This the sermon from Palm Sunday, March 24th, 2013. The text for that Sunday came from Luke 19:28-40.
Exactly What We Need
I’m sure you’ve seen it before. In the movies, I mean. The criminal dashes down the street, police officer hot on their heels. They turn a corner and dive into their getaway car, tires squealing on the pavement as they peel out in the opposite direction. The officer slows down, chest heaving with exertion. They look around, frantically. The criminal is getting away. I can identify with this feeling. I feel like I spend a lot of my life frantic, always a few steps behind my goals, watching them speed off into the distance.
But of course this is a movie. The police officer sees what she needs. A car is passing. She runs out into the street, waving her badge at the driver. With the car stopped, she grabs the driver’s side door. “Get out of the car,” she says. The driver resists briefly but obliges, and the car’s rear end fishtails as she burns rubber trying to catch up with the crook.
Now what I love about this moment, and it happens almost every time, is this: The officer is completely out of control, and they only have a split second to find a vehicle, but they still manage to commandeer a pretty sweet ride. Always a muscle car, never say, a ’95 Volvo with a window that won’t go all the way up.
In getting ready for Palm Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice the way Jesus also commandeers a vehicle. Only instead of racing out and grabbing the nearest speedster he can find in a rush of adrenaline, Jesus has planned his entry into Jerusalem in advance. He sends two of his disciples to get the animal, and when the owners ask them what they think they are doing, they flash their credentials: “The Lord needs it.” Jesus has chosen his vehicle carefully, with an eye to what his needs are. And with all the time to plan and make arrangements, he sends his disciples for a colt, the foal of a donkey. If even a police officer running through traffic can at least come up with a Mustang, you would think that Jesus could do better than a pack animal.
It is important for us to understand that it is no coincidence that brings Jesus into Jerusalem, and the events of this week are not caused by getting swept up in the tide, or losing control. Jesus was in control, that final week, just as he is now, even when it seems like he is not. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem for very deliberate reasons. Jesus enters on the colt because this is what is supposed to happen.
The people who walk with Jesus, the multitude of the disciples who walk ahead of and behind him think they know exactly what Jesus’ procession means. Jesus walks the route that kings walk, he enters from the Mount of Olives, as Solomon did, and as the Maccabees did when they came to cleanse the Temple. He rides a donkey, like Zechariah prophesied, and tomorrow will cleanse the Temple of its merchants, fulfilling the verse in Zechariah 14, “When that time comes, there will no longer be any merchants in the Temple of the Lord Almighty.”
Those who were with him had seen the miracles he had worked in Galilee. Even in Bethany, a short walk away, they had seen him heal a blind man. They had heard his teachings, heard him challenge those in authority to take care of the poor and the weak. They heard him speak as the prophets spoke, proclaiming the coming of God’s justice, the arrival of God’s kingdom on earth. And they heard him speaking to them, saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” All this was on their minds as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
They expected the city to erupt with joy, to rally to his banner. They expected a new era of peace and freedom to return Jerusalem to its former glory, a glory they had only heard about. They know that with them is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. They do not know that he comes to die. I can imagine they are a little bit confused when their numbers do not swell as they approach the Temple. And then they are shocked when the Pharisees come out to stop their procession. Do they not also yearn for the arrival of one who can right the wrongs of their world, who will liberate the oppressed, and open the eyes of their oppressors? How could things be going so wrong? How could the city reject the one who comes to bring them peace? This is not at all what they expected.
It is at this moment that we have to remember that this is what is supposed to happen. It is at this moment, when things are falling apart, when our idealism is broken, and the world has rejected our attempts to bring peace, justice, and hope. When our best-laid plans bear no fruit. Now is when we have to remember that Jesus sent for the donkey, that he planned this procession, that he knew where his footsteps would take him, and the rejection he would face.
It is not that rejection is what should happen. Certainly God’s kingdom should reign and evil and selfishness and sinfulness should not exist. It is not even necessarily that this is what is supposed to happen. It is simply what does happen. When someone refuses to go along with a society that sells oppression as righteousness. When someone proclaims a better way, and gets enough people curious to threaten the lifestyles of the people on top. When someone decides to fight back but will not do it according to the devil’s rules.
The powers that be cannot allow something like that to continue, it is a challenge to their very existence.
And Jesus rides his donkey right into the middle of it. Because Jesus, and perhaps even us, if we pay close enough attention, knows something that the powers that be do not know. The conflict between Jesus and the religious and political authorities of his day is inevitable. But what Jesus knows, and what the disciples will discover, is that God’s victory is inevitable as well. The power of powerlessness cannot be crushed. The essence of humility cannot be humbled. How can you oppress the one who makes himself a slave? How do you execute someone who goes willingly to his death? How can you beat someone when their victory is in defeat? Even if the powers that be were somehow able to wipe him off the planet, even the very stones would take up the cry.
This is what we need to remember, when we go back into the frantic chase of our Monday morning lives, that the depressing and overwhelming failure of the world to live up to the standards of God’s justice was saved not through strength of might or power of influence or sheer numbers, but through a king of peace whose power was in humility, whose courage was in faith. And that is the only way it could be. It is not at all what we expect. But it is exactly what we need.