Palm Sunday has come, and we celebrate again Jesus’ kingly entrance to Jerusalem. Here is Rev. Harrison’s Sermon, based on Matthew 21:1-11. Happy Holy Week!
The Calm Before the Storm
For Bartholomew, it was kind of a relief to see people smiling again. Over the past few weeks and months, following Jesus had become kind of depressing. In the beginning, following Jesus had been all feasts and miracles, sticking it to the Pharisees, and dreaming of the new world order they would be bringing in. But ever since they started working their way towards Jerusalem, Jesus had been, well, different.
How was he different? He just seemed darker. Sometimes you’d be talking, and he’d just get this far off, mournful look. And then he’d jerk back into focus and jump, as if he were surprised that you were standing there. And the things he was saying were changing. He talked less about the Kingdom and more about the Son of Man. “The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Always with the Son of Man and the dying. Bartholomey privately wondered if the execution of John the Baptist had shaken his nerve. He was always talking about dying or crosses, which is the way Romans kill rebels, and it made everyone walk around anxious and nervous, like they were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But not today. Today was different. Today everyone following Jesus was brimming with joy. This morning Jesus sent two disciples to steal a donkey. “Borrow” technically, they’ll bring it back when they get around to it, and the owner won’t mind that it’s going for this. But this is the kind of thing that they used to do. Throwing caution to the wind, gleaning in the fields on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, dropping their nets and their obligations to follow him. The used to break the rules for the Kingdom because the Kingdom was more important than the old power structures and the people that put obedience to them before obedience to God.
And when they brought the donkey to him they asked him what they were going to do with it, he said, “Today, my brothers and sisters, we enter the city of Jerusalem.” And instead of seeming sad about it he seemed happy. “We will enter it the way my ancestor David did, with singing and dancing and great joy!” And it was like a party. For the first time in months, everyone was smiling and happy. The disciples threw their cloaks over the donkey so that Jesus would ride in style. On the way to the city they sang songs of praise. When they got to Jerusalem, they started shouting praises to God, and blessings upon Jesus, son of David.
Bartholomew could feel how much he needed this. Everyone who had been following Jesus had felt the tension, the dour mood and the death predictions, the itchy feeling between the shoulder blades that suggested that things were coming to a head very soon. So he threw himself into celebrating because who knows when he might get to celebrate like this again? Who knows if he might get to celebrate like this again?
When they got to the gates of the city, it was packed. Of course it was packed, the festival was soon to begin, and the city was full of pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice and celebrate the Passover. And just the way Jesus’ clean hands could make a leper clean instead of getting dirty themselves, the joyous procession touched the crowd of grumpy tired pilgrims and made them joyous as well.
The disciples weren’t the only ones who needed something to celebrate. Things in Judea hadn’t been good for a long time. It was getting hard to make a living; folks were going into debt and getting kicked off their land. The family unit was disintegrating. Everyone’s kids had to go somewhere else to make a living. And the Pharisees and Sadducees, they said they had the people’s interests in mind, but the truth is they played both sides like fiddles. Soldiers on one side and bandits on the other, most people were scared or angry just about all the time.
But just like the disciples, the crowd got lost in the celebration. They threw down their cloaks to make a path for Jesus on his donkey. They cut palm branches and waved them in celebration. They shouted praise to the Son of David, praise to the Lord of Hosts. They shouted for salvation to one who could actually save them. They praised the eternal instead of fearing for tomorrow.
For just one moment, everything seemed to come to a halt. And it felt, to Bartholomew, like everything was right in the world. Everything else sort of faded away, and he saw Jesus sitting on a donkey with nothing but coats for a saddle, and he saw a mighty king. He looked at the people, tired and hurting, and he saw strength and hope and prosperity.
He looked at the other disciples and he saw grace and courage and the leaders they would become. For just a short time, the world wasn’t broken. The right person was winning, and everyone was cheering. The good guys were up and the bad guys were down and the people who always get stepped on were standing and cheering.
And then things went back into focus, and Bartholomew saw the whole picture. He saw the dark clouds looming on the horizon. He saw wealthy Jerusalemites in their dyed wools, sneering at the peasants’ procession. He saw the chief priests and the scribes watching Jesus, calculating ways to trip or to trap him. He saw Roman soldiers, with their hands on their weapons, ready to quash anything that interfered with their rule.
And finally he understood what Jesus was so sad about. He saw the size and the strength of the forces that were arrayed against them. And he understood that they weren’t going to change because of a few well-written speeches. Suddenly what Jesus had been saying came into focus. The Son of Man There would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, and then to the Gentiles, to beat him and mock him and crucify him. They were all standing right there. There would be blood before the week was out.
And Bartholomew looked at the aristocrats, and the scribes, and the soldiers, and the clouds gathering on the horizon. And he looked at Jesus, the one man, sitting on a donkey, going out to face them all with nothing but a band of misfits and a mustard seed of faith. And the fear in his heart and the knot in his belly dissolved, replaced with a grim determination to be a part of the fight. And he leaped higher, and danced harder, and shouted praise to God with all his might.