Gospel: John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday: Series A)
Here on Palm Sunday in the Gospel according to John, we see several groups of people in progress. Some have seen more signs than others. None of them really get it.
I wept at the end of Pixar’s Finding Dory. The story itself was fun, silly, and moving. But I wept because I saw, heard, and felt the Gospel. Dory, you may remember, suffers from forgetfulness. In Finding Nemo, we are introduced to her battle with short-term memory loss. And in the sequel, we go back further into her past and her struggle to find her home, her family, and her place in it all.
Dory is quirky and clueless, but not without clues. She experiences flashes of meaning, hints, and glimpses. She discovers proverbial breadcrumbs and seashells which all form part of the larger picture and are somehow integrated into her quest for home, belonging, and worth.
As she swims about the vast ocean (and even out among the people of Monterey Bay, California), she sees and hears signs. In themselves, none of the signs holds the significance she is looking for. None of them actually answer her questions or meet her needs. She needs family, a home, and to belong.
The movie is worth a watch but let me jump to the climactic scene. Dory is following a line of shells on the bottom of the sea, left like airport runway lights, beckoning her on. She comes to the crux of many such lines of shells. Shells, signs, going out in all directions, reaching to the farthest ends of the sea, and all originating from and intersecting in one place. At the crux, at the crossroads is home. But before our seafaring sojourner is able to connect the dots, she sees her parents in the darkness. And what are they doing? They are placing more shells, more signs, more beacons. They never stopped looking for her and reaching out, despite all her confusion and wandering.
I saw Dory’s realization of her parents’ love and their tireless pursuit of her, and I wept. In that moment, I saw my Father’s love for me. I experienced our Creator’s love for us. In the moment, I thought of the sainted Jack Preus’ book, Just Words, and all the Gospel metaphors Scripture gives us: Birth, life, salvation, light, bread, water, redemption, forgiveness, justification, adoption, peace, and on and on. Each one brining Good News, and they all touch the head and heart in a different way, or perhaps touch a different head and a different heart because God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
As it relates to Palm Sunday in John 12, I notice the inclusio of all people which bookends our reading. In verse 12, we see “the large crowd” come out to Jesus. And in verse 19, we hear the Pharisees grumble that “the world” has gone after Him. But we also know nobody really gets who Jesus is and what He is all about, yet. We know the crowds shouting “Hosanna” in praise of the King on Palm Sunday will be crying out “Crucify Him” come Good Friday.
But the Apostle John is so merciful in his account of Palm Sunday. Lest we scold the crowds for their ignorance, John tells us right in the middle that the closest of Jesus’ friends and followers were just as ignorant: “His disciples did not understand these things” either. (12:16). They saw the same signs as the crowd, but those signs were just hints and nudges, nods in the right direction, but never enough to see the whole picture... at least not yet.
They saw the same signs as the crowd, but those signs were just hints and nudges, nods in the right direction, but never enough to see the whole picture... at least not yet.
This is consistent throughout John’s Gospel. Back in 2:22, we were told from the scene following Jesus’ first sign that the disciples saw it, they did believe, but they did not really get it, not yet. Not until Jesus was glorified by being lifted up on the cross and had appeared to them in His resurrected body do they understand. Then they “remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (2:22). Here again, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (12:16).
They saw or heard a sign. It was no more than a shell on the ground or an echo of something which rang true and called them forward. Whether crowd or Pharisee, “the world,” or even the disciple whom Jesus loved, our gracious God pursues us with His relentless love and calls us home. But until we come to the crux of it, it simply cannot “click.” For Dory, it was at a crossroad of seashells. For us, it is the cross of our crucified Savior. There we meet God. There we find home. There we see the extent of God’s pursuing love and the worth He bestows on us. Each episode and moment, every healing and teaching, all the signs of Jesus’ earthly ministry were good and true, but apart from an encounter with the crucified Christ, they are only partial and shadowy hints and nods, signs pointing to the one thing needful.
Here on Palm Sunday in the Gospel according to John, we see several groups of people in progress. Some have seen more signs than others. None of them really get it. Some are curious. Some are hostile. Some are trying to be faithful (though even the disciples will soon be scattered and uttering oaths of denial). But for each of them and for all of them, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. For each of them and for all of them, Jesus will be the glorified King, the One glorified on a cross to draw all people to Himself. For each of us and for all of us, Jesus lays down His life and takes it up again to beckon us home and to bring us home.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Palm Sunday.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 12:12-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 12:12-19.