Welcome to this beautiful Palms Sunday. The kickoff day to a long and crazy week. As I sat down to write today's message, after a long week of Final exams and submitting my research papers on time, I feared i had nothing new to add to this wonderful Palms Sunday story. Most of us know how it begins, what’s going to go down and of course how it will end. Since The lectionary reading for this week covers 2 1/2 chapters of Luke's gospel, I decided to give you a quick recap of what Luke writes.
A long time ago in a small village on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, this man Jesus, rides through town on donkey as a parade of people spread out their coats and palm branches on the road before him. They shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David." And "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Up until now, most of the people had only heard rumors of this guy Jesus, that he was The Messiah. The One who was to save Israel from their suffering. So to their Messiah, their heavenly king, they shout "hosanna!"
Growing up, I was taught hosanna was a shout of praise to God. It was a way of saying Glory to you Lord Christ. But Hosanna in this particular story wasn’t a shout of praise as much as it was a cry for God’s help. In Hebrew, the word means ‘God help us.’ They were not saying God help get me through this long and difficult day. No. They are screaming out: GOD HELP US! REMOVE THESE ROMAN BASTARDS FROM YOU PROMISED LAND. The oppression had gone on long enough.
This was not too much to ask from God was it? The streets were crowded after all with Jews who had gathered in and around Jerusalem to participate in Passover celebration. This annual feast is still celebrated today to remind the Jewish people when God liberated Israel from Egypt by sending a host of angels to strike dead their brutal oppressor. People would come from far away places to offer a sacrifice to God at the Temple. And so in the midst of the added chaos, Jesus rides on a small donkey through the crowded streets, embodying the peace and tranquility of his very being. As the people shout Hosanna, they are hoping this Son of David will return the God's shalom to God's beloved Israel. Their king, as their prophets had said, would ride to victory on a small colt. But the Romans, must have had a hard time believing the King of the Jews would make such a odd entrance.
It reminds me of my favorite movie as a kid. How many people here have seen Monty Python’s Holy Grail? If you haven't, it is a lampoon of the classic story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. My brother and I had the entire film memorized, line-by-line. If you have seen the film you know all about the horses the knights ride. In the opening scene, King Arthur advances out of the wet, winter's fog. Ridding over the rolling green hill, with a heroic musical score, instead of a horse underneath him there is a man behind him who is clanking two coconuts together to make the sound of horse hoofs. With every knight Arthur acquires so too comes a servant clanking coconuts.
My favorite scene has King Arthur approaching two peasants working in a field of mud. When they ask who Arthur is and the king responds. “I am Arthur, King of the Britons.” Again they ask “Who are the Briton’s?” The king is surprise and says, “All of us. We are all Britton’s and I am your King.” The peasants shrug him off saying, “Well I didn’t vote for you.” While they were simply making fun of their English history, I can imagine the Jews were thinking the same. The people who were gathered in the streets of Jerusalem wanted a king of their choosing, one who would rule by their rules.
Like in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, some historians have argued that Jesus’ parade was a mockery of another procession. The standing governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, had lead his Roman legions through the streets of Jerusalem in a parade to celebrate a victory over a Jewish uprising in the seaport town of Sepphoris. Such parades were meant to send a strong message to those who had been conquered. With blood still fresh on their swords, their message was clear: “Rise up against Rome, and you will pay.” Once again, the people shout Hosanna. God save us.
This man Jesus, who they were cheering on, would bring hope for a better future. However, the hope Jesus would bring was not what many had expected. In just a few short days, their king who was suppose to lead them into battle, would be betrayed, arrested and falsely accused. Across the street from their beloved Temple, the Roman governor, fearing yet another insurrection, would give Jesus a death sentence ...even though he found no fault in him.
In the middle of Passover, this man Jesus would be strung up naked on a cross to be mocked, nails piercing his hands and feet, would cause his bones to slowly separate from their sockets. He will hang there, suffering in unbearable pain, until he dies. Jesus suffered the death, not of a king but of a common criminal. He was an example of what will become of those who try to mess with the system. He will be the final Passover sacrifice, the paschal lamb that redeems the world from violence.
The people who shouted hosanna felt betrayed by God. They wanted a host of angels to swoop down from heaven. They wanted God to release a shock and awe apocalyptic-style attack, but instead their hope was nailed to two planks of wood. It would finally become clear to his disciples what Jesus meant when he said, "if anyone wishes to follow me, they must deny themselves and pick up their cross."
Jesus was a radically different kind of king. He was a king who lead by example. Not by living in opulence, not by exploiting human life. Not by embracing violence or using fear tactics, but by living a life of servitude to both God and humanity. His way was God’s way...a way of love, and hope, and promise.
Likewise, the kingdom of God was radically different than the kingdoms of the day, Where human kings stole land and robbed the people of all the wealth that was in it. But not this man Jesus. He came not to be served but to serve. And so on the night that he was betrayed Jesus served his disciples the bread and the cup, and in doing so he served himself to them. As their teacher He expected His students to do the same.
In today's reading we notice Jesus and his disciples leave the table, and returned to the Mount of Olives to pray. Jesus tells his disciples to pray for the strength to resist temptation that is to come. But instead their weary bodies fall asleep. It had been a long week after all. They are awoken with a royal lashing, where it seems Jesus is chastising them for being human. In the midst of all this Judas Iscariot walks up close to Jesus and betrays God with a single kiss. It would be the kiss of death.
Theologian John Yoder believes Judas wasn’t seeking for Jesus to be killed, but instead he simply sought to ignite an insurrection. Like Jesus in the wilderness, Judas had been tempted to force God’s hand to swoop down and rescue him. Unlike Jesus, he could not resist the temptation. But what Judas failed to realize In his attempt to instigate an insurrection is that in God’s kingdom one reign’s with the power of love and forgiveness. Love is the transforming agent, not fear, nor violence. Forgiveness allows God’s love to do what God’s love does best.
We are like Judas, we are like the people chanting, “Hosanna,” in that we too are offered the choice to either serve the manmade gods of this world, or serve a different kind of king in the Kingdom of the one true God. But as Judas, Peter, and the others will teach us, discipleship is not an easy task. Even Jesus said the path is narrow and hard to find, and I would say that is gross understatement. Too often, discipleship requires more than we are willing to spare. It is not simply volunteering at a food bank or being nice to someone in a church meeting. Those are good and we must continue to work as Christians for justice and peace. But in being a disciple, we are also called bear the sins of the world and offer them up to God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness.
In the midst of simply surviving, it has become too easy for us to forget that what we expect from our king, our king also expects from us. When we pray for our sins to be forgiven, then we must be willing also to forgive those who sin against us. When we pray for peace in a chaotic world, then we must to be willing to serve peace in spite of the chaos that threatens God’s shalom. We must resist the temptation to lift up the sword and strike another human being, be it the Excalibur of War or a saber of hateful words secretly hidden underneath our shirt. We must resist the fight in our quest to bring peace among ourselves.
In the Garden that night Judas wants a fight, and Peter is willing to start it. He does what so many of us have done in similar situations. He reacts. He simply goes on the defense and reacts as society has taught him. Perhaps we have never cut off a person’s ear, but do we ever stop to think twice before we verbally assault someone at fault? Or when we stab a friend in the back? Or do we just simply react to the situation by any means necessary?
As he watches his disciples fail their final test Jesus yells, STOP! NO MORE OF THIS! Luke doesn’t need to go into great detail of what this means. We all have heard a parent who, at the end of their rope, has shouted these words in frustration. In seeing his children fight, ALL my father-in-law would have to do is yell ONE! in his deep Irish accent. And all the kids knew they dare not be fighting by the time he got to Three!
Jesus shouted and the world listened. He is a radically new kind of king, who lifted not a clinched fist but an open hand of love. It was through that hand that violence, fear and hatred would pierce his skin, nailing him to the cross. The Gospels tell us Jesus passively surrenders to the Temple guards. But before he does, he agains stops and heals the situation, restoring both the guard and the world back to health.
So is it crazy Jesus asks his captures, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?” Yes. I believe He was a dangerous revolutionary.
John Yoder writes, “Jewish and Roman authorities were defending themselves against a real threat.” You see their way of life was under attack. The way they ran the economy, the way taxes were collected and fines were imposed, the way land was seized and the way people were treated. Their way not God’s way. And so Jesus' mission was a real threat.
They feared what Judas had anticipated. Why else would they come in the middle of the night? Fear was their cross to bear. You see, people who rule using fear and death as their weapon of choice, will also find themselves chained to the fear of losing their power and control. We too must remember, the very tools we use against one another, are often the very tools that bind our fate.
As a radically different kind of king Jesus ruled with peace and love. As a result, death would have no sting. Our faith in Jesus, our acceptance of his divine kingship, is intended to liberate us from the fear of death not enslave us. We are free in his peace and love to live life as God intended for us to live. And yet we still worry don’t we? I am guilty. But I worry about dying simply because I am not done living this wonderful life that God has given me.
Yet Jesus knew his hour had come. He submits to the cross, the worst weaponry of its time, and yet it could not win. From a small donkey to an empty tomb, this radically new kind of king broke through the crowded streets and then through death itself. In dong so, he destroyed the very thing that the Romans had used to enslaved the people shouting Hosanna. By breaking through death, the fear of death would be destroyed and so too will fall the enemy.
In facing the Nazi firing squad, Dietrich Bonhoeffer closed his eyes and remembered the promise of salvation that was made on that Roman cross. Jesus saw death from a radically different perspective. And likewise, we are called to do the same.We are not called to focus on the death of ourselves, but the death of poverty, alienation, and suppression, the death of famine and disease, the death of hatred and bigotry, the death of addiction and affliction, the death of every kind of sin that human beings can think up to offend the glory and honor of God. Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom. It is a kingdom radically different than our earthy one. In the Kingdom of God there is peace and love and reconciliation. A kingdom where even the most hated enemies can sit at the table and forgive one another's debts. This is kind of kingdom I chose to live in. And so this is the king I chose to follow. And if it is your choice, and if it is indeed your desire, you too shall pick up your cross and follow him down the narrow path to reconciliation, freedom and peace. May God’s shalom, the divine peace and wholeness of life, be upon your heart today, tomorrow and for all eternity, Amen.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”