Scripture Text: Matthew 21: 1-11 (Palm A)
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.”
I know…you were expecting palms. Most of us love this day. Since my childhood, I have been waving palm branches on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna”, and reenacting that first century parade with Jesus riding on that donkey. It was Jesus’ grand procession (or something like it) as he entered the city. And so we wave our palm branches and try to pretend that we are oblivious to all that comes next. We look at the palm branches and we ignore the heavy gate just up ahead. You see, Jesus was already setting himself up for accusation. He was entering through the East gate, the gate through which the prophets had long ago proclaimed the Messiah would enter. So Jesus was setting himself up for blasphemy charges for claiming that he WAS the Messiah. The truth is that this is not just a parade. It is full of overtones of the suffering to come. The rumblings of what would come next were all around them. So, this “celebration” is not merely a parade; it is the beginning of where the journey will now take us. It is the procession that takes us to the gate.
I think if we see this day as merely a parade, it is too easy to walk away, too easy to just lay our palm branch down, and fall off with the crowd. The “hosannas” are easy. The hard part is to stay with Jesus as he walks through the gate. Because, 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.
This procession represents transition, a movement from one life to the next, a change in the journey. 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. The palm branch means nothing by itself. In a way, it is a parody of our life as we know it, a life that reveres Christ without following and celebrates without speaking out. This procession of palms is the way to the gate, the way to the threshold of what life holds. It is scary for us 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.
So where do we stand? On this side of the gate, the one with all the palm branches, is celebration and safety and comfort and the way we’ve always been. Beyond the gate is anointing and questions, betrayal and handing over, last meals together and mock trials, declarations of guilt and death. But there is another gate beyond that, the one that brings us Life, the one that takes us to who we are called to be. Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our procession from slavery to freedom, from who we are to who we will be, from the life we’ve designed for ourselves to the one that God envisions for us. This is our procession to life. This IS the Way. So, keep walking. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)
As this holiest of weeks begins, where are you standing? The journey has brought you to a gate. Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Are you willing to give up what you know for Life? What will you leave behind?
Grace and Peace,