” Pomp and Circumstance“
Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017 – Year A
Imagine that we have flung all our doors open and you hear and see the sights and sounds of a parade going down Main Street. It makes you wish I would stop preaching and lead the procession out the church. But – I’m not going to stop preaching, but instead I invite you to travel in your mind to Jerusalem in 33 CE.
We join with millions of followers of Jesus in this pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy City. Palm Sunday is an exciting, festive time, for we are filled with joy, excitement and expectation as we join the crowd watching the triumphal procession of Jesus and his disciples. They have journeyed from Jericho to Jerusalem, a distance of some 17 miles.
Jerusalem is a busy city for the people were gathering for the great festival of the passover, a commemoration of the great Exodus from Egypt. Word had spread throughout the crowd that Jesus Christ, the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead, was on his way to the Holy City. The crowd was anxious to see who the miracle worker was. Figures vary, but you have heard it rumoured that somewhere between 1/4 of a million to 2 million people are in the city awaiting the Passover festival.
The crowd is in a festive mood – cheering, singing songs and waving leaves from palm trees. As Jesus rode down the street on the back of an ass, fulfilling the prophesy of the prophet, Zechariah, the crowd shows their welcome by holding aloft palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road. And what a welcome Jesus Christ received! Little does the crowd realize that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a pilgrimage to his cross, where he accepted the decision of political powers. The cross is a sign of love and forgiveness. The crowd is eager to join the great procession welcoming Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, only to find themselves scattering within the week confused, disillusioned and frightened, and unwilling to commit themselves beyond a superficial level. And yes, my friends, that is us as well.
The crowd greets Jesus with the cheer “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who is coming in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna is a Hebrew word meaning “save now”. We see that the people were in fact shouting “God save the King!” So it was, that Jesus was making a deliberate claim to be Ruler. Jesus’ appearance before the crowd was his one last appeal. In his action, Jesus came, as it were, with pleading outstretched hands, saying: “Even now, will you not take me as your Ruler of life?”
The crowd meets and receives him like a mighty conqueror. They sing psalms proclaiming Jesus as God’s Anointed One, as The Messiah, as The Deliverer, and as The One who was to come to be the Conqueror. Jesus’ claim was truly that of a Ruler! And how is a Monarch to be greeted? Today we would welcome a person of royalty with the sound of trumpets and the presentation of arms. This is the same type of reception that one would have expected during Jesus’ day. Likely many in the crowd expected to hear the trumpets and the call to arms so that the Jewish nation might sweep to victory over Rome and the World. Jesus approached Jerusalem with the shout of the mob hailing a conqueror. How that must have hurt Jesus, for the crowd were looking to him for that very thing which he refused to be!
How sad it is to recognize that the very people who were regarding Jesus as a sensation, were, within a week, shouting for his death. They expected Jesus to be someone he would not and could not be. Yet Jesus remained true to God and accepted his claim as Ruler. Before the hatred of the people engulfed Jesus, once again he confronted them with love’s invitation. Jesus presented himself to them with an openness and a willingness to love all of God’s chosen people.
Jesus did this in a most courageous way, for in spite of the cheering of the crowd, there were many people who opposed his presence in Jerusalem. Jesus knew he was entering a hostile city where many of the authorities hated him. How much easier it might have been had Jesus and his chosen 12 elected to slip into the city under the cover of night. Jesus was not prepared to travel the easy road, for he deliberately set himself in the centre of the stage. If you are thinking that Jesus was deliberately defiant, you are quite correct! His entry into Jerusalem was an act of the most superlative courage and at the same time was a glorious defiant act.
At the sight of this tumultuous welcome, the Jewish authorities were likely thrown into the depths of despair. It would seem that nothing they could do could stop the tide of the people who had gone after Jesus. In their frustration, nothing they could do seemed able to stop the attraction of this man Jesus. This person of tremendous courage proudly entered the Holy City to show love, a love that was so complete that he travelled to the cross so that you and I might celebrate today.
As I have been thinking what Palm Sunday means to me, I have come to very much appreciate and accept that the pilgrimage that Jesus undertook was very much a one-way street. A path from the Mount of Olives, through Jerusalem, to the hillside of Calvary was the route travelled by our Redeemer. I also wonder what pilgrimage we are prepared to make. Are we too, willing to journey from our relative comfort to a place of sacrifice for the sake of our faith? And will we make our procession with courage and confidence knowing that we will not be forsaken?
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem also shows his appeal, for he rode into the Holy City, not on the back of a powerful, regal horse – but rather on the back of a humble ass. His throne was not inlaid with expensive jewels for he chose his throne to be the back of a donkey.
Jesus’ entry on an ass was a dramatic presentation. Had he chosen a horse, the people would have assumed that a great warrior was before them. The horse is an animal associated with war, whereas the ass is an animal equated with peace. Jesus came before the people, not as a warrior figure, but rather as the Sovereign of Peace.
But this confused the people, for no one saw Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Their minds were filled with a kind of mob hysteria. They were looking for the Messiah of their own dreams and their own wishful thinking, and were not looking for the Messiah whom God had sent. So it was, that Jesus drew a dramatic picture of what he claimed to be, but none understood the claim. It is interesting to realize that even the disciples, whom we assume should have known so much better, did not expect Jesus to enter as the Prince of Peace. They too expected their friend to be a powerful Monarch – one who would destroy the evil forces through the power of war. But this was not the way of Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to destroy but to love, not to condemn but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love. The power of the words “God so loved the world, that God sent God’s only son” takes on special significance when we reflect on the impact of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It was because God so loved the world that Jesus came into the world; and at Jerusalem, unwittingly, Jesus’ enemies are saying that the way of the world will follow the way of Jesus. I believe this is a message of hope and worthy of our celebrations. Jesus was not filled with doom and despair. No, instead he came willingly and openly, proclaiming peace and love.
So it was, at Jerusalem, at one and the same time, that we see the courage of Christ, the claim of Christ and the appeal of Christ. It was a last invitation to all people to open, not their palaces but their hearts to the Christ. We see that Jesus rode on an animal that was a symbol of quietness, not on a war horse; palm branches, not spears, were his escort; the songs of children, not the shout of soldiers, were his welcome. It was a magnificent parade, that day 2000 years ago and it continues right here at Penticton United Church.
God calls all of us to join the great procession. We are to come with joy, enthusiasm and commitment. Come, let us join the great parade!