4-9-17 Palm Sunday
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.
Welcome to Holy Week, where up is down, and down is up. Where a crowd shouts “Hosannas” one minute and “Crucify him!” the next. Where bread becomes Jesus’ body and wine becomes his blood. Where a king is killed for not being the right kind of king. Where a criminal walks free and an innocent man dies. Where disciples deny and run away scared and women and soldiers stand witness at the death of Jesus.
This is it. We made it. This week is what the forty days of Lent have been leading up to, the most important week of the Church calendar. This is why we wear purple: the color Jesus wore to be mocked, the color of royalty and bruises. We are about to enter a week where time gets wibbly-wobbly and hours in the life of Jesus stretch out. We are about to enter a week of reversals and transformation: where enemies become allies against Jesus, where a rejected stone becomes the central foundation block, where an instrument of torture and death becomes the very way we are rescued from death.
|By artist He Qi|
This week begins… with a parade. Jesus comes down the road into Jerusalem, like kings of old, riding a colt and surrounded by his disciples laying their cloaks before him like a royal procession. They are filled with amazement for all Jesus was doing, preaching sermons that are both challenging to the status quo and uplifting for those who are without hope, for his choosing a Samaritan woman to be his evangelist, and for healing a man born blind. So, the people, filled with hope, cry out along the parade route, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Now, the last time we heard those same words wasn’t all that long ago, back in December - when the sky was filled with a multitude of the heavenly host, appearing to some shepherds late at night. These poor shepherds, scared out of their wits, witnessed the first proclamation of the good news of great joy for all the people, the birth of a savior, a messiah, the Lord. That night, the sky was filled with the shouts of angels: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
THAT night, Christmas night, shepherds bore witness to the arrival of God’s glory being birthed into the world. On THIS day, Palm Sunday, Jesus’s followers are the ones shouting for joy, heralding the time has come, the king has come, to bring peace to heaven and earth.
But not everyone is shouting for joy. The Pharisees, too, have seen these deeds of power that Jesus has done, and they are WORRIED. They asked Jesus, “By what authority are YOU doing these things, and who gave YOU this authority?”
They were worried about this upstart preacher man from Galilee, who won’t play ball and give them a straight answer, a teacher who teaches that God is for the meek, poor in spirit, AND that “shady people” like prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom before properly religious people like themselves. This Jesus person was acting too much like a new kind of Moses, freeing people under a new law of love come down from God THIS TIME in the form of a person, not ten rules on a stone tablet.
And they were absolutely RIGHT to be worried. The Jewish people at this time were under the oppressive thumb of Rome. Whose idea of peace was subduing the people with threats, violence, might of the sword, and death by crucifixion. You don’t mess WITH ROME. Especially by proclaiming that there is another kind of peace out there, another kind of king, another Lord who rules heaven and earth, one that is NOT ROME
So, it makes sense that the advice of the Pharisees to Jesus is for everybody to just chill out, man. Put a lid on it, people. “Ix-Nay on the Osanna-Heys.”
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” comes from Psalm 118, verse 26. Jesus quotes from the same psalm to the Pharisees: “22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
What if what Jesus saying is true? What if the “one who comes in the name of the Lord” says that the Lord is for everyone? What if the people we think of as the “wrong kind of people,” people who are marginalized by societies and nations, are getting into the kingdom of God ahead of us? People like refugees refused entry into this country, people like trangeder kids who don’t feel safe using a public restroom, people like the homeless, those suffering from mental illness, welfare moms and drag queens, the powerless and trampled on? What if the likes of these are first in line in the kingdom?
A Kingdom of POWER, MIGHT, and RIGHT makes sense to us. A hard stone with rules come down from the mountain makes sense to us. Bombing our enemies and making them suffer, instead of welcoming innocent victims into our borders, in the name of “safety” for ourselves, that obviously makes sense to us.
A king who empties himself of his divine and cosmic power does not make sense. A ruler who was rejected in order to save the dejected does not make sense to us. And yet, here Jesus is – on a donkey, then on a cross.
Up is down and down is up. Enemies – the Romans and the Pharisees – team up and become allies to get rid of Jesus. Time is suspended and stretched. The King of the universe comes to die. This king that we welcome, we then abandon and reject. We reject this king, but he becomes the stone on which our very hope is built.
For those us already broken, and in pieces, this is good news. Peter, our favorite “open-mouth-insert-foot” disciple, the same who denied Jesus three times, his very names means “Rock” or stone. And this rock – Peter - would later write about Jesus as a living rock, a living stone, rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight. He says that we are God’s own people, living stones, stones that are at the same time dead and alive. Peter tells us, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:10-12)
Down is up and up is down. Welcome to the week we consider the most holy of the entire year. And it starts right now.
Please join us on this road through Holy Week, through the festival of the Three days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Come and see what this week has in store:
Come and see Jesus, who comes in the name of the Lord, as he rides on to face his death.
Come and see Jesus, surrounded by people who cheer him on – for now.
Come and see Jesus, who eats his last meal with those who betray, deny, and abandoned him.
Come and see Jesus, who did not resist when he was mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross.
Come and see Jesus, who was hastily laid in a borrowed tomb.
Then, come and see, three days later, a stone that has been moved,
a grave with no body,
and death that has been turned upside down, transformed into eternal life. Amen.