Sermon for Sunday April 14, 2019 Palm Sunday “Jesus, Jesus He’s our Man…”
I suspect that you have seen and completed the puzzles that require you to find the differences in two pictures that at a glance appear the same. What’s missing or what’s added, they say there are six of them, can you find them all?
Maybe you grew up like I did, in a church where Palm Sunday was one of the most fun times in the year. It didn’t have presents like Christmas but it did have palms and it was one Sunday when we children were not only invited into the sanctuary but allowed to be a little rowdy. Who would have thought our Sunday School class would have to be told to be louder when we shouted Hosanna? So we come to Palm Sunday, perhaps with that vision in mind; we’ve heard this story. We know: Jesus, palms, crowds, hosanna. But to truly hear Luke’s version of this story, the one we read today, begin by noticing what isn’t there: no palms, no children, no hosanna. Perhaps if we notice what isn’t there and clear it away, we will be ready to see what is there. That’s our job today: see what Luke shows us, understand what God means, consider what to do about it.
Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem for a long time. Along the way, he told his friends that it would mean martyrdom, a cross, death, suffering but that they should believe as he did in God’s power to give life, in God’s love beyond life and death. Everything in the gospels says they didn’t believe him. When he first tells them, Peter himself says he didn’t believe it and argued with Jesus. James and John are arguing about the power structure of the new administration of King Jesus right up to the very end, to the point where he has to tell them to stop.
Jerusalem is on top of a small mountain, Mount Zion The road up to it is windy and switches back and forth. At Passover, people came from all over to the city, so it would have been crowded. Jesus and his disciples and followers are peasants and so are most of the people around them. They don’t have special clothes for this special time; peasants wore a sort of undergarment and a cloak. The cloak was valuable enough to pawn for a day’s food, important enough that there was a law that the pawnbroker couldn’t keep the cloak overnight. They’re often pictured marching like a military unit, lined up behind Jesus with crowds on either side but that’s a mistake. Jesus and his friends are part of a larger procession of pilgrims to the city.
Now they come to the Mount of Olives. It’s where Jesus will go after the last supper, where he will pray, where he will be arrested. There are really two processions going on here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success.
As they move along, Jesus sends some disciples off to acquire a colt. And he gives them a coded phrase: “The Lord has need of it.” Now the word ‘Lord’ has a double meaning. It could mean the owner of the donkey but it’s also the word most often used to describe Jesus. The way he instructs them is strange: “If someone asks why you are untying it…” Just say, ‘the Lord has need of it’ In the event, when they untie the colt, it’s the owner himself who confronts them. Sometimes when this is preached, explanations are created about how Jesus had prearranged for the colt. We don’t really know, but if he had done so, why are the owners asking what they’re doing? “The Lord has need of it,” they say. Here ‘Lord’ clearly means Jesus. The owner must have faced a difficult choice. A colt is valuable. Here, he’s confronted with a choice; what would you do? “The Lord has need of it.”
What we call the Palm Procession really begins with this colt. When they bring it back, they throw their cloaks, their valuable cloaks, on it to make a saddle and it says “…they put Jesus on it. He doesn’t climb on, he doesn’t mount up, like the Spirit whooshing him off to the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, his friends put him up on that colt. Suddenly people must have looked and suddenly he’s become a symbol and suddenly he’s mocking all the pageantry of the marching Romans and soldiers, coming to Jerusalem. Coming mounted, as they are, but on a colt. People must have noticed and remembered that the prophet Zechariah had said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9] There are two processions here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success. One is led by people proud of their power; one by a man rocking humbly on a colt. One is led by people determined to deal death to make power; one is led by someone who believes life can overcome death.
The crowd notices; people are inspired. They take off their cloaks and throw them down. We call it Palm Sunday but there are no palms, no branches cut from trees. The cloaks they are throwing down are for some their most valuable possession. Like the owners of the colt, they have heard, “The Lord has need of it” and give more than what they have—they give what they are. For it’s dangerous to celebrate this prophet. This is exactly the kind of demonstration those soldiers are meant to stop. Just as some Pharisees had warned Jesus that Herod was trying to kill him, now they warn him to make his followers be quiet, to stop this dangerous demonstration. Jesus simply says; it can’t be stopped: if they stop, creation itself will take up the cry.
What is it they are shouting? We all grew up shouting hosanna, which means “Save us”. I’ve led countless services over the years where we had people shout, where we waved palms, I’ve done it here. Notice the details in this account, because each account has something to say. In this one, it’s not Hosanna they shout, it’s “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” We’ve heard that, or something very much like that before, haven’t we? It’s like the lines to an old song, the kind that can drive you crazy trying to remember, or the one that just won’t leave your head. Where did we hear it? What’s the title? Who’s the singer? We heard it on Christmas Eve. Its title is the Advent, the birth, of Christ. It’s the song of the angels. We have circled back to Christmas; we have circled back to Jesus.
In this story, it’s the people around him who move the story forward: the owner of the colt, who gives it when the Lord has need of it, the friends who make a saddle of their cloaks, because the Lord has need of them, the people who don’t even know Jesus yet, lay down their cloaks because somehow they too sense the Lord has need of them.
What are we to do about all this? Every one of us eventually faces a moment when we sense the Lord has need of something. We’ve been talking throughout Lent about covenant. Perhaps the greatest need of all, is for us simply to believe Jesus, listen to him, and build our life together around what he says instead of what we think. Who we are is God’s children; who we are is people meant to sing songs of praise like the ones around Jesus. What the Lord needs isn’t just what we have: it’s who we are. If we don’t sing the song of salvation, it’s left to the stones. God will make a way, God is making a way, and we are meant to be that way.
This is Palm Sunday and it is about a procession but there are really two processions. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is those walking toward popularity, marching toward worldly success. Which one are you marching in? The one you give when the moment comes and the Spirit ask: “The Lord has need of it.”