“Keep Your Eyes on The Prize”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020 (Year A).

The title for this piece is based more on April 3rd and April 4th than it is on April 5th.

Still, when I think of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the First Palm Sunday, with the crowds cheering and celebrating, I cannot help but think they had their eyes on a prize.  It was just that Jesus’ eyes were on a different prize.

The crowds were cheering that day because they saw Jesus as a sectarian messiah who had come to overthrow the religious and political authorities and replace them with a new set of authorities.  No doubt many in the crowd saw Jesus’ entrance as the means for them to take over the power structure.

And we know that many in the crowd this Palm Sunday will be in the crowd on Good Friday calling for the execution of Jesus.  Their eyes were on another prize and they were not going to recieve it.

There is no doubt that with one word, Jesus could have established a sectarian kingdom.  He was given that opportunity three years before by the Evil One but turned it down.

On that first Palm Sunday, JEsus had his eyes on another prize, The Kingdom of God that would be open to all, no matter who they were.  But Jesus knew that He had to go to Calvary for everyone to receive that prize.

On Friday of that first Holy Week, the disciples felt that the prize had been taken from them.  But on that First Easter Sunday, they saw the Prize.  It would take them time but the disciples would take the prize into the world..

I wrote a piece for my blog a few years ago entitled “Where Were YOu on April 4, 1968?”  I was a senior in high school at Nicholas Blackwell HIgh School that year.  I may have been aware that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ strike but my eyes were on another prize, graduating from high school and returning to my college studies at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).

If my classmates or their parents were aware of Dr. King’s presence, most of them would have seen him as an outsider and an interloper who had no business getting involved in Memphis’ affairs.

I do not recall if Dr. King’s speech on the evening of April 3rd was covered by the local media.  But when he told the people who did hear him that night that he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the Promised Land, you know that his eyes were on the prize of equality and justice.  Whether he knew that he would be assassinated the next day is a matter of conjecture but Dr. King knew that there were many who did not want to see him succeed.

Even today, there are those who would seek to establish a religious and political system that separates the people.  They seek a society where the door to God’s kingdom is closed, where entrance is denied because of their race, their gender or sexaual identity, or their economic status.  Their vision of God’s kingdom looks very much like that religious/political establishment that opposed Jesus two thousand years ago.

Sadly, the events of the past few months have shown that Dr. King’s vision of the Promised Land has become enveloped by a mist and perhaps clouds of hatred and violence.  What the pandemic has shown us is that the world is now even more separated by economic and political status, by geography and class.  The dream, the prize of equality may still exist but it is now far off in the future, covered by the mist and clouds.  

Tony Campolo noted that,

. . . if you think being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve missed the message of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world, He came into this world to transform you into people through whom He could do His work in this world.

In 1968 my eyes were on another prize but one year later, in the chapel of 1st United Methodist Church I came to realize that the door to God’s kingdom was opened to me when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  And as I walked through that door, I set my eyes on the prize.

This year there will be no cheering crowds, no groups of children parading up and down the aisles of our churches waving palms as the congregation shouts “Hallelujah!”  But that does not mean that the prize is not there.

In a few weeks, we will be able to come together as we once did.  But all that has taken place over the past few months has given us a new understanding of the Prize that we have claimed and now must share with the world.

The world in which we live today may be separated by illness but it was separated by ignorance, hatred, and violence before that.  We have been given a new vision of the Prize and we know that when we are allowed to gather together, one of the things we will do is share the Prize that we received.

So on this Palm Sunday, keep your eyes on the prize and hold on

“What Comes After Baptism?”

This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, Palm Sunday (Year A), 9 April 2017.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.

One week after I found out that my understanding of Christianity was a little bit off (see What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?), I was told that my baptism as an infant didn’t count.  And, if I wanted to be saved, I needed to be baptized right then and there.

Without going into the details, these were not the best times for me and, quite honestly, I didn’t need that type of pronouncement for my future. So, I politely declined the offer of baptism.

Now, in one sense, the person who told me that was right.  Had I not be raised to understand the nature of my baptism or if I had not been given the opportunity to begin my journey of faith, then my baptism would have had no meaning.

But my parents raised me to understand what my baptism meant and gave me the opportunity to choose the path I wanted to walk.  But I didn’t do it alone; I was fortunate to have many ministers and lay people to serve as companions and mentors on this journey.

Our journey begins when we are baptized and we become part of a faith community.  Through our faith community, we find the path that we are meant to walk and because we are members of a faith community, we are there to help other begin and continue their own journey.

~ Tony Mitchell

Thoughts on an Uncompleted Journey

Here are my thoughts for Palm Sunday, 17 April 2011.  I have been rather occupied with the feeding ministry that we do on Saturdays and Sundays and with everything else going on lately, I have found it difficult to post my Sunday posts on Sunday.

I really don’t have any particular scriptures in mind except, perhaps, for the story of Jesus walking on the water (as I will explain in a few paragraphs).  One thing that I have struggled with over the years is whether or not I should be using the Palm Sunday lectionary readings or the Passion Sunday readings.  There is also the issue of how we should understand the role of Palm Sunday in the scheme of things.

Besides not being able to post my thoughts on Sunday like I would prefer to be doing, I have found myself not attending either of the two morning services that we hold at church.  But on Sunday mornings, after feeding some 30 or 40 people, it is necessary to clean up.  I have come to believe that the Gospel writers left a few lines out when they wrote about the feeding of the multitudes.  Depending on which of the Gospels you read, Philip is identified as the disciple who wonders where they will get the food to feed the people.  But it doesn’t say who cleaned up after the people were done eating.  And I can imagine Bartholomew asking Jesus, “Who is going to clean up this mess?”   So while everyone is going to one of the services, I find myself cleaning up the community room and kitchen.  But I don’t mind, if for no other reason that I am reminded that the ministry is never done until all the work is completed.

As it happened, someone wondered how it was that I could “survive” without going to Sunday worship?  I thought that was an interesting comment in that it suggested that one must attend a regular service on Sunday morning in order to be a “complete Christian.”  I know quite a few people who would say that is what one must do but worship can take any form and occur at any time.  And I am not completely without worship.

First, I do review the lectionary readings for each Sunday so that when I get the time, I can write down my thoughts.  And second, during the past six weeks, I have coordinated the Lenten School.  And at the beginning of the school, we have had a 20 minute worship service, with music and thoughts.  Two of the six weeks, the worship service was conducted by one of the advanced classes in preaching as they (the six students and their instructor) explored different ways of presenting the message.  Now, as the coordinator, I have the opportunity to prepare the opening worship service at the beginning of the school (see "This Journey Into Lent" for the thoughts I expressed).

And as the coordinator I also had to prepare the closing worship which involved the commissioning of the new local lay speakers (we sent some 17 individuals out into the mission world this year).  I invited the District Superintendent to join us and, using the passage where Jesus walked on the water and Peter tried and failed to do the same, she spoke about the challenges that lie before us as lay speakers.  Her message focused on one of the questions that was put to her when she was seeking ordination, “Can you walk on water?”

It is also a tradition that we close the Lenten School with communion and I was allowed to write part of that liturgy.

Two thousand years ago, Christ’s disciples, along with all people celebrated the coming of the New Messiah into Jerusalem.

Two thousand years ago, Christ’s disciples were simply students, learning as they went.

They gathered together with their friends and family to celebrate the Passover meal. Little did they know what lie before them as Christ’s disciples.

Today, the students of the Lenten School gather in celebration of the completion of a journey of learning and exploration.

Today, we gather as those first students, those first disciples did in celebration of that first Lord’s Supper. We know what lies before us in the coming days and we have accepted the call to walk that path.

Though we may go our separate ways after today, we are bound together by the same spirit, the same friendship, and the same love that each of the disciples had for Christ.

And we are bound together by the love that Christ has shown for each of us.

Thus prepared to walk with Christ and present Christ to the world, renewed by your Word and Sacraments and fervent in prayer and works of justice and mercy, we come to the fullness of grace that You have prepared for those who love You.

Now, I knew when I wrote those words that two of the classes that met for the six weeks were exploring ways to continue the learning process after the completion of the Lenten School.  And that to me is why Palm Sunday is an important part of the Lenten Journey.

We have to see that while Lent leads up to Palm Sunday, the journey does not stop there but continues through this week to Good Friday and onto Easter.  And then it continues beyond Easter.

We are in the midst of an uncompleted journey, one that begins in celebration but is tempered by sorrow and heartbreak.  Some would have the journey end on Palm Sunday so that all we have is the celebration. But if we do not have the somber nature of Thursday and the sorrow and heartbreak of Good Friday, we cannot have the even greater celebration of Easter.  Ours is an uncompleted journey to the cross and beyond. I hope that this week, you will begin that journey.  And if you have begun that journey, I hope that you will bring some friends along to see what lies before you.


This Saturday, I will be at Drew United Methodist Church (Carmel,NY); their Saturday services are at 7 and you are welcome to come and attend.  The message that I will be presenting, “The Missing Day”, will be about the time between the crucifixion and the Resurrection as told by Nathaniel Bartholomew.

Victory or Defeat?

This is the message I presented on Palm Sunday, 20 March 2005, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures that I used were Matthew 21: 1 – 11, Philippians 2: 5 – 11, and Matthew 26: 14 – 27:  66.


In October 1957, America awoke to find a new star in the skies overhead. This new star was called Sputnik and was put up there by the Soviet Union. That the first man-made satellite was Russian caused a great deal of concern in America and it was thought that this country was losing the space race. The problem was there really was no race and this country was not in any danger at that time. But the perception that the Soviet Union could do what this country was unable to do was of great concern to the people and the politicians of this country.

So, the resources of this country were put into improving the mathematics and science education of this country in order to close the technology gap between the two countries that had allowed the Soviet Union to put the first satellite into orbit. While I am appreciative of the time and energy that was put into education (of which I greatly benefited), the only reason that the Soviet Union put its satellite into orbit before any of our satellites is that they used brute force. Also, we never did know how many failures the Soviet Union experienced before the success of Sputnik I, simply because the Soviet Union never told us. We, on the other hand, publicly showed all our failures and the American people became quite used to seeing potential Vanguard and Explorer satellites tumble to the ground in flames as the booster rockets exploded on the launch pad.

The reason for failure was not superior technology on the part of the Soviet Union but rather because we were developing the technology as we went along. If we had used the brute force technology that the Soviet Union employed, we could have orbited a satellite first. Ultimately, of course, we did win the race as President Kennedy following the successful orbital flight of Colonel John Glenn defined it.

The interesting thing is that has been thirty years since we last walked on the moon and over two years since Americans have been in orbit. The only lasting presence in outer space belongs to the Russians who man the orbiting International Space Station. We may have won the space race but the victory was short-lived.

I think it is possible to see the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in the same vein. The people are celebrating the victory of their King but it is a victory celebration that will be short and one that is misunderstood.

The people were celebrating the presence of a king but they were expecting a kingdom here on earth. They were willing to celebrate Jesus’ entry into the city but they also were expecting that He would overthrow the Romans or, at least, relieve the heavy burden of life off their shoulders. His message had been one of relief and comfort but they did not hear the part of the message that said it would be in heaven, not here on earth.

But when the end of the week came, those who cheered so loudly to welcome Jesus Christ as King were calling for His crucifixion. When the end of the week came, those who sought to have Jesus crucified were celebrating because they had beaten and killed the most serious threat to their presence and power. And when the week had ended, two men faced failure head-on.

For Judas, the beginning of the week must have been real reason to cheer. Most people have always assumed that Judas saw Jesus as the political liberator of the land. Judas saw Jesus as the one who would form an army and drive the Romans out of his homeland. But when it became clear that the kingdom that Jesus spoke and the message that Jesus gave was not a message for now but rather for now, he sought to find a way out.

This required that he betray his teacher and friend. But he found that those who welcomed his betrayal were not going to simply scold his friend and set him free. Rather, they used Judas to capture Jesus. In one sense, the Sanhedrin, who merely sought to use him as the means of capturing Jesus, betrayed Judas. Having deserted Jesus, Judas found himself alone and without hope. His choice then is the choice that too many people today face.

We also know too well that Peter denied Jesus, not once but three times. We know that Jesus predicted that Peter would do this, and despite Peter’s denial that he would never betray the Lord, that is exactly what he did. I have no proof but I think that Peter’s change from the temperamental, volatile, quick to act individual began that night when he experienced first hand the power of the Gospel. Though he said it so many times before, that Jesus was the Messiah, that night in the face of his own death through association, Peter understood in his heart that Jesus was and is the Messiah. It would be some days later that Peter took on the mantle of leadership but it was that night that Peter understood what the past three years was all about.

At the beginning of the week, the people of Jerusalem celebrated the victorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. But theirs was an empty celebration, based on things that they felt were important. Jesus knew that the real celebration would come at the end of the week and the beginning of the next one. When the disciples gathered in the Upper Room for the Last Supper that week, they wondered why He was not manifesting himself to the world, why He was not declaring the establishment of His kingdom. "Why," they asked, "were they ones, his closest friends the only ones to hear the words of fulfillment?" In other words, why would Jesus not declare His kingdom to the whole world then?

Jesus’ reply to them echoes now to us, "Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him." If we are not willing to let God come into our lives, then it becomes impossible to see the victory that will come next Sunday.

Too often we think of Christianity in terms of Palm Sunday rather than Easter Sunday. We celebrate the presence of Christ the King in our lives but we want the kingdom here on Earth; often times. We are not ready to make the journey to the cross that comes at the end of the week. We want the trappings and benefits of Christ’s kingdom but we are not willing to make the sacrifices that are needed. What we do not realize that this day is not the end of the journey but only the beginning.

For the celebration to be complete, we must complete the week. We must go to the cross. That is where the victory truly is. Any celebration today, celebrating the presence of Christ without the cross, is a hollow victory. It takes away from the true meaning of the day and leaves alone and without hope or consolation.

If we go to the cross, if we let the journey be complete, then we find that victory is truly assured. Peter may have denied Christ three times but he also never left. He was able, in his despair, to come back. That is the promise found in the cross. In the darkest moments of our despair, in the darkest moments of our life we are able to find Christ. And if we can find Him then, how hard will it be to find Him in the brightness of an ordinary day?

As we go into this week we are challenged today to think about whom we will be like. Will we be like Judas, tied to a victory that is hollow? Will we seek victory before we have gained it, only to find death? Or will we find our victory in Christ’s death?

The Unfinished Journey

Here is the message that I gave on Palm Sunday, 28 March 1999, at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures I used for this Sunday were Isaiah 50: 4 – 9, Philippians 2: 5 – 11, and Matthew 27: 11 – 54.


This has been edited to remove some bad links.


We are a society that most definitely likes a winner. The effort put into the NCAA basketball tournament, the Super Bowl, and the buildup to a NCAA football championship are indicators of this. And with the same fervor that we put in pushing our team to number 1, we often try to get rid of the coach or team when the effort fails.

Back in 1989, one of the high schools in the town where I lived was not only the best in the state of Texas but also ranked as the number 1 high school football team in the whole country. At the end of that season, the head coach moved to a position with a nearby university football program and it was up to the new head coach to continue the tradition of winning.

Unfortunately, when the 1990-football season opened, this team was put on probation for holding illegal practices during the summer. And when the team lost its first game of the season, the anger of the fans boiled over. The Saturday morning after the loss, a number of for-sale signs appeared in the front yard of the coach’s house and a number of realtors, not ware of the lose or the situation, called with serious offers to buy the property.

We do like our winners and we hate losing with the same passion. This is not something unique to our society or our times. The same people who cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem were probably among the crowd who called for his crucifixion several days later.

There have always been a number of questions raised about what happened that week in Jerusalem. Why did the crowd change its attitude? Why were those who on Palm Sunday the entrance of the new king willing to doom their own lives for the crucifixion of Jesus just a few days later?

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27: 24 – 25)

Why was Jesus willing to go through the trial without saying anything?

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you? But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor. (Matthew 27: 12 – 14)

Why was Jesus willing to die on the cross, perhaps the most painful method of torture and death ever devised by man? Why did Pilate, knowing that Jesus was innocent of the charges, still have him crucified?

The season of Lent is one of preparation, one of a journey. The end to Jesus’ journey began with his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday but it could not end with the celebration that the people wanted. For Jesus knew that His journey could only end with His death on the cross. I think that, for us, this is the hardest thing we could ever conceptualize. Why should Christ give up His life; why should He give up everything in heaven to die for us? As Paul wrote,

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (Philippians 2: 6)

Jesus did not consider the high position that he held in heaven to be something he could not give up. In today’s society, giving up the ultimate in success, being number one, is something that is just not done. No wonder people, both in Jesus’ time and today have difficulty with what Christ did for us. We are taught from the beginning that success is all that counts and here we have the Son of God giving it up.

That Jesus would give up everything for us explains a lot about what transpired during that week so many years ago. After Jesus challenged those in church authority to be more responsive to the needs of the people. Jesus’ place in heaven was secure but he was willing to be our servant, to humble himself by a death on the cross.

But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2: 7 – 8)

The idea of being a servant to the people is a very difficult one for us to understand. After all, having fought and scrapped, we want to keep what we have gained; we don’t want to give it up; we don’t want to be the servant for others when we are on top.

When I was a senior in college, I invited the new president of the college to be my guest for dinner in the cafeteria where those in my dormitory ate. You should have seen the looks on the faces of the students and workers when they found out that the man eating dinner with me was not my father but rather the president of the college. The previous two presidents would never have consented to such a thing and it was assumed that all presidents would do this. This president did not play by the rules of his predecessor and it should be noted that changes begun under his administration have lead to Truman State University being a better university today.  (This is probably the first time that I told this story but I first published a more detailed story in “What I See”.)

The crowd could not see Jesus as a servant, one willing to humbly serve the people. They wanted a king to lead them, to show strength and power just as the Romans showed strength and power. Many of the people never understood the message that Jesus gave.

But what can be gained when we seek a life of power, strength, and wealth? All that we gain from a life in sin is death while a life in Christ is an eternal one. There is nothing wrong with seeking what others called the good life but it must be a GOOD life in all senses of the word.

Some years ago, when I received the call to the ministry, I struggled with just what it was to be a Methodist. I was comfortable with the notion that the United Methodist Church was a liberal church with a progressive social policy. Now, I can’t say that the United Methodist Church is as liberal as some might think because I know quite a few preachers who are very (very!) conservative.

And I have come to learn that the social awareness of the church is only possible when we have first come to Christ. As Wesley pointed out, once one comes to Christ, it is our duty to become more like him. While can actually never be like Christ, the Christ-like qualities he showed are still something to be attained, like a prize we do not yet posses.

Christ’s death on the cross changed the world and the way we look at things. By accepting Christ as our Savior, we can know God as a loving father, accessible to us all. It was noted in the Gospel reading today,

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. (Matthew 27: 50 – 51)

The tearing of the curtain in the temple is symbolic of the removal of the barriers that would keep us from God. And in knowing God, we gain the strength we need to overcome obstacles. Jesus said nothing during His trial because there was nothing He could say. After all, the authorities wanted Him dead and were going to do it, no matter what. When we are faced such pressures, what can we do. The Old Testament reading tells us what Jesus was thinking that night so many years ago.

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.

What would have happened if Pilate had had the strength to go against the crowd. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but he also knew that if he had done what he knew was correct, the Jewish authorities would have complained to his bosses and not only would Jesus still have been crucified, he (Pilate) would have also be punished. Just like today, Pilate took the action that was the safe route rather than the correct route.

For us, this week can mark the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one. By accepting Christ as our savior, our life in sin is over and a new life can begin. Christ’s commitment to us, his desire to save us from sin and death, was so strong that even in the pain of his own death, he sought to save others.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t’ you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39 – 43)

It has always been a mystery when the centurion was included in the story of Christ’s death.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27: 54)

Did the centurion begin to understand the truth of who Christ was? Or did he take the next step in his own journey of life and become a Christian knowing that Christ died for his sins, just as he died for our sins?

That day some 2000 years ago, the centurion began a journey. That journey is our journey as well. But while there may be doubts as to what the centurion did, there are no doubts about where that journey will lead us. Christ died for us; our journey can be finished when we accept Christ as our Savior. Christ’s journey had only one ending, the cross. But His journey changed the way our journey could end. What path will you take; how will your journey end?

Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday?

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday.  This is going to be a busy weekend for me so I wanted to get this up.

The scripture for this Sunday is Matthew 21: 1 – 11.


First, let me just say that I am deliberately using the word “celebrate” instead of “observing”. Perhaps it is because I see “celebrate” as an action verb and “observe” as somewhat passive. Worship services should be, I think, celebrations much more than observances and I think that we should celebrate Palm Sunday. But why, especially this year, should we celebrate Palm Sunday?

After all, we already know what is going to happen. We know that after the celebrations on Sunday and the actions of Jesus in the Temple during the week, Judas is going to betray Him. The religious and political establishment will arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and convict Him in what is essentially a kangaroo court.

On Friday, Jesus will be crucified and He will die on the Cross. He will be taken down from the Cross and put into a well-guarded tomb so as to prevent anyone from stealing His body. We know that next Sunday, the tomb will be empty and we will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And we do need to celebrate the Resurrection. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1st Corinthians 15: 13 – 14, 17),

“. . . if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”

We know all that, so why do we celebrate it? I think it is because we recognize today that this week is more than just a prelude to Easter. We see the week and what is to come through the lens of history. So it is that we can see what is to come as a statement to the world that those who seek to maintain their power and their status through the oppression of others, either by force or restrictive laws, will, in the end, lose the battle. That righteousness and justice will, in the end prevail.

Early on in my life, I came to the conclusion that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus but rather the political and religious establishment. In that regard, this Palm Sunday is a lot like that first Palm Sunday. There are those who, in the name of freedom, would take away our freedoms. There are those who wish to establish a similar religious based government, one based on Biblical principles.

It is so remarkable our society today compares with the society then. This week we have heard of the death of the religious right and its loss of political power. While the relationship between the religious right and the political right may be declining, I don’t think that the religious right has died. Nor do I think that they are going to readily give up their thoughts about the direction they think this country is going. But they are as blind as the Pharisees who sought to eliminate Jesus and they have confused their own prejudices with the true meaning of the Gospel.

And I don’t think those on the left (political or otherwise) should cheer so loudly. Those on the left may believe, as Karl Marx wrote, that religion is “. . . the opium of the masses.” But if they do, they need to consider two things.

First, is it really Christianity that you despise and proclaim is restrictive and hateful? Or is it what people have done to Christianity and the church?

Second, are you prepared to offer a better alternative than the true Gospel message? Are you prepared to offer a better belief system that will seek peace and justice in this world?

We live in a world that seems to be dominated by fear. We are constantly reminded that terrorists are planning to strike this country and we must be constantly on our guard. We seek peace through military power. We have allowed the so-called guardians of our freedoms to utilize whatever means are necessary in order to ensure that we have the information that will enable us to strike at the leaders of any opposition. We have willingly let our own personal freedoms being taken away with the hope that when it is all over, we will get them back.

Ours is also a time of economic distress. In this time, the people cry out for salvation. But they want what the people of Jerusalem wanted two thousand years ago. They want a king to lead an army to free them. But they do not want to be a part of that army. The people of today are like the people of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago; they will only accept a solution that does not require much of them and are unwilling to accept a solution that calls for them to take action.

Jesus lived during the time that we have come to call the “Pax Romana”, or the Roman peace. But it was a time of peace under Roman rule and enforced by Roman tyranny. And the people of Jesus’ time were looking for someone who would overthrow that tyranny. It is no wonder that they cheered Jesus as the new king; to them, He was the one who would lead the army that would remove the shackles of tyranny.

Jesus would also be the one who would remove the shackles of religious tyranny, of the restrictions placed on people by the religious establishment who insisted on a strict adherence to religious law. Time and time again, Jesus challenged the religious establishment to follow not the letter of the law but rather the spirit of the law. Jesus offered hope to those whom the establishment would deny hope; he welcomed those whom the establishment would throw out. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was open to all, no matter what their race, their gender, or their status in society. It is no wonder that the religious authorities of the time conspired with the political authorities.

The people wanted a political king; one who will lead a great army and remove the Roman tyranny and the restrictions placed on their lives by the numerous rules created by the religious establishment. The people of Jerusalem heard Jesus’ message but they did not understand that the Kingdom of Heaven was to come, not be in place on Monday morning. They did not understand that Jesus’ call for freedom came with responsibilities.

Of course, Jesus had no army, only twelve disciples. Even the disciples did not completely understand the message that they had heard for three years. This lack of understanding would lead Judas to betray Jesus. Even on the night that we have come to call the “Last Supper”, the disciples did not understand. “How was it,” they must have thought, “that Jesus is speaking of His own death tonight?”

And with His arrest later that night, the disciples were filled with fear and panic. Peter would deny Christ three times and everyone would hide for fear that now, once their teacher and friend had been arrested and murdered, they would be next.

It would not be until Sunday that the disciples and all who followed Jesus would understand what this all means. But we do understand what it means and that allows us to celebrate Palm Sunday.

But if we are to truly understand what Palm Sunday means, then we have to understand that we cannot go back in time and tell Jesus not to enter Jerusalem. He would only tell us, as he told Peter, to get behind Him. Jesus knew, as we know today, that He must go to the Cross.

We cannot tell the people in the crowds to quite cheering for a political king because they will not listen. We cannot stop the progress of the week because the week must go on or there is no Easter.

But it does mean that there is hope. It does mean that oppression can be stopped; that justice can be brought into this world. People will know that the status quo does not always bring justice nor does the status quo remove oppression. It does mean that we are called to be Christ’s disciples and fight for freedom for all.

We have spent the past five weeks preparing for this day. We have been called to repent, to cast aside our old ways and seek new ways in Christ. We can no longer use the message of the past as a pretext for a new world. We must begin anew.

Armies cannot bring freedom into this world. True freedom comes when people work to remove the causes of oppression and violence. True freedom comes when people stand up to the establishment that seeks to oppress others through guns and laws. Jesus showed us what freedom over sin and death truly was.

Jesus died to set us free and he must enter the city this Sunday. So we celebrate Palm Sunday, not because Jesus brings a kingdom on this earth but because when this week is over, the doors to the Kingdom in Heaven will be open for all. We celebrate this Palm Sunday because, if we believe, we have found freedom and we have found the way to bring freedom into this world.

That is why we celebrate Palm Sunday.