28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “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. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As 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, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
I love Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s. I love starting on the Plaza out in what hopefully abundant sunlight and just enough of a breeze to cool us off without wrapping the banners around us. (That happened to me one year as I turned the corner along Main Street.) It is grand; it is glorious, taking us into the sanctuary with celebration, waving our palm branches and singing the well-known Palm Sunday hymns. And yet, we know what’s coming. We know that the celebration will end and reality will set in. So there’s a sense that we love the processional while wanting to hold back just a bit, stay in the procession just a bit longer, basking in the excitement.
Jesus is in the bustling capital city. He is no longer in the villages and open country of his home. The celebratory parade is also a protest march. The disciples should have known what was happening. Jesus had already laid it out for them. But they still did not comprehend what he had said. At this moment Jesus begins the sharp descent down the Mt. of Olives, winding his way toward Jerusalem. The road that he walked is a steep decline into the Garden of Gethsemane and then begins to ascend toward Mt. Moriah and then to the place of the temple. At this moment, the crowd sees him as a king, as one who will get them out of where they are. So this is a parade that befits a king. “Hosanna”, “the Coming One”, the one who restores Jerusalem.
Jesus enters. This is the moment. This is it. What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus entering from the east brought them something that they had never had before—the dawn of peace, truth, justice, and love. What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus had indeed come to restore them not to what was but to what should’ve been all along. So,sadly, the parade would fizzle. As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives. And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate. Jesus is in Jerusalem.
Well, of course, we know what happens after that. The stage is set. The characters are in place. The next five days would play out in a way that is, of course, NOT “in a way befitting”. But, for now, this procession, this entrance, is important. Processions always are. They are transitions. They take us from place to the next. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing. Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place. It is scary because we know what lies ahead. We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be. It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.
We are always in procession, always moving from one way of being to another. We are moving from darkness to light, from living with a fear of scarcity to living with an embrace of the abundance that God offers, from self-centeredness to self-surrender, from a certainty of who we are and who we should be to faith in a God who will lead us to a new thing. In this procession, we are moving from death to life. There, up ahead, there are the gates of the city. The waters have parted. The question is, is this the point where we drop out and go back to our lives? Or do we stay in procession, walking with Jesus, walking through the gates, knowing what lies ahead? Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our movement from slavery to freedom. This is our procession to life. So, keep walking.
…Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…It is a time for preparation…The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday. Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin. (From “Holy Week”, by Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)
Grace and Peace,