The stage had been set. As Jesus and the disciples approached the city of Jerusalem, he sends ahead a party of two to enter the small village near the Mount of Olives. They were to seek out the owner of a young colt, never ridden. It is clear that Jesus had made arrangements ahead of time or at the very least, the owner was a disciple whose only explanation would have been that the Lord has need of it.
The two disciples returned and some of the followers placed their cloaks on the donkey. Others placed their outer garments down on the path as Jesus makes his grand processional.
There were two crowds. One was led by Pilate riding high, most likely on the finest thoroughbred. He represented power and might of that day – not just physically but all the systems of oppression and abuse. Pilate served a vicious king named Caesar whose reign was marked by ruthlessness and a lack of mercy. Caesar was a man obsessed by his own ego and his rule was a “by any means necessary” mindset. There were legions of army at Pilate’s discretion ready to do anything to exert their authority.
And on the other side was another kind of king. This king owned nothing and by most standards would have been overlooked. This king was a king of the people, for the people whose reign was marked by justice, peace, mercy, love, and the common good. Among his followers were the poor and dispossessed; those burdened with the difficulties of life lacking advocacy, proper health care, and places to lay their heads.
They were those who lived in the margins of society and for whom there would have been few to zero benefits. There were those whose hearts were filled with compassion; whose eyes had been opened to greater truth; those who have heard the good news for all people and those yearning to be faithful, though not always able to deliver.
For Peter was in that crowd along with James and John and Judas too. They were a motley crew representing all motley crews, including people like us.
They didn’t have fine things for their king – no red carpet rolled out – and yet they knew that he was a king worthy of honor, love, and respect.
They recognized the value of good leadership, the severity of their circumstance, and the only hope of a new order and for better days.
Luke tells us that the whole multitude began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power 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!”
We might be tempted to be like some of those Pharisees. I mean, it might be easy to be embarrassed by this noisy crowd. Their behavior is so undignified, what an embarrassment!
Do they not know that soon and very soon this Jesus is going to be arrested, put on trial and charged with treason? Their king is about to die and so too will their hopes and dreams. Can they not grasp the seriousness of this moment for what it truly is?
I almost understand how some of those Pharisees might have felt. It is often difficult for the well to fully understand what it’s like to be sick, with little care, pain and to the point of death – and then to be fully healed. Though empathetic, the privileged and advantaged can rarely imagine the full deprivation of being without. Hard as we might try, it is near impossible to fully walk in someone else’s shoes or to stand in their skin, especially those who have nothing. Our range is short and we hurry back to our sense of normalcy because we love our privilege.
But Jesus responds to the critics: “I tell you, if these were to keep silent, the stones would shout out!”
My brothers and sisters, may we not depend on rocks to cry out for us.
A short time later, Jesus looks out over the city of Jerusalem and weeps. For some of us, this may have been the first Bible verse we ever learned: “Jesus wept.” He wept for this city that he loved and those whose minds have been closed to the moment at hand.
I think Jesus wept for those present and the future world unfolding. He wept for those who would be burdened by hard hearts, for all of humanity. Jesus wept.
I think he wept for those at our borders seeking asylum and safety.
I think he wept for those unable to make a livable wage. Those who are barely making ends meet.
He wept for those sexually and physically abused and assaulted with no one to advocate on their behalf.
He said: “Indeed the days will surely come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
The week before us will be busy, but I encourage you to pay attention. Live into it.
We read these ancient texts and sing these hymns and we know how it will all unfold. We ask what wondrous love is this o my soul, o my soul? What kind of love does such things even for those who cannot fully grasp its meaning?
On this Palm Sunday, let us also take our place in the crowd. May we witness not only the death of Christ but our own death and the hope of a fresh new life as we take our place in the grand parade.
We embrace our Lord’s agony and we embrace our own agonies – whatever they might be – because we know that they are not all there is. This holy moment, beautiful and precious is before us so marred and yet so triumphant. There is a reason we call it Holy Week. Holy Week.
The cross is a mere interruption. We embrace it and settle ourselves into it because it is only a moment. The most significant of all moments, but not the final moment. Thanks be to God.