Equipped to Serve: Palm Sunday
April 9, 2017
Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year….the week we now call Holy Week.
One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession.
From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers.
From the west…Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor – THE REPRESENTATIVE OF CAESER, himself, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.
Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God… Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.
The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
We really only ever hear about the more modest one…
You’ve seen the flannel graph…
Jesus approaches…down the Mount of Olives…to the city
surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic followers and sympathizers, who spread their cloaks, strew leafy branches on the road, and shout,
“Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is coming king of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”….”
Jesus had SET HIS FACE towards Jerusalem for weeks…this was his destination. Every encounter, teaching, and miracle had led up to this moment.
But indeed there was another one…Caesar’s representatives always arrived during Jewish festivals – not to join in but to make sure that everyone knew that Caesar was Lord above any God.
Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman Imperial power and Roman imperial theology…
The troops with Pilate would rise over the people at the Fortress Antonia, towering over the sacred Jewish temple and its courts….
Their presence was always seen, heard, and felt.
To be seen was a visual display of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.
To be heard was the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums.
To be felt was the the swirling of dust in your eyes, and the low beat of the their drums and feet deep in your belly.
The silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful – all focused on a display who’s one mission was POWER.
This procession was not only imperial power but also imperial theology…. This is about a god…. Caesar was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.
God has come to town AND HE IS ME!
Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology to YHWH.
It was a parade to be remembered…interesting then, that the one that is
remembered…the one in every gospel…and in nearly every church today,
stars a carpenter, not a Caesar.
Meager disciples, not a cavalry of horses. and peasants, not soldiers.
This was a peasant procession…a planned counter-procession.
Jesus planned his arrival perfectly…and in true Jesus-fashion, problematically.
Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city.
This is the book of Zechariah in the flesh:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Dale Bruner says, “We are struck by Jesus’ poor and ordinary provisions for this historic entry; no heralds at arms, no trumpet sounds, no chariots of state; no liveries, no prancing horses that a shy petitioner would be afraid to approach, no running horse that a slow-footed petitioner could not keep pace with, ‘but he comes on a quiet [donkey], that the poorest [and the smallest] of his subjects may not be discouraged in their access to him.”
Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.
Jesus procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.
Two invitations are offered this morning:
-Will we attend the Roman procession of military power – Caesar
-or the peace procession of Jesus, the Messiah?
Palm Sunday is an invitation to place ourselves in Jerusalem at one end of the city or another…to announce that we seek either the Kingdom of God or a Human Kingdom…
Now of course, when you put it like that…its such an easy choice. Of course… God over human. Jesus over Pilate. Donkey over horse.
How could we possibly make any other choice? But its not that easy…it never is for us.
What a great story this would be if Palm Sunday ended…you know, in a way that it doesn’t!
We enact this every year…waving the branches. Singing Hosanna…placing ourselves on the ‘good side’ of Jerusalem…And I wish this is how the story ended! That the east siders stayed loyal! Stayed connected! Stayed with Jesus.
But we know full well that those branches they were waving would wither and die within a week. They would be thrown aside…along with our songs and praises….and “Hosanna in the Highest” would turn to “Crucify Him.”
We know that soon enough Jesus would lead another procession…this time carrying a cross…
How did that humble procession head south so fast?
The problem is, Jesus’ followers had read ALL OF Zechariah’s prophecy…not just the donkey bit…but also the parts about commanding peace of the nations saving Israel…something about ruling from sea to sea.
And they maybe jumped to a few conclusions that were not entirely accurate.
In other words, they reached the destination before they even knew where Jesus was going!
“Ha! At next years parade…no more donkeys, no more ‘wrong side of town’, no more coats in the dirt…”
Next year…Jesus will come riding in on a noble steed…we’ll get confetti, we’ll get balloons!
We’ll finally get the savior we’ve always dreamed up! They wanted a savior…they just him their way.
Turns out these east side parade goers wanted to head across town with their savior… their emperor…their new Caesar.
Too bad no one asked Jesus about this…because this wasn’t anywhere near where he was going…
He knew where this procession would ultimately lead…and he knew that once everything was said and done…very few would be left following him.
They had chosen the destination without asking Jesus if that was actually where he was going.
Many of you have just returned from Spring Break journeys…or back from winters down south…or trips to Zealand (really any journey works).
Our family got back yesterday from Asheville, NC…our faithful minivan of 10 years had not one, not two, but three separate ‘incidents’ along the way…and so the relief of reaching a destination is fresh in my mind.
For those of you who have ever driven south…you know what its like to drive back. And when you reach that Michigan border…Sweet Moses…you can taste it.
Your home…your bed…getting out of the car…and every time it seems as though Holland has been moved 100 miles further north than it was the last time.
Of course by now, the snacks are gone, the movies all watched, the devices are dead… and the barometric pressure starts rising…and you find yourself saying things like “don’t make me come back there,” even though you swore you would NEVER say that.
You just want to get home.
Jesus’ journey had lasted the course of his ministry…and the crowd seemed to know that it was about finished.
They had dreamt about this destination: the Roman Empire overturned, Herod toppled…freedom for Israel! Glory and restoration recovered!
It was so close.
And so when Jesus veers off course right around the Michigan border…you can understand why people got so upset.
Truth be told, if Kyle had taken the 1-90 exit for Chicago…there may have been a ‘fourth’ incident with our minivan.
This was not the ending they had so clearly marked out for Jesus…’it says right here on my phone…that your route leads you to the fortress…leads to you the empire…and leads US to freedom.
But they hadn’t bothered to ask for directions…
They had wanted so desperately for their current situation to be solved…for the oppression to end…for a David-like King to reign again…that they filled the route and the destination…
Sadly, their route merged with the other procession…or at least echoed it. They despised the Romans on the one hand and longed to take their place on the other…
…their entire image of Savior sprung out of the their hatred for their oppressors.
And while it is true that they were not fairly treated, that they were under represented and disadvantaged…this is not the fertile soil to grow visions of a Savior.
Anne Lamott, says “You really know when you’ve made Jesus into your own image. When your God ends up hating the same people you hate.”
Lamott’s words are too true for all of us – what does the king look like in your image? What would, or maybe what does King Jesus exemplify falsely for us?
There are two groups meeting right now at Fellowship going through what is called, “The Colossian Way.” It's a simple process that encourages us all to “act like Christians in the face of conflict.” One of the things I love about it is that it does not attempt to change anyone’s mind about anything. It simply invites you to a posture of seeking to understand other perspectives.
In our last session, we talked about how it is amazing that any two thoughtful people can look at the same situation and come to completely different conclusions. One of the explanations for this is something called ‘confirmation bias.’…
This is simply a reality of how our brains work…as we start learning about something….we quickly form a hypothesis about what is true. When we think we know what’s going on…we tend to over-convince ourselves rather than allow that we may be wrong. We block ourselves off from other possible solutions…
In other words, we follow the path to the destination before we really know where’s its going.
Jesus’ followers…they had learned the prophesies…they had heard bits and pieces of Jesus teaching…or at least gossip about who he has…and they were living in an extremely oppressive society.
It is easy to imagine how their confirmation bias was more of a desperate bias. Rescue us! Save us! Help us!
And here he comes! He must be about to do what we want him to do!
But the Jesus we want is not the Jesus who arrives. The Jesus who arrives is the Jesus we need.
In the face of oppression, he pursues peace. In the face of poverty, he gives everything.
In the face of humiliation, he accepts humility. We do not need a Caesar…we need a Savior.
In the west-bound procession…Jesus makes a powerful statement about kingship.
Those of us who stay by his side do the same in our followership.
It's interesting to me…palms are not mentioned in the book of Luke. Coats are. Twice.
People took off their outer garments and laid them literally on a donkey…and along a path where donkeys walk. Luke was more concerned with what the crowd was laying down than what they were waving around.
As they lay down their coats, Jesus is preparing to lay down his life.
Our Savior is the king of compassion, peace, and grace…thanks be to God.
If he weren’t in this manner – if he came in our ways – if he came on a steed, donning a sword, then he might face us with judgment, power and violence, anger and might.
The king named Jesus approaches us the same way he approached those who crucified him – holy, peaceful and generous, selfless, and riding on a donkey accessible to all of us. That’s our king!
The good news is that with gentility, hope and goodness Christ comes to reign on this earth.
We fail Jesus every time we place him in our immediate, over-extended, self-centered, instantly gratified expectations. But through his grace, he looks past our sin of expectation and comes in his kingly love and generosity.
Will we allow Christ to lead us to places we have not even imagined? Will we stay with him even when the road becomes hard?
Will we lay down our comfort for the sake of another?
These are Palm Sunday questions…these are Holy Week Questions…these are Kingdom questions.
We’re at the Michigan border…the hardest part of the journey is up ahead…
May we have the courage to finish the journey with Christ…all the way to the cross…dying to our selfish expectations…and filled with wonder for what is to come.