April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday
by Jeffrey M. Lindsay
So here we are its Palm Sunday again. This means we are entering Holy Week and Easter can’t be far away. How, will we approach this week, this year?
This may be important for us to consider, depending on what we hope to experience and learn in this new normal we are experiencing. This world of social distancing, disinfectant, and moment-to-moment virus updates.
To think about something like a parade in our current circumstances is a bit of a stretch of our imaginations, however. When the kids were little, our family loved parades. We often went to the Apple Valley 4th of July parade with the neighborhood and of course every December we loved the Holidazzle.
Most parades are fun because they are celebrations.
Some of you might remember the parades that welcomed the troops home from WWII. I remember the big parades down the Nicolle Mall after the Twins won the World Series in 87 and 91. I am really looking forward to the huge parade when the Vikings finally win it all. That’s the parade I am waiting for.
Are any of you old enough to remember the first big modern parade? On October 29, 1927, New York City welcomed Charles Lindbergh home after his solo flight across the Atlantic. 750,000 pounds of ticker tape covered the streets. But the Lindberg parade was dwarfed by the giant celebration on March 1, 1962. Three thousand four hundred seventy four tons of confetti rained down on a seven-mile stretch of New York City. It was all to welcome John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth.
Likely the Americans who were alive then, will never forget President Kennedy’s funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue. The horse drawn caisson followed by a riderless horse left a lasting impression. I am certain we can’t forget Kennedy’s widow and her two small children as well. No one called it a parade. But it was! Parades are often used to celebrate but always to remember.
You know I grew up in the church. I went to Sunday school each week that was always followed by going to the “adult” worship service. I truly thought I knew stuff and I thought for years that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday was more like the Rose Bowl parade, rather than the Edina Homecoming parade.
I was wrong. That parade consisted of one donkey, Jesus, his disciples and a rag tag band of followers. The streets may have been lined with onlookers responding as he traveled by, but Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a deliberate understatement. Why?
Jerusalem would have been crowded for the Passover Feast. A hundred thousand people or better might have been in the city that day. That was maybe six times the normal population. Passover was the biggest event of the Jewish faith. It marked the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land.
But this Passover was different. Jesus was in town. For three years, Jesus had traveled across Israel teaching and performing those amazing miracles. Jesus had been in Jerusalem before but this time was different and others knew it. Jesus had been telling his disciples that something big was about to happen so maybe the word had spread.
Jesus has two of his disciples borrow an unbroken young donkey for him to ride into the city. This in itself would not have been strange but…
The procession began as Jesus and his group entered from a hill called the Mount of Olives, which was just east of the city. This hilltop stood two hundred feet above the temple compound in this capital city. This road wound its way down the hill through the olive groves and headed directly into the Eastern Gate of the City.
Crowds walking along the route began to lay coats and palm branches across the path, rolling out their version of the proverbial red carpet. Spontaneous cheers rang out. “Hosanna,” they cried. The words meant “Jehovah Saves.” That cry and the song that could be heard “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” which comes from Psalm 118 proclaimed the coming of someone very special.
Others shouted out “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” How fitting that words almost identical to the angel’s song at Jesus’ birth would also announce the beginning of his last week.
Why the cheers, likely for many reasons. Some were just curious. You know how a crowd can build. People hear the noise and come to find out what’s happening. Before they knew it, they were joining in, but they really didn’t have a clue what was going on. That can happen, that can happen when we gather as the church. We come because we believe there is something here for us. We sing and we offer praise but are we really clued in?
Others joined this improvised parade because word of His miracles had spread. This wouldn’t have been the first time that crowds gathered to followed Jesus just to see what he might do next.
Hadn’t this happened in Galilee a couple of years earlier when Jesus had miraculously fed at least five thousand people? But this Passover, word of something even bigger likely had spread through the city. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus had literary been raised from the dead, just a week earlier.
Some may have been excited because maybe He would do it again. Maybe, as had happened before, someone in the crowd may have come in hopes they would be next to receive a miracle. Were they like kids waving their hands and shouting, “Oh- oh-oh — teacher, choose me! Choose Me?”
The crowd may have been made up of those who had been touched by Jesus. The Gospels don’t tell us, but I can’t help but wonder if Lazarus might not have been there, right in the front row. Was Zaccheus far behind? How about Mary Magdalene who had experienced Jesus’ forgiveness. Was Bartimaeus the formerly blind man from Jericho there, along with the lame man from the pool of Bethsaida? Who knows how many others were there to cheer on their hero. Were the outcasts, tax collectors, and even some lepers their welcoming a friend?
Jesus had touched many lives. At least a few of them were in that crowd that day lining the road to Jerusalem, weren’t they?
Is that why we gather, why you gather, or do you have other expectations? Have you gathered because you know what Jesus has done for you or what you hope he will do for you? Have you tuned in on this Palm Sunday because you want to show your gratitude, or do you have other expectations you hope for?
If historians are correct, a big part of the crowd may have thought they were inaugurating a new king. Most Jews looked forward, with great hope, to the day when God was going to send the heavenly army to liberate Jerusalem from the Romans. The messiah would lead the way, riding on a great white stallion with sword drawn high, shinning in the sun. If that’s what they were hoping for they were in for a surprise. Wasn’t this the point of the young donkey, to represent the very opposite of a great white stallion?
If this was their messiah, he certainly wasn’t living up to their expectations, was he?
It wouldn’t have been because there was a shortage of white stallions that Jesus settled for a young donkey, this beast of burden. Jesus entered Jerusalem like a king, with fanfare and praise, but he entered on a donkey. Certainly Jesus had the right to enter the city as a victories king but instead He came as a humble servant.
Jesus was making it clear that humility would be a characteristic of the new kingdom he was ushering in. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being
born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus was living out the prophetic words of Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, before your God.”
Jesus suggested that worldly success and fame would not be the first calling of God’s children. Pride in our accomplishments is not what God wants us to pursue first. Instead it would be the opposite. In God’s kingdom, humility, an outward focus toward the needs of others, would now be the sign of success and obedience.
Jesus on a donkey is in stark contrast to the power and pride of typical world leadership. Certainly it is drastically different than the American motivation, which is to strive to become that “Self-Made Person.” Jesus on a donkey was shining a light on this usual selfishness and self-centeredness.
In the first century when a king entered Jerusalem, soldiers and slaves to serve them would surround the king. They along with prisoners of war demonstrated the king’s power. With such practices no one would have consider the notion that a king would serve them. It was clearly accepted that everyone was responsible to serve the king in that society. The hope that Jesus would bring, would have to first undo generations of expectations, to truly be hopeful, wouldn’t it?
Jesus enters Jerusalem not surrounded by soldiers or slaves. Jesus arrives surrounded by his disciples, the people he had healed, those for whom he had cast out demons, and people who had experienced first hand, who Jesus actually was. It was people whom Jesus had served, that surrounded Jesus that day.
And so Jesus invites us to be one of those people, whose expectations have been turned upside down, yet still long for the true hope that comes with an authentic relationship with him.
Jesus very own, adopted into God’s family by faith, to live a life not focused on ones own pleasure and privilege but marked by service and obedience to others. We can do this by pursuing a loving God whose greatest desire is for us to have a life filled with God’s presence and the joy of serving others.
In the gospels Jesus says, “If anyone is to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” Following Jesus means service and sacrifice, which leads then to the life God longs for us to experience.
Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, he paused to weep. God had sent so many prophets before him. All of them rejected, and many killed. Yet, God never gave up. God loved the people and continued to send those messengers who would exhort the people to repentance and the new life, which would be revealed to them in Jesus.
The Old Testament is a collection of books in which God’s love for Israel, for the world, is recorded. Throughout the Old Testament, people turned away from God, but God still loved them. People rejected and rebelled against God, and yet God still loved them. Nothing that they did stopped God from loving them — or even altered, God’s love for them.
Throughout history the Christian Church has had the task of carrying a similar message. Yet at times the Church has not consistently been very, well, Christian. Instead of peace it has brought war. Rather than love it has preached racism, sexism, elitism, and nationalism. But through it all, God’s love for God’s people has never wavered. How about that?
Many of you have experienced this same unwavering love in God’s relationship with you. There are times when we are close to God and at other times we wandered, and yet, God’s love for us never changes. Unwavering love is a part of God’s kingdom and it can be a part of our lives as well. It seems to me we need to strive for the long view of life. A life filled with a love for God, God’s people, and the cause God has challenged us with, “to love our neighbors as our selves.
The infamous actor, Woody Allen once said, “that ninety percent of success is just showing up.” As followers of Jesus we must keep showing up to demonstrate our love for God as we love others, even when there is no response, or even if it is out right rejected. Clearly the scripture suggests that it is this kind of Love that is a constant sign of God’s kingdom at hand, for the king has come.
I sometimes wish that Jesus had staged a real parade with white stallion, armed troops, and bound slaves. If Jesus had, then we could assume that God’s power was in physical strength and was demonstrated by position and might and power. Then, we would finally have it figured out, wouldn’t we? Our hopeful expectations of how God works would finally be realized the way we always assumed and imagined.
If God would have lived up to our expectations, we could just pray the right way and see that which we desire happen. We could find that correct equation of right belief and right actions that would obligate God to work on our behalf, according to our hopes and our wishes.
It doesn’t work that way, though. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, a beast of burden. Jesus knew His kingdom would be built on the cross and would be experienced in humility, service and perseverance.
So my friends this Palm Sunday God offers to interrupt your expectations long enough for you to experience the hope God has for you in a life currently in upheaval from unrealized expectation. A hope filled with humble service and the unwavering, persistent love, for you, from God.
Will God’s people say amen? AMEN!