Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem triggered the people’s most unrealistic expectations: to solve every problem once and for all and to bring back the past. How quickly their sentiments soured! This Palm Sunday, we pray for how best to support one another on this road of life instead of tearing one another down because of our differences.
Matthew 21: 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
And the Children Shall Lead Them…
Today we celebrate our children and the young people of this community.
A little earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says: “Unless we change and become like children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Hey adults, I’m talking to you! Until we become like children, we will never enter the dominion of God. Already, the heaven’s kingdom is at hand: within us, all around us and just out of our reach, but how do we get there? How shall we access it? By becoming as children, empathizing with children.
Following the lead of children has never been more important than it is right now. Yesterday, all across the nation, young people stood up and spoke out, as their parents watched with astonishment and gratitude. The students spoke about a society in turmoil. As a person of faith, I am persuaded that this turmoil is a sign of great change on the horizon. If Holy Week teaches us anything, it is this: turmoil can lead to transformation, death will be swallowed up in victory, suffering and loss leads to resurrection.
Is God working out a new purpose through these students, or should they learn to adapt to active shooters and be expected to keep quiet about it? Watching the reports of the hundreds of thousands of people who came out for the March for Our Lives, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus parading into Jerusalem, the Prince of Peace showing us how it’s done.
Expecting a Messiah? Don’t miss Jesus!
For generations the people had prayed expectantly for a messiah, but, being people, their expectations were all-over-the-place: some wanted the violent overthrow of Rome’s occupying forces, some wanted a day of judgment for all who were complicit with Rome, others wanted revenge. Although I am clear that God’s thoughts and ways are not mine, I am clear that Jesus showed us that we do not need violence to settle our differences. The love of God wins through peaceful means: justice, mercy, humility, and what is against God will not stand.
Jesus enters Jerusalem and, for God’s purposes, begins to change the world order. His is not just a spiritual challenge, not solely for the sake of individual souls, not “hell insurance” for people worried about being good enough by the time of death, not to begin a political party, not to execute a legislative agenda, but nevertheless this “King Jesus is a threat, both to the power elite and the fickle multitude.” As James O. Duke puts it: “Jesus did not come ‘in triumph,’ was not crucified and raised, and communities of believers in him did not emerge, in order to leave the ways of the world as they were.” Those who disappointed the multitude faced the consequences of their rejection. Those who challenged the imperial order were crucified.
Once I led a group of children in an exploration of the Palm Sunday story, and, sensing they were not getting much spiritual education out of simply waving palms, I asked them to put themselves into the story. If Jesus were going to march through the streets of Roman-occupied San Francisco, how would that feel for them? How would people greet Jesus? What would you say to him?
So, we decided that, instead of a procession of palms, we’d make signs to hold, signs much like the ones prevalent in yesterday’s March for Our Lives, signs—expressions of our hopes and expectations and our demands. One child made a sign that read simply: ROME SUCKS. Another: We need more food. Another: Help! HELP! We had talked about how hosanna, an Aramaic word, means “help!” But the congregation’s favorite child-made sign read: Hey, that’s my donkey! You see, the children were very concerned about the part of the story where Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a donkey or two and, instead of money, just tell the guy that “the Lord needs” these donkeys. Do not try this in your own life. “The Lord needs this Tesla” is probably not the best defense against grand theft auto.
My inner cynic (Pharisee) wonders whether Jesus staged his entrance, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah? Can you imagine the social media trolls responding to Jesus riding that donkey, or a Honda 550, down Market Street, taking part in a protest against imperialism? #fakemessiah #getajob #whomadehimgod #notmyjesus
The final verses say Jerusalem was a city in turmoil. Matthew uses the same Greek word later employed to describe the earthquake which occurred at the time of the crucifixion: a seismic shift — both literal and symbolic—signalling a change of cosmic dimensions.
“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’” And into the city’s turmoil, the government’s injustices and the pain of the people ambles a donkey carrying the hope of the world. (Does that sound unrealistic?)
“Palm Sunday” by Joy Cowley
No donkey this time but a borrowed Honda 550.
Jesus riding into town with a black leather jacket,
Jeans frayed at the knees, and L-O-V-E tattooed
On the knuckles of his right hand.
Those who saw him said his smile was like the sun,
Warming shadowed corners
And causing the way to blossom unexpectedly.
Those who saw him told of all the light left over
To be taken home and set in eyes, in hearts
And at windows for strangers.
It was like a miracle, they said.
The rest of us missed it.
We were in another part of the city,
Waiting for the Messiah.
 Matthew 18:3
 Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
 Matthew 5:38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
 Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 5725-5726). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 James O. Duke, Ibid.
 Matthew 21:1-3, see above.
 Joy Cowley, Aotearoa Psalms: Prayers of a New People (Wellington, New Zealand: Catholic Supplies, 1989), 46.