Come home to Calvary
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I don’t often think in terms of theater. I don’t read a Bible story and wonder how I would stage it.
Would the characters enter from stage left or right?
Where are the spotlights?
Those aren’t usually my questions.
Unless I’m reading the Palm Sunday texts.
This is a text begging to be staged.
Donkeys and colts are brought in from over there.
The crowd lining the path throws palms and their cloaks down this aisle. Jesus somehow climbs on both the colt and the donkey and starts down the parade route. I see the crowd moving ahead of the action, shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, sort of like Paul Revere warning Boston that the British are coming.
We‘re told the city is in turmoil, trying to figure out for whom this parade is being staged. They were used to pomp and circumstance in the Roman territories. Every time a new governor moved into town, there would be another procession through town so people could sing all glory, laud, and honor to the latest representative of Caesar.
But this parade is different. Jesus isn’t at the head of a military procession. He’s not riding the white steed that any self-respecting ruler would have. Donkeys signified the ruler was coming in peace, not leading a military.
Matthew, to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah, has Jesus on both a donkey and a colt. Scholars believe Matthew had a translation issue from the Hebrew to the Greek, putting Jesus on two animals at the same time.
Regardless, neither of those animals is kingly. The stage manager of this first procession must have been shaking their head—wrong, wrong, wrong! This is all wrong! A donkey? What?
This is absurd!
Yes, it is. We shouldn’t lose sight of the absurdity of this scene.
But again, and again, Jesus subverts our attempts to hold him to a script.
“Yes, I know you want me to be impressive and stately. But I am a donkey-riding sort of Messiah, people. Do you even know me? Is there anything about me that reminds you of a Roman governor?”
Okay, fine, Jesus. Have it your way.
Perhaps before we get to Easter, we need the reminder that Jesus doesn’t fit well in our dreams of worldly glory, military laud, and political honor.
When we offer glory, laud, and honor to Jesus, it is the glory to the one who comes in peace,
the laud to the one who seeks power through weakness, and the honor to the one who serves in humility.
The triumphal procession of Jesus of Nazareth is in stark relief to what the crowd would have been expecting.
Yet the crowd seems to respond.
They throw their cloaks down on the ground, in addition to the palms we wave every year. In a culture where people didn’t have closets full of clothes, throwing your one cloak on the dusty ground required something of you.
These cloak throwers seemed to instinctively understand that following Jesus requires you to set aside your personal gain and comfort for the common welfare, providing a respite from the dust and dirt for the relief of the strangers standing next to you on the parade route.
The crowd also yells out “Hosanna!” For us, today, it sounds like praise and a celebratory word. But it actually means, “save us.” The crowd sees Jesus riding into town with two animals and at the top of their voices, asks for salvation.
HOSANNA! SAVE US!
We know that later in the week, they won’t see him as clearly. Once the religious leaders start warning about insurrection, fear, and politics, the crowd will call for his death.
Today, though, when he is publicly on display as the prince of foolish and absurd peace, they see him clearly. In this case, the absurd pageantry and staging force the people to break through their preconceptions of what the Messiah will be, and allows them to cry out for Salvation. Hosanna! Save us!
This clarity comes with a price.
The city is in turmoil.
This isn’t just grumbling at the water cooler. The word “seismic” comes from the same Greek word translated as turmoil. Turmoil. Upheaval. Earthquake.
Jesus enters the gates of the city and is almost immediately at the Temple square. And while Jesus might be the King of Peace riding on a donkey, he is not the King of leaving injustice alone for the sake of false peace.
As soon as he gets down from the donkey and its colt, he starts turning over tables.
Imagine Jesus walking into congress. You could imagine that some of the leaders might have been looking forward to a photo op. Wouldn’t it be great to have a picture of you shaking hands with Jesus? It would look great in your office!
You could imagine that a few of them would want to pull him aside to talk with him, garnering his support for their budget proposal, or for some other piece of legislation.
But that day in the Temple, Jesus was having none of that. He starts upending tables of the money changers and dove sellers. Shekels are flying all over the place and bird cages are tumbling to the ground. The industry that was built up to profit on the backs of the poor has no place in God’s home.
As Victor mentioned last week, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have this story of the turning over of the tables at the end of Jesus’ ministry. John’s gospel has it at the beginning.
And I think it is a good bookend story for Jesus, at both the beginning and the end of his ministry. Jesus may not have shown up as a king on a majestic steed with a big army, but that doesn’t mean he is a pushover. Jesus is never violent, but we shouldn’t mistake that for weakness. He cares a lot about the things that matter, and he’s not going to tolerate nonsense.
The city in turmoil.
As it should be.
We should never be comfortable and settled when injustice is going on around us.
If we don’t heed the cry of the prophets to care for the people God cares for, we should certainly expect Jesus to walk into the room and start throwing the furniture.
“Hosanna! Save us!,” we cry.
After he up-ends the visible signs of injustice, he gets to the work of healing. The blind and the lame come to him for healing while the children stand on the sidelines singing.
“Hosanna! Save us!”
Jesus doesn’t have time to be distracted by the crowds or the parade. He has work to do. Blind people who want to see again. Lame who would like to walk.
Christians would do well to remember that we can get all caught up in the festivities of Holy Week, or whatever it is that we like to do, but not if it gets in our way of doing what we’ve been called to do.
Holy Week is full of tensions.
The crowd that calls out for salvation is the same crowd that calls for crucifixion.
The King to whom we sing all glory, laud, and honor is not the emperor in Rome, but rather a carpenter from a backwater town in Galilee.
The celebration that starts the week—Hosanna! Hosanna!—will move to betrayal, arrest, and a mock trial.
The city is in turmoil, with some people shouting “hosanna!” and others asking “who is this?”
And we, as the church in a world full of turmoil, are called to the midst of it all. There are still people asking, “who is this?”, and they need to hear your answer to that question about Jesus.
There are still people calling out “Hosanna! Save me!” How can we, as the Body of Christ, respond to those cries for help?
As Joann noticed earlier in the Children’s Meditation, Jesus heard the children crying out for him to save them. Children are still crying out today. Every damn day in this country, for us to save them.
Are we listening?
Unhoused children. Refugee children. Children without access to healthcare. Children without access to clean drinking water. School children who have to practice active shooter drills while the adults in congress actively support the proliferation of guns on our streets, all in the name of freedom.
I need Jesus to show up in the halls of congress, and rip some of those lapel pins of assault rifles off the collars of congressmen. I need Jesus to accuse them of making his father’s house into a den of robbers. I’ve got some tables for him to turn over.
Last week, some people spoke about not being comfortable with angry Jesus. Not me. I’m here for it.
As I was picturing that image of him in congress with great fondness, I realized that we are the body of Christ today. We are the people to metaphorically turn over the tables. As Victor said last week, we have to find a way to participate, in a big or a small way, to the work of repairing this world. The task is not ours to finish but neither is it ours to neglect.
I want us to value the lives of second graders more than we value the second amendment.
I want background checks on all gun sales.
I want to require safe gun storage and gun locks.
I want to limit who has access to assault rifles, and the ammunition for them.
I want the gun industry to be held accountable, and not be immune from the consequences of their actions. A bill passed in 2005 “blocks legal responsibility for gun manufacturers that have failed to innovate and make guns safer, and for manufacturers, distributors, and dealers with irresponsible, reckless and negligent sales practices that contribute to the flood of illegal firearms in our communities.”
There are other solutions. And people of faith can disagree about the best solutions to the problem.
The days are long past when we can disagree about whether or not there is a problem. There absolutely is a problem and we must act now.
Hosanna, the children cry. Save us.
Are we listening to their cries? What are we going to do about them?
Theologian Miroslav Volf says, “there is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.”
We are absolutely called to pray, and I hope that we are. But the children are still crying, “Hosanna. Save us.” So what are you going to do?
We are entering Holy Week today, as Jesus enters Jerusalem while the people cry out for help.
I invite you to mark the days of this week differently than your normal routine. The world is in turmoil.
We need community. Please join us for worship on Thursday at 7 pm as we remember Jesus’ last meal with his friends, and on Friday at 7 pm as we remember his crucifixion and death.
If you go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter, you miss some important pieces of the story.
I invite you to pray your way through the week with a heart open to see peace in the midst of the turmoil of the world and the turmoil of our lives.
When we gather again in a week for Easter, the strains of celebration will have returned. Hosanna will give way to Hallelujah.
Friends, the city may be in turmoil, but the good news of Holy Week is our God is here to save us.
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
There’s a Hosanna sticker on the cover of your bulletin. We invite you to take it with you and put it somewhere it will remind you to listen for the refrains of it in our world and in our hearts. This is Holy work for Holy Week.
Closing prayer and benediction
O Holy God, make of us a receiving people.
Let us walk with your feet.
Let us touch with your hands.
Let your voice speak in and through us.
Let your wisdom be transformed into right action within us.
Let us carry forth your spirit into the world.
Let us be at one with You, O God.
And may each who feels as one with You,
know also that we are one with every other,
until all creation is unified in the light of love.
May you go in peace and in the light of God’s love.
(Adapted from a prayer by Bebe Williams, July 10,1994)
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.’
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Come home to Calvary
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