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Palm Sunday: The Trial Between the Triumphs (Matthew 21:1-11, 26:36-27:66)

By Roger L. Ray
The following is the series of readings from the passion narrative in Matthew. The intent in breaking the reading up in this way is to help the congregation to "hear" the passion story in such a way as to feel it and understand it and to "be in it" as much as possible. The sermon is delivered in between readings of the gospel story of the passion as follows:

Pastor: The setting of the text

1st: Reader: "Gethsemane" Matthew 26:36-56

2nd Reader: "The Trial" Matthew 26:57-68

Pastor: The laws of the Jews

1st Reader: "The Denial" Matthew 26:69-75

2nd Reader: "Condemned to Death" Matthew 27:26

Soloist: Sings "Were You There?"

2nd Reader: "The Way of the Cross" Matthew 26:27-44

1st Reader: "The Lord Speaks From The Cross" Matthew 27:45-66

Anthem

Pastor: Sermon Conclusion

Just outside of Eureka Springs, on the top of a beautiful hill, there is a giant statue of Jesus standing out above the evergreen trees. Viewed from the hills in Eureka Springs, it looks like a giant white cross, but when you actually drive over to it, you see that it is a stylized rendering of the resurrected Christ, standing with His arms outstretched.

I expected to be impressed when I made my pilgrimage to see the Christ of the Ozarks. It was huge, but on approaching the statue you hear gospel music being played on a very bad sound system. The statue, itself, is full of cracks and is apparently constructed of concrete, which is crumbling.

My basic impression of the statue and its surroundings is that it is gaudy and poorly done. In many ways, it is the Jesus of our consumer culture -- huge, yet its only positive feature is its size.

But beyond all commentary on good taste or good art, my deepest disappointment was theological. The Christ of the Ozarks has no scars ... no nail holes in the hands. It is simply large and triumphant, as Gerald L.K. Smith crowed on the day the statue was completed, "Now the world comes to us at Eureka Springs." In the midst of all of the triumphalism and seeking after a religious "house of power," there is a Christ who says to the church, "Look at my hands and feet."

One of the problems with our modern observance of religious holidays is that we confine our observances to a single day. If you come to church on Palm Sunday and joyfully join in the throngs of worshippers, waving palm branches and singing hallelujahs, and then return to the same sanctuary the next Sunday morning to declare the good news of the Easter resurrection, then we are missing a vital part of the gospel. A major portion of all four gospels are dedicated to telling the events of the passion of Christ which took place between Palm Sunday and Easter. To understand the gospel, this is a narrative which the church must hear.

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