a sermon based on Luke 19:28-48
Today is one of the happiest days of the Church year, the day of the great green parade (Palm Sunday) when the Christian Church the world over re-enacts the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Bill Dempsey led us through the story from Luke’s Gospel... how the great crowd, which had gathered for the Passover festival, went out to meet Jesus, shouting:
"Blessed is the King who comes in the name
of Yahweh --the Lord of Israel.
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!"
There is no question: that seems to be a straight-forward statement of Lordship (Messiah-ship) declaring Jesus as their king.(!) And it’s done in public, for all to see.
Some Pharisees in the crowd complained: "Teacher/Rabbi, order your disciples to stop!"To which Jesus replied, "I tell you, if these were silenced, the stones themselves would cry out!" This procession will go forward --against all opposition, if needs be.
This parade fulfills Scripture…and it pleases God. You can scare away the crowds, but you can’t stop God! The very stones underfoot (and in the massive building walls of the Temple) provide testimony & witness to the long-awaited Messiah’s arrival. In other words: It’s happening!
Since Jesus selected (intentionally) to ride on a donkey --a colt that had never been ridden --the story reminds us of the inaugural parade for King Solomon (in his coronation parade 1,000 years earlier). No Jew in Jerusalem would have missed the symbolic meaning of this event. The new king, who would take the throne of David and who would rule as the Anointed One/Messiah, was being ushered into town.
And it was happening during the "Passover" season, which was significant –it was the annual reminder of Moses’ defeat of King Pharaoh, some 2000 years earlier.
Jesus had chosen the height of the "tourist season" to ride into Jerusalem. The "Passover" festival was the commemoration of those heady days in which the slaves of Egypt were set free… It’s the remembrance of the 40-day period on Mt. Sinai in which Moses received the Torah (the 10 Commandments) and it recalled the start of the 40 years of wandering it took the people of Israel to return to their Promised Land: Palestine--Israel.
This raucous public ceremony has placed Jesus into that stream of history: declaring him to be God’s New Moses… the long-awaited Messiah… the anointed King of Israel! (!) Palm Sunday says, in no uncertain terms, that God has heard the cry of the people for liberation once more, and (therefore) Jesus' Messiah" (Jesus, the Christ) is being crowned Judah’s King!
But something unexpected happened at that moment: in the middle of the parade, Jesus wept! It was in the second reading, after the children left for Sunday School… Bill read:
As he came near and saw the city, Jesus wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 20:41-42)
This lament over the city was signaled by Luke earlier in his gospel (back in chapter 13:33-35), when we heard Jesus say:"Yet today, tomorrow and the next day, I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed except in Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."
Well, today we heard those very words! Jesus was greeted on Palm Sunday with the Hosannas & Hallelujahs of the crowd (the king-makers) who shouted: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."(Mantos y ramos esparciendo va el…. Mientras mil voces resue-nan por do-quier.) Hosanna, a Jesus!
For more than 500 years, the people of Israel had been reciting the words of the prophet Isaiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders!" [Get that? The government will be upon his shoulders! Like being crowned king, or elected President…]"And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Ever-lasting Father, Prince of Peace! His authority shall grow continually (literally: "of his kingdom there shall be no end!"). There shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his royal realm. He will establish it and uphold it with justice... from this time onward and forever more!" (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Year after year, those words were on the lips of the Jews, re-enacted in this very ritual. During all the decades of God’s silence in the Old Testament (during those hundreds of years of warfare and exile, of cruel history and even crueler rulers) --right up to Jesus’ day…the Jews had recited their Passover promise of a "King of Kings & Lord of Lords" who would be coming… to make a change!
When Messiah comes (they said), at last, justice will roll down like a river! The Jewish people clung to that promise of the soon-coming King (the long-awaited Messiah) like cap-sized sailors clinging to a life-raft. As word of Jesus’ miracles and powers --his healings and his radical teachings --began to leak out... speculation spread: Is he the one?Could this be the One? Some insisted that the Messiah had come! (Yes!)
With their own eyes, they had seen Jesus heal a paralyzed man, cleanse a leper, and make a blind man to see.
And now, with this Palm Sunday Parade,the crowd has proclaimed Jesus as KING! They marched with him into the Temple… expecting a confirmation and a coronation… But what happened! (?) Jesus rides into town on his humble donkey colt; he weeps when he sees Jerusalem; he enters the Temple…and (frankly) causes a bit of a stir among the merchants & money-changers…but then Jesus left again without changing a thing.
Can you imagine the disappointment?
The religious people had been led to believe that the Messiah would set right all that was wrong with the world.On his own, with a divine mastery, a majesty and a heavenly host! But instead,Jesus had showed them what they (individually) could do to bring it about…but that’s not what they wanted! He was supposed to do it on his own…and that accomplishment would prove who he was!
C’mon Jesus, do the Victorious Warrior-Messiah stuff we expect from you! (If you don’t you’ll lose you base-voters.)
Had the prophets not promised that the Messiah would swallow up death forever…and wipe away the tears from all their faces? Well... Here comes Jesus, riding into Jerusalem…but instead of consoling them (vindicating them and proving his divine power) Jesus starts crying himself! Tears streak Jesus’ face!(This is not what the people expected from their Leader!)
At this point, you may recall the question John the Baptizer asked while he was in prison, waiting for Jesus to take decisive "Messiah-like" action (We discussed it last Sunday): "Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for someone else!?" (Mt. 11:3) You see, for the militant, nationalistic crowd, Jesus didn’t fit the bill! That question (posed by the very first Baptist, nonetheless) captures the ambivalence and uncertainty that swirled around Jesus: he was not publicly activist enough!
We know that Jesus turned away from the temptation to grab for power back in the wilderness at the very start of his ministry. He was not going to undercut love by grasping for kingly power. Not then, and not now! So, I’ll bet, if Jesus had simply avoided using the metaphor of Kingdom (when speaking about the Realm of God) everything might have been different.
You see, kingdom was an emotionally charged word in his day. As soon as he said it, images sprang to life in the minds of his followers: golden crowns and glittering swords, banners and trumpets, armies & ivory & royalty--a nation restored to grandeur, as in the glorious Empire of King Solomon long, long ago.
That’s what this Palm Sunday triumphal procession was meant to initiate: because the word "kingdom" meant one thing to the crowd ("the power and the glory forever!"), and something entirely different to Jesus. Who wants a HUMBLE king, for goodness sake!? Who wants a weepy peacemaker when you have been led to expect an avenging-angel superhero!
But Jesus (then as now) was concerned about relationships,not about having power. He wanted faith, not obedience. He wanted love, friendship, followers...not subjects! He wanted to gather the people under his wing, like a mother hen giving security and warmth to her chicks.(Jesus had even said so!Can you imagine God Almighty as a Mama chicken?...a mother hen?)
Jesus wanted, above all, that forgiveness would break the power of Evil, because that alone( He knew) would set people free in their spirits. He wanted people to reconcile & move on.
Jesus’ emphasis on changing people’s hearts and minds confused the crowds, who were looking for God to change their political situation.
The ordinary person in Jesus’ day (and in ours, too, I’m sorry to say) didn’t really care about some invisible (inner-psyche) or interpersonal (relational) "kingdom of heaven." (!) They sought solutions to real problems in the physical world: poverty, sickness, personal abuse. To address things like this, they needed dramatic divine power. (!) They were crying out for divine intervention, not for better "mutual understanding". They wanted Jesus to act! (Do something powerful, Jesus! Act!)
In the end --even after the symbolic "cleansing of the Temple" of the merchants and sacrifice-mongers --Jesus failed to measure up to the people’s expectations of a real Messiah/a warrior-king.
So, it should come as no surprise that (in the course of the coming week, when nothing "Messiah-like" seemed to be happening from Jesus), the very same people who praise him today, will turn on him. Jesus will be arrested on Maundy Thursday night (as we will hear, if you come to our service at 6:30), put on trial by the religious authorities as a false "Messiah" and condemned by the Romans as a false "King of the Jews."
The soldiers mocked Jesus by dressing him in a royal robe, bowing their knees before him, and then crowning him with a wreath of thorns. Jesus was bloodied with a beating; and then he was lifted up on a cruel cross to die. When the visible realm of Roman power met the invisible kingdom of God’s heaven, it seemed for a time to snuff it out. His followers all fled in fear.
But it was only for a time. (!) I invite you to come back next Sunday…because Jesus does!
And it is this "second coming" of Jesus, as the (now) Resurrected Christ, that not only vindicated his way as being God’sWay... but also restored his followers’ faith.
Yes, Palm Sunday is the day of the great green parade, but the parade was being thrown for the wrong kind of king! People held false ideas of how God’s Messiah would save the world: through violent power. Jesus came to set things right.
May we follow the life and teachings of Jesus, as known through the Gospels, and thereby help bring God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in Heaven, for the salvation of the world.