Palm Sunday B
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Mark 11:1-11
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 hear 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.
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.
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.
If every elected leader agreed to stop lying.
If every child was fed as well as racehorses bred to win derbies.
If every person with a second home gave it to a person with no home.
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 in the midst of 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.
He entered the city and entered the temple, but then Mark tells us, He left rather abruptly, and took the twelve with him to Bethany, to the house of his friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, their brother.
In his gospel, John captures a precious moment in that visit to Bethany. He tells us that, “Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” With this gesture she anticipated the anointing of his dead body in preparation for burial.
The scene of an exuberant and clamoring crowd gives way to a scene of generous and quiet hospitality and intimate fellowship – a supper of warm-hearted tenderness and abiding love.
It is from this loving place that Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane and is taken from that place for his second entry into Jerusalem. 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 is able to 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 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.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
March 28, 2021