unknown woman. He still looks like a carpenter’s son although his feet carry the scent of a king.  A king or a dead man.

Stacy: As the day draws to a close, Pilate is surrounded by many important men. They eat richly of the foods of the kingdom. They applaud the greatness of Caesar, the abundance of being in the ruling class. They congratulate themselves on being on top of the social pyramid.

Kent: As the day draws to a close, Jesus is surrounded by his friends. They eat the ritual foods of their ancestors, the Passover feast. They remember God’s faithfulness, remember how death passed them over their last night in Egypt. They remember that they are a delivered people, and that the kingdom of God surrounds them and lives within them.

Stacy: At the end of the week, Pilate exits the great city having fulfilled his political obligation, ready to return to his lovely home of Caesarea Maritima, his palace on the coast.

Kent: At the end of the week Jesus leaves the city too, having fulfilled his obligation to his Father. He leaves not for a coastal palace but for a tomb where he waits, in death, for the next step in God’s plan to be fulfilled.

Stacy: Two leaders enter into Jerusalem.

Kent: Two leaders come to the great city.

Stacy: Which crowd is ours? The one which quakes in fear before military might?

Kent: Or the one who dances in the street, calling “Hosanna! God help us!” fully believing that our prayers will be answered?[1]


“Which crowd is yours?”  Where do you locate yourself in the story?

Even though this day we are clutching palms and singing Hosanna, the answer to the question “which crowd is mine?” may not be as straight forward as it may seem.  For don’t we also know what it is to quake in fear?

In Jesus time, the source of fear for the ordinary person was what Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan term the “domination system.” The domination system, they state, names a social system that is marked by three major features.

First, it was marked by political oppression where the many were ruled by the few, the powerful the wealthy elites and where ordinary people had no voice in the shaping of the society

Second, the domination system was marked by economic exploitation where a high percentage of the society’s wealth went into the coffers of the wealthy and powerful through structures and laws about land ownership, taxation, and indenture of labor through debt.

And, third, the domination system was marked by religious legitimation where the people were told that the king ruled by divine right, the king was the Son of God, and the social order reflected the will of God and the powers that be were ordained by God. Crossan and Borg note that sometimes religion became the source of protest against these claims but in most premodern societies known to us, religion has been used to legitimate the place of the wealthy and powerful in the social order over which they presided. [2]

In the face of such a system of domination, the poor, the meek, the hungry, the captives, the sick, those were left out and left behind quaked in fear.  They had no place and were afraid.

And then there was this Rabbi named Jesus who had a new vision of what Kingdom looked like.  And on that day, this day so long ago when Jesus came riding on a donkey, the hope that burned deep within their ancestral memory, the hope of deliverance of a people from bondage to Pharaoh to new life with God, flared up.  It seared away the despair, cynicism, depression and desperation and set alight the hope of all the years.

And so they sang out “Save us.”  And they cheered and lifted up their babies to be blessed and even the stones joined in that heavenly chorus!

It is such a good story.  It is a story we know well but perhaps in knowing it so well, we tend to clutch our palms a little reluctantly and to sing our Hosannas a bit more feebly because we know that all that was hoped will not transpire in the week to come or at least not in the way the people imagined.

For at the end of the week, the domination system was not overthrown.  Pilate returned to his palace.  And many in the crowd today returned to their homes disappointed, despairing, dejected for nothing seemed to have changed.  At the end of the week the people pick up their cloaks, pull their babies close and hunker down again under the angry hand of empire.

I wonder is that our experience as well?  When we leave this place, Sunday after Sunday, do we tend to do the same?  Don’t we too hear a whisper in our hearts that wonders if what we do in here really has any impact on all that we will encounter out there in the week ahead and all that is playing out in the world.  Do we to find ourselves wondering
“if anything really has changed?”

For isn’t the 21century equivalent of the domination system very much alive today?  Are not far too many people in this nation and in this world quaking in fear? And are our hearts not broken at the sight of lifeless children gased down in the madness of war to name just one of the many atrocities and heart aches of our time?

“Hosanna” we cry.  It is a cry that has echoed across the ages, but does it just fade unheeded into the darkness on the farthest edge of all that is? Has anything really changed?


This week, I received a call from someone who I have not heard from in a very long time.  This person said that they had been going through a really difficult time and were trying to find their way and be happy but that it has been really hard. In the moment when nothing much could get worse, they said they started to pray in the first time in years, and as they did they began to feel comforted and safe and they said they had a feeling that they had not had in a very long time.  They felt at peace.

This is the deliverance that Jesus will bring as this Holy week unfolds.  This is the peace that will step out of the tomb on Easter morning.             Jesus came not to dismantle the domination system (that is our work to do), but Jesus came to transform our way of being in the world.  Through Jesus, trust arises and casts out fear.  Through Jesus, love overcomes hate, forgiveness overcomes violence.  Through Jesus the powerful path of Love is opened in our world assuring us that God is with us even in the hardest moments of our lives and will give us the strength to face every circumstance.

So let our Hosanna’s not be empty Hosannas.  Let our hope burn brightly – defiantly even! And let us enter with all courage into our time with the trust that Jesus is already there and will meet us and is ready to join with us even the most entrenched places of the domination system so through the transformative power of God’s love, all God’s children may know joy, and peace and the flourishing of life.

Stacy: Two leaders enter into Jerusalem.

Kent: Two leaders come to the great city.

Stacy: Which crowd is ours? The one which quakes in fear before military might?

Kent: Or the one who dances in the street, calling “Hosanna! God help us!” fully believing that our prayers will be answered?[3]

Stacy:  May the love of God that is our liberation, be a transformative force in our lives and in the world of our time.  May we dance!  May we trust!  May we too be delivered!  Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Borg and Crossan. “The Last Week.” Harper San Francisco. 2006. P. 7-8.