April 2, 2023 – Palm Sunday
22A Palm Sunday
When Jesus and his disciples 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.” Matthew 21:1-11
I once spoke with a man who said that he always remembers his siblings on special days, like birthdays, even though they never remember him. When I asked why he bothered to keep in mind his brothers and sisters who didn’t remember him, he responded by saying that he did it because he wanted to. He said, “Just because they are the way they are, I don’t have to be like them.”
I’d like to ask you, for a moment, to think about how much of our actions both individually and collectively are reactive. We do unto people as we think they deserve. We do unto people as they do unto us. We do unto people because we are angry or fearful or hurt. We do unto people, and they do back unto us. A vicious cycle is established that goes round and round until someone steps out and says, “No one wins in this way. I don’t have to be like them.” And then the cycle is interrupted. And so, with just one act of deference, everything begins to change.
At the beginning of Holy Week, on this Palm Sunday, we once again pause and listen to the story of Jesus’ final hours as he ate that last supper with his disciples, and was betrayed, mocked, and crucified. And we remember his final words said as he hung dying on the cross, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
With that one act of deference, with these words that we still remember today, Jesus stopped the vicious cycle. He took what was inhumane and made it human. He took what was cruel, brutal, heartless, merciless, and vicious and he recreated it with mercy and true power. He took injustice and responded with forgiveness.
Jesus redefined what it is to be human and now we, in all that we do, are always standing at that threshold. Do we do unto others as they have done unto us, or do we do something different?
If we dug a huge grave, miles wide and miles deep and buried every rifle, pistol, knife, bullet, bomb, bayonet. Maybe no children would be killed when they are in school.
If we jumped upon fleets of tanks and fighter jets with tools and blow torches and unwelded them and dismantled them and turned them into scrap metal. Maybe Ukraine would not be living this nightmare of death and destruction.
If every light-skinned person said to every dark-skinned person, I vow not to kill your children and heard the same vow in return. Maybe policing would be wearing a different face.
If every elected leader agreed to stop lying.
If every child was fed as well as racehorses bred to win derbies.
If every mother buried her parents and not her sons and daughters.
If every person who has enough, said out loud, I have enough.
If every person who was violent in the name of God, were to find God.
Would we and the whole world not become still for a moment, and maybe silent for a lifetime?
So that we would hear infants nursing at the breast and hummingbirds hovering in flight.
So that we would touch a canyon wall and feel the earth vibrate.
So that we would hear two lovers sigh across the ocean.
So that we would watch old wounds grow new flesh and jagged scars disappear.
Jesus laid down the seeds of what was to become that new day that we, the children of God, would begin, the moment He entered Jerusalem. And at each step in the final moments of his life, he reminded us that indeed there is a different way.
At the beginning of Holy Week, we stand with Jesus before the gates of a city. We stand among an adulating crowd. It was a crowd that expected Him to rid Jerusalem of a fraudulent, exploitative, and oppressive government; a vicious and murderous police presence; and a self-righteous and self-serving religious establishment; and to do this with a forceful and mighty arm, and with all the power that we believe is God.
It is from this place that Jesus goes to celebrate a supper of love, during which He becomes the food and drink, of one who will betray Him, of one who will deny Him, and of all but one who will desert Him.
It is from this place that Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane and is taken from that place before the powers of this world. This time his hands bound like those of a criminal, and he is not riding upon an ass but being treated as if he were an ass.
Today brings us once again to that point of entry, to those gates, and to the threshold of that dysfunctional city that is the reactive world in which we live. Do we enter trusting in our own power to make the difference or in the power of God to bring forth salvation? We know that once we have entered, we will be swept up in events that we cannot control and that will bring us to the very edge of what we can bear, as we dare walk with him to Calvary and the tomb.
This week tells us that God can change everything about us – our fear, our sin, our guilt, our untruthfulness. But to receive that change in the actual circumstances of our lives, asks of all of us, such a revolution in our hearts that we are stunned and frightened at the thought. At these city gates, we see the possibilities. Here are those possibilities.
We can either enter with Jesus, and we can walk with him to his garden of new life, or we can enter and find ourselves caught up in the murderous crowds, and, at the end of it all, find ourselves with hands both empty and bloodstained. Or we can stay at the gates, unwilling to commit ourselves because we know that as soon as we enter there will be trial and suffering; but if we stay at the gates, we shall never reach the garden.
But we look to One who is more than a prophet, who has cleared the way for us not just back to the garden of Eden but forward to a new garden, the one in which an empty tomb becomes the portal to a new city, a new Jerusalem in which the nations are healed, and strangers live gratefully together.
The gates are open. So too is the invitation to take up our cross. May God give us the courage, the strength, and the grace to follow in the way that brings us new life.
April 2, 2023