Alright, so confession time: I haven’t kept up with the blog everyday like I planned.
I’m in the process of doing some serious life-weeding, trying to find what’s important, what I can let slide, and what is absolutely essential in my life. The truth is, I’m going through a series of changes and transitions: the end of my seminary career, the beginning of my journey through commissioning and residency in the United Methodist Church, and dealing with health problems that are truly affecting almost every aspect of my life. I’ve got a lot on my plate.
It’s with this in mind, that I promise to keep this blog going, throughout all my changes. No, I won’t be doing the daily blogging thing. That was a bit too much for me this year. But I will do what I can to keep it going weekly or more, if I can. I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from you, dear readers, and want to thank you all for reading my incoherent ramblings on faith, culture, and nerdiness.
That said, here’s my sermon from this past Sunday, March 24, 2013. Enjoy!
After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Luke’s version of Palm Sunday is a day of great parallels. For those rusty on their geometry, a parallel line is a line that runs in the same direction as another line, but never touches that line. In many ways, the bible is built on parallels. Stories never repeat each other in exactly the same way, but there are echoes of stories all over the place in the bible. As Mark Twain once said, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
I say this in particular because this story echoes Luke’s nativity story in some very crucial ways. In Luke’s version, when Jesus was born, it gives us the beautiful account of the shepherds in fields. As they watched their flock by night, the Angel of the Lord appeared to them, and though they were terrified, the Angel said to them “Fear not! For I am bringing you good news of great joy!” Then, he tells them that in the city of Bethlehem, a child will be born who is to be a savior, the messiah promised to the world through prophets of old. Almost as soon as the angel said this, in the sky appeared a dazzling multitude of angels, singing together a song that rang through the heavens and the earth, a song of heavenly beauty: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”
It’s a moment of tremendous joy, of great beauty, of immense celebration. The birth of the messiah is a celebration that marks a significant time of the year, a time where we do our best to celebrate the hope, the joy, and the peace that was promised in the birth of God with us. Luke gives us the story in a distinct way from Matthew, because in many ways, he gives us a ground view of the incarnation, instead of the top-down view of Matthew. The people that came to celebrate the birth of the baby are of two extremes: on one side, the angels in all their majesty, singing glorias to God on high, and on the other, the stinky, tired, overworked shepherds, who gaze on in awe at the birth of a child, a child who would be the deliverance of the world.
Throughout the rest of Luke, from that point on, we see the circumstances of Jesus’ ministry, and that business of doing what he was born to do: deliver the world from evil, sin, and death. He announced his mission in his hometown, and almost died in the process. He went around walking from town to town, preaching, healing, and doing various miracles. However, the healings and miracles were always in service to the teaching. His mission was to usher in the kingdom of God, to initiate the salvation of the world.
We come now, on Palm Sunday, to the beginning of the end. It’s the prelude to the final movement of the grand symphony of the Gospels. The beginning of Holy week, is about as close as it gets to a rollercoaster ride in Christianity. It starts off on a huge high, a grand parade, joyful singing, and defiant hope in the face of oppression. However, as well all know, things get kind of bumpy to say the least… but, we’ll get to that in a few days. As for today, we have the triumphant entry of the Messiah into the holy city, riding a colt, surrounded by his disciples, singing and shouting, heralding in a new age.
The disciples are of particular importance in this story though. They are the ones who do almost all the work in the story, which is significant, because throughout most of the gospel, it’s Jesus driving the narrative. In this one though, we see the supporting cast doing a lot of the heavy legwork. While it’s true it’s Jesus that takes the central place in the parade, and while it’s true that Jesus tells the disciples what to do, it’s wouldn’t be much of a parade without people to participate in it, and they wouldn’t be very good disciples if they didn’t do what Jesus asked them to do.
In this story, we see perhaps not history repeating itself, but we certainly see history in rhyme. Jesus is coming into the world as a king, but a humble king, a king not on a grand horse or chariot but on a small colt. In many ways, he’s coming in as a parody of an earthly king, mocking the powers that be. We see him being heralded, but not this time by an army of angels, but rather his followers. As we know, his followers are not warriors, but fishermen, scribes, tax collectors, physicians—he is not surrounded by the greatest but the least of these. His mission on earth for salvation is coming to its climax, and so he is surrounded by his friends, heralded as a king for all people.
The song of the disciples is important though. When the angels sang, they sang of glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. For the disciples, the song is similar, but with a different conclusion. Their song is of blessings to this king on earth, and for peace in heaven. This is a crucial difference, I think, because in it, we see the disciples understanding that things are really coming to a head, that entering Jerusalem is the do-or-die moment for this movement of theirs. Their thoughts and motives are very heaven-focused. They are beginning to accept the idea that this Jesus of theirs truly is the messiah, and he is here to bring the peace of heaven to earth.
In many ways, the story of Palm Sunday reflects the actions of the disciples onto us. The story begins to shift away from Jesus, and onto the followers of Jesus—in other words, setting up the beginning of the church. The disciples are doing what we should be doing every single day—taking the prince of peace with us wherever we go. Usually, though, this comes at great peril, great cost, for us. It comes with resistance. It comes with danger.
Jesus is met with this resistance during the parade, when the high priest tells him to make his followers be quiet. His response though, is to resist, but peaceably. He’s got his followers around him. He could easily have started a riot if he wanted to. But he doesn’t. He simply responds with, what is to him, a self-evident truth: If I was to tell them to do that, instead of them shouting, the very stones on the road we walk on would be shouting instead. He says this because this moment is bigger than the priest could conceive. This movement is not a flash in the pan. This is bigger than you, bigger than me, bigger than all of us. This is God moving on earth itself. We ought to be praising God no matter what, and in lieu of us doing it, nature will do it anyways.
Palm Sunday is a day of celebration, this is true. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with his followers is a momentous occasion. However, the truth is, it’s easy to celebrate when things are going well. Jesus is at the height of his influence in this story. The people are with him, the movement is in his favor, and the momentum is rolling right along. It’s easy to get caught up in the good feelings of a parade. Everyone loves a party. But what happens when the party ends? What happens when the tide turns against you? What happens when the messiah is betrayed?
Four days from now, the story will be different. We celebrate now. We feast with him on Thursday. On Friday, the story takes a sharp downward turn. The question is then put to us: how are we to be the followers of Christ when things aren’t so good? On Palm Sunday, the joy comes easily. But what about when the party’s over?
It’s an easy mistake we make, mistaking God for a good feeling. The truth is, Jesus never promised us a good feeling all the time, nor did anyone else in the bible. While we may have a good shepherd with us going through the valley of the shadow of death, God never promised us that we wouldn’t have to walk through it. In fact, Jesus practically guaranteed we would face hard times. The command is given to us to get up, take up our crosses, and follow him—wherever that might be.
So we are given a difficult road, and a hard week ahead of us. Indeed, a hard life is promised to us. But it’s up to us to be disciples, despite it all. It takes courage to do so. Today though, we are given an opportunity to celebrate the triumphant entry of the one we call Lord into the holy city. We are called to celebrate Christ into all places, even though Christ isn’t welcomed by all. We are the representatives of Christ, and that representation means joy in the face of sorrow, goodness in the face of evil, defiance in the face of oppression, and love in the face of hate. We sing on Palm Sunday loud hosannas as the angels at Christ’s birth sang Gloria. We praise him, because even through the darkest valleys, Christ is still king, the prince of peace, God with us. May we rejoice with the messiah in the peace that comes from heaven, the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.