Do you have a vivid memory of a simple event from you past that has stayed with you for a lifetime? For me it was spring of 1969, and I was in the high school band. I had just finished the weekend of the school play, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” The Vietnam War was going on and some of those who had graduated before us were in the service and some of my classmates were headed for the military. My high school was just across the river from Philadelphia and the cast and orchestra were invited to perform some scenes from the show at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. I didn’t think much about it other than as a chance to get a day off from school and be with my friends in the band. So we went to the hospital, and chatted a little with the injured sailors while doing our homework before the show. The cast made the show even funnier by hamming it up and the sailors loved it. Soon we were on the bus headed back to school. As our bus drove slowly out the drive way, the servicemen followed. Then some of them ripped cherry blossom branches from the trees lining the road and thrust them into our bus windows. It was an amazing experience to be so appreciated, a very sweet but poignant memory of how some men who had plenty of problems of their own showed love to some kids who were just there having a good time. In the midst of their suffering and loss, they experienced joy and showed gratitude for a little while.
When I read the Palm Sunday passage I am reminded of that time. When we read the story, it seems that Jesus is the only one who really knows what is to come. Jesus and his closest disciples were at Bethphage about a mile an a half east of Jerusalem. There Jesus had arranged to borrow a young donkey than had never been ridden because the donkey was the symbol of peace whereas the horse is the mount of a conquering general. No doubt Jesus had made arrangements earlier with the owner. He had walked these streets many times and knew the people and maybe even some of their animals. He had probably said to his friend, “Look, I’m going to need to borrow your colt at Passover time. I’ll send one of my friends to get the donkey when I need it.”
This was Jesus’ “reveal” parade where he became open about his being the Messiah, a different kind of king, God’s son. So the disciples get the colt and put Jesus on it and he starts the wild ride toward Jerusalem.
The gospel of Luke, unlike Matthew, Mark and John’s gospels says that people threw their cloaks on the road before him. No mention of palms, oddly enough, but no way of knowing that they did not also put palms on the paths before Jesus. And when I think about it , I don’t think I would easily put my coat down on the path a donkey was about to travel.
As Jesus began to ride the colt down the Mount of Olives apparently a huge number of people began to praise God using the words of Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9:9. Some Pharisees, leaders of the Jewish temple, criticized the outrageous display of honor, but Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout.” Jesus, knowing what is to come, openly reveals his identity.
Jesus is clearly a man in control. Unlike so many other moments when he downplayed his identity, avoided calling attention to himself, now he is not sneaking into Jerusalem. He is claiming his authority and kingship. But he is a very different kind of king. He has not come to be an earthly sovereign. He has not come to overthrow the Romans, he is not a conquering hero, but rather Luke’s king is a different kind of leader. He rides a humble donkey rather than a horse. He comes in peace and in the name of the God who has sent him to show the people the loving face of God. He is a unique king, a king who is a Savior, a Messiah, God’s Son.
From where we stand, 2000 years later, I wonder what should be our response knowing what we know, knowing what will come next. It is wonderful to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with parades, music and palms. But we cannot celebrate without remembering the rest of the story.
We too live in a world wrought with conflict and violence, we long for an earthly ruler to make things right. In our context, what is Jesus calling us to do, who is Jesus calling you to be in this story? What happens after the parade? What kind of king do we worship? Are we willing to still follow him when he carries the cross? Are we willing to follow him 2000 years later?
Today, Jesus invites us to give our hearts and our lives to Him, not just for a moment, but forever. We are to celebrate and honor him but we are also to follow him into service and to be faithful to him when the bad times come.
We do not deny what comes next, but honor him today as an act of obedience and worship.
Today’s gospel calls us to an in-between space. Somewhere between Bethany and Jerusalem something big is going to happen. We are in the middle of the story and we celebrate the moment because we are the disciples and like the grateful injured sailors in my story, we do what we can to show our gratitude and love in this moment.
Spiritual writer Richard Foster says that celebration is a discipline. It is not something that falls form overhead. It is not something pumped up by others. Celebration is the result of a consciously chosen way of thinking and living. Joy in the Lord comes from following Jesus. It is an outgrowth of obedience.
Imagine the Palm Sunday parade is passing by Main Street USA. Do you see yourself just watching it, or have you joined in? Will you stick around when the parade ends, and things get rough, or will your life be unchanged?
Let us hold on to Palm Sunday is a day of celebration and thanksgiving. It is a day to say “Amen.” It is a day to lay down your everyday troubles and worship our King.
Please pray with me.
Gracious God, as we enter this Holy Week, strengthen us to move beyond the festive parade of palms and to follow Jesus into the way of the cross, so that united with him, and all the faithful, we may one day enter through the gates of righteousness into the eternal city, the new Jerusalem, where we may praise you with Christ and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen