Kairos: Palm Sunday Sermon


This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Matthew 21:1-11. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here.

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

As we begin to look at the stories of Holy Week, we begin with a moment of preparation. Jesus is making preparations. He’s asking his disciples to do that with him. He is moving toward something that is very intentional.

Even though it’s intentional, the directions seem a bit cryptic, but there is trust here. “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately, you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.” And more trust: “If anyone says anything to you, just say this. ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

So there is a sense that these people were likely known to Jesus, and that they would understand what that means, or at least be open to it, or trust that something important was about to happen.

There was preparation.
There was intention.

And the author of the Gospel According to Matthew also seems to think about preparation and to make connections regularly with the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible.

And so, he says that this all took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Zechariah,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went on to do what Jesus had asked them to do, perhaps not understanding what was about to take place, and certainly not understanding fully the reality that Jesus was about to enter.

He was going into Jerusalem. He was processing straight into threat and likely death. In fact, he had predicted this with his disciples, and they were not prepared to hear it. And in this intriguing moment, where he’s processing straight into danger, into trauma, even into death, and… they all enact what is most true. They have joy, and they recognize that they are participating in some kind of kingdom even if they don’t understand it. The people around them certainly did not understand that the figurehead of the kingdom they imagined would soon process straight into these painful things, but they recognized something, and they shouted,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

There was joy as they laid down branches from the trees and spread them along the road. They had great anticipation for Jesus, some having followed him, some having seen and heard the things he was doing. They desired the joy of something different, and they longed from liberation from their oppressors — the Roman Empire that was occupying the land.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the story says that the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” Some did not know, but he had made himself visible. He had made himself noticeable. Some then answer the question, saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” He was from Nazareth, a place not highly regarded. From there, comes who creates cheers, and hope, and joy, but also turmoil…

He knew he was processing into danger, eyed suspiciously by the Romans, and he did it anyway.

When I think about this procession they made together, honoring Jesus and this kingdom, I think about how joyful it was, but I also think about how political it was.

“Hosanna!” they cried. Hosanna – meaning ‘Save us.’ 

“Hosanna to the Son of David,” — the marker, figurehead, and name of the ancient Kingdom, the Kingdom of David. To anyone, this would have appeared to be an insurrection. Under the occupation of the Roman Empire, this procession was definitely making claims of a new kingdom, an alternative kingdom, and a new order to things.

And people connected it to Biblical prophesy. He descended from the Mount of Olives, a place that people certainly associated with that prophesy — a location where God’s redemption of Israel would be visible.

And now, they made it visible.

And it was a revealing procession. It was meant to be a revelation of sorts. It was an unveiling and an uncovering of what is ultimately true, a proclamation of the central truth of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is publicly revealed to be the one Matthew claims him to be – the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Coming One. This was certainly going to get attention.

And it was an ironic procession. Jesus knew what he was processing into. I wonder… was there some kind of pain inside the joy? Inside him? Or did that fade for a moment? We don’t know, but even in face of irony, this moment revealed some kind of ultimate joy.

In the Greek New Testament, there are two words for time. One word is chronos, which talks about linear time — days, weeks, months, years, and decades in the same ways we tend to measure time. But there’s also another word for time — kairos. This is a time of ultimate fulfillment, when something that is most true and most ultimate breaks into the present moment.

I like to imagine that this was true here. When we think about chronos, Jesus was walking straight into the most traumatic week of his life — the end of his life. But when we think about kairos, perhaps there was true joy in this present moment of a procession, revealing a kingdom with all the values Jesus had already lived in his life. This procession revealed the values he had ushered in with his disciples. It revealed what is most true, most fulfilled, most ultimate. Kairos. Kairos broke into a present moment.

Right now, we are entering Holy Week. We are also all experiencing a collective trauma in this time of the coronavirus. And I think we can name how painful it is, how scary it is, how unpredictable it feels.

And I wonder if we were to join this procession today, are there ways in which kairos — what is most fulfilling, most ultimate, and most true — could break into our world, into our week, into our present moment right now, into how we’re feeling now, into this situation in which we are living? Could we hope for that?

Like the disciples of Jesus, we are processing into something we would never desire. Can we live the values of the Kingdom of God? Can we be a Kindom of God that practices these values? Love for the so-called least? Care for the vulnerable? Proclamation of hope to the people? Love no matter what? Love that knows the path its on, even if that path is a painful road, and loves anyway?

And perhaps centuries and millennia removed in chronos from this moment, knowing the rest of the story, can we trust that resurrection might even be able to find us there? Is that possible? Can we hope that for each other, even if we can’t quite imagine it?

If so, by what values will we live? How can we live kairos in this procession? How can we live kairos in this present moment? How can we live kairos in the days ahead?

Renee Roederer

One thought on “Kairos: Palm Sunday Sermon

  1. Reblogged this on Smuggling Grace and commented:

    Here is a Palm Sunday sermon from one year ago, spoken just as we were beginning this pandemic. I love the concept of Kairos and think of it often. In the midst of the last year we’ve lived, alongside the grief, pain, disruption, and shared trauma, have we also had moments where goodness seemed to find us too? — moments that revealed what is most deeply true and valued in our lives? I hope these moments can continue to guide us into the months and years ahead.


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