Lectionary Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11
When they 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.”

Last year when I had the opportunity to drive into Jerusalem for the first time, my senses told me that this was no ordinary place.  Most cities have a character, sort of a defining theme.  But this is a city of intersections.  Coming together right here in this small city as cities go (only 49 square miles) is the old city, seemingly untouched by time, and the new sparkling buildings surrounding it.  It is today, as it has always been, a place where the conflicts of both social politics and religious politics come together, not in unity but rather somehow choosing to live side by side with boundaries defined by centuries of distrust for each other and often heightened by physical expressions of that conflict.  And, the most powerful for me, was the intersection of my own life that I live often comfortably removed from this walk of Christ with this entrance into these gates that I had read and heard so much about.  It was almost surreal, as if I was being compelled to live the past and at the same time walk headlong into my future.  Because it is easy to say that one follows Christ.  But where are you when the crowd enters into this city where you don’t feel unsafe but you don’t feel at ease?  Intersections are indeed places of faith, places where God meets you, places where you have to choose to follow or not.

The Palm Sunday Road
Taken February, 2010

Most of us love the Palm Sunday passage.  We like waving our palms and processing into the sanctuary as we did this morning.  We like being a part of this Hosanna crowd.  But this is no ordinary parade.  Winding down the narrow Palm Sunday Road from Mt. Olivet through the Garden of Gethsemane, there is no room for bystanders, no room for those of us that want to just see it and then sneak off through the olive trees.  The road is steep and propels us forward toward the Eastern gate of the city.

In their book “The Last Week”, Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, contend that this was one of two parades.  The other was a grand and glorious Roman royal military parade coming into the Western gate.   The juxtaposition of these two processions would have set up quite a contrast.  Once came as an expression of empire and military occupation whose goal was to make sure oppressed people did not find deliverance.  It approached the city using horses, brandishing weapons, proclaiming the power of the empire.  The other procession, using a donkey and laying down cloaks and branches along the road, was coming quietly, profoundly proclaiming the peaceful reign of God.  Their contention is that our whole Palm Sunday “celebration”, as we call it, was a parody of the world as we know it, a satirical reminder that we are different.

Now whether you adhere to the notion of the two parades or not, I think it’s a powerful reminder to us what this processional of palms really meant.  Jesus had already made a name for himself from even as far away as Galilee.  But this was the city, the bustling intersection of Roman occupation and religious doctrine.  And when Jesus entered through the Eastern gate with his funny little entourage brandishing palms, even that was proclaiming blasphemous ideals (because remember that it had been prophesied that the Messiah would enter through the Eastern Gate, also known as the Messiah’s Gate and the Golden Gate).

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.  (Ezekiel 44: 1-3)

Street in Jerusalem
Taken February, 2010

So once they had entered this gate, this “parade” that we celebrate would have been on a clear collision course with power and might and the way things were in the world.  Once they had walked into the city, these two worlds, these two ways of being, would have collided.  It is easy for us to stand on the side and wave our palm branches but Palm Sunday thrusts us into something else.  It is an intersection of Galilee and Jerusalem, of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ Passion, of establishment and holy rebellion, of the ways of society and the Way of Christ.  This Palm Sunday processional, if we stay with it, thrusts us into Holy Week.  That is the reason that this is known as Palm / Passion Sunday.  You cannot disconnect the two notions.  This Way just keeps moving.  Where are you in the crowd?  The Way of Christ has turned toward the Cross.  Will you follow or go back to what you were doing?

On this day we joyously follow the crowd
Palms in hand and praises fair
Unaware that just inside the city gate
Worlds collide and tempers flare.
And we are faced with the choice
Between silent acquiescence and faith portrayed
For one will pacify the world we know
And one will take us farther along Christ’s Way.

As we enter this holiest of weeks, we must decide whether or not to follow.

Grace and Peace in Holiest of Weeks,


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