Luke 19 The triumphal entry
March 24, 2013, Palm Sunday
Roy W. Howard
About Palm Sunday the poet John Leax commented “this seems the strangest holiday of the year, a celebration of misunderstanding.” And the Anglican preacher, Fleming Rutledge, calls Palm Sunday the Trojan Horse of the Christian year.#1 It begins with the festival atmosphere of children waving their palms and leading the rest of us in singing glad hosannas to our Lord, reenacting the joyful crowds who lined the dusty road as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Yet, soon enough we are reminded just how quickly glad hosannas can turn to the vicious shouts of Good Friday, crucify him! Crucify him! It is precisely this noxious reversal from hosanna to murderous violence that should give us all pause.
Let’s begin with makeshift parade – the kind children might conjure up on a bright spring day, playing in the backyard, lining up after each other, wearing funny hats, blowing kazoos and appointing one of their own a king. What would this parade be without a donkey to carry the triumphant king? A donkey? Seriously? Yes, a donkey shall carry this king. Then who, pray tell, will find a donkey at this late hour? Why you, faithful disciples, ever ready to serve, will find the donkey that will carry our King. So, off you go looking for a donkey to haul into this parade, simply because he said so and after all you are his disciple aren’t you? That’s all you need to say to the fellow whose jaw drops when you start to steal his donkey off the street in broad daylight. Negotiating a donkey so The messiah can ride in glory? Yes, for this I’ve been enlisted to bring in the kingdom of Glory … on a donkey? Oy vey!
You would think it’s a joke, only it isn’t. Or maybe it is in the way that only God can tell in the mystery of the world’s redemption.
Some scholars think the two disciples sent out to find the colt were James and John, which is hilarious because only a few days earlier they were asking Jesus to put them in the best seats in house, on the left and right hand when he comes in glory. Now it comes to this: finding a suitable animal for his triumphal entry!
Preparing the way of the Lord often comes down to the small gestures, the chores no one is interested in but everyone wants, making the arrangements behind the scenes that allow for other to be present to the Lord’s presence. It’s like the street sweepers who labor unseen at two in the morning never hearing the people who marvel that the streets are so clean.
The second misunderstanding has something to do with the entry itself. What kind of triumph is this? The palms are placed on the road – a sort of red carpet – and some are excited enough to take the clothes off their backs and cover the road. But there is also something weird about this triumphal entry; maybe even foolish. Where are the public leaders – both religious and political? Perhaps they are awttending to other business; like how to handle the unpredictable crowds on the outskirts of town who are gathering around this humble prophet who is approaching the city. If one where listening to the soundtrack, the dark music would enter just under the exuberant shouts of the crowds, hinting of the ominous events of the days ahead.
I imagine those merciful eyes of Jesus as he approaches the city. Is that a sad smile or a determined grimace? What is he is thinking as he listens to the crowds sing his praise and welcoming his entourage of exuberant disciples. He is weeping over the city that is like any city. Weeping that that we do not know the things that make for peace. Does anyone have a clue who he is and what he intends to do now that he has entered the city of power and might? They welcome him as one who will bless them. Yes, but do they understand that Jesus is both the King and Prophet who will challenge their customs and even suggest the core of their religious practice is corrupt, empty and without mercy?
No, they don’t understand and neither do I. They don’t understand that his kingdom – the kingdom of God – is not about blessing things as they are presently arranged, but changing them until the present arrangement reflects the one God intends. So everything is at risk when Jesus begins his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Political arrangements are at risk, the ones that ensured the poor would remain so, the dissidents would be silenced and brute force would be deployed when necessary to maintain order.
Everything is at risk when Jesus begins his entry into Jerusalem, just as it is when he begins his entry into your life and mine. We do not know the things that make for peace.
Yet, our faith declares that putting everything at risk by opening our lives to Jesus’ entry is the Good News because his arrangement is much wiser than our own. We arrange things by making accommodations to a world that crucifies the prophets and fears the stranger, puts comfort over compassion and status over service and love is a sentimental convenience.
This Jesus who comes riding into our lives promises to arrange things differently than this world’s arrangement. To those who receive him life is at risk, just as the crowd lining the streets of Jerusalem and their leaders. We know what happened, how God’s folly we call Easter turned misunderstanding, rejection, even crucifixion into the occasion for the healing of creation.
Perhaps on this Palm Sunday – remembering again his foolish triumphal entry – the most important question is we will remain with him when the hosannas of today are over and the real work God’s kingdom begins. Then we will do the things that make for peace because we are walking with our Lord Jesus who is our Peace.