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Palms, Hosannas and Steadfast Love

A message preached by Jay P. Rowland at the First Presbyterian Church, Rochester MN on Palm Sunday March 20, 2016. 

Texts: Psalm 118 and Luke 19:28-40

Palms, Hosannas and Steadfast Love

I don’t like to rain on anyone’s parade—especially on this day. But I feel obligated to point out that the Palm Sunday story in Luke’s gospel is different from what we may expect to hear every Palm Sunday.

Did you notice anything missing from the scene Luke just described? Like … perhaps … palms and hosannas?!  Right? Just the two most prominent details we roll out every Palm Sunday!

Even so I appreciate Luke’s version for this very reason. This discrepancy should compel us to read Luke’s account more carefully, mindfully. This is important because whenever we come across familiar stories or passages in the bible, we may have a tendency to pay less attention because “we’ve heard this one before:  Yeah yeah, we got it:  Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Lots of people. Palm branches.  Hosannas. Pharisees. yada yada yada … let’s get on with it.”  I’m just sayin’ it’s possible that our attention spans become even shorter with familiar scriptures. Luke may be an antidote for this familiarity-at least this year anyway. Perhaps now we will pay closer attention to each word, lest our imagination create this scene rather than the scene Luke actually presents.

And so, Luke reports, Jesus enters Jerusalem via “the path down from the Mount of Olives” which Luke’s audience knows is on the eastern side of Jerusalem, the gate adjacent to the Temple, Jesus’ destination. Without any need to mention it, Luke’s audience would also know that on the opposite side of town, the western gate was the typical entry gate for Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of this territory, for the western gate was adjacent to his palace. It was also the gate which received traffic from the road down from Caesarea the seat of Roman power.

Luke’s description of Jesus’ entry would immediately in their minds contrast with their memories of Pilate’s annual entry into Jerusalem, dressed in his finest military apparel, sitting atop a majestic war horse, leading hundreds of Roman soldiers into town in a show of force through the crowded streets of Jerusalem. Because every year at this time, Jerusalem’s population surges with Jewish pilgrims coming from all over the Mediterranean to celebrate Passover-when God freed the Hebrew slaves by overwhelming Egypt’s mighty Pharaoh and his army.

Jesus comes down on a little colt accompanied by a “multitude of disciples” a curious term indicating that more followers than the original twelve are with Jesus, people who have been following Jesus—a respectable number but dwarfed by the massive crowds filling Jerusalem for the Passover.  What they may lack in numbers, they more than make up for with enthusiasm: They’re singing enthronement and victory Psalms, joyfully singing praises to God “with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen” Jesus do.  They spontaneously throw their cloaks down on the road in front of Jesus.

Compared to Pilate’s parade of troops on the other side of town, this one must have looked pathetic. But it has the Pharisees on edge. They’re worried that all this fuss over Jesus will provoke the increased number of Roman soldiers whose mission every year during the Passover, is to knock down any Jewish protests or uprising in case any are tempted to use the Passover story to stir up the masses against a different oppressor.

The Pharisees, anxious about the tension already in the air, order Jesus to stop his disciples. Jesus refuses. “If these (people) fell silent, then the stones would cry out …” Approaching Jerusalem, perhaps the words of the prophets are echoing in their minds. As they enter Jerusalem, perhaps it suddenly dawns on them:

this is really happening.”  

“We’re singing of the MESSIAH!”  

“We’re with the Messiah.”  

Caught up in the moment, elation bursts from their hearts “for all the deeds of power that they had seen” and they praise Jesus in a manner they never had before:

… energetically …

… publicly …

worshipfully.

All of which is fitting, because from the start Jesus embodies different.  Jesus just is different—so different that people are divided about who he is.

He’s the Messiah

Him? Hardly, he’s some carpenter’s son.”

He lives life and he lives faith differently.  From the start, he brings with him a kingdom of a different order, a kingdom that is nothing at all like the kingdoms of the earth–not even King David’s glorious reign. And it’s clearly nothing at all like the Kingdom of Rome.

Jesus himself says the kingdom of heaven has come near.  What Jesus brings with him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is often misunderstood and misrepresented.     It does not rely on human force or will-power, but relies entirely upon the grace and the power of God alone–God’s LOVE alone–the likes of which have not been seen on the earth since Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.

What Jesus brings with him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is … life, his life, our life, life God declares to be sacred. A life to unite our lives with God’s. No matter what indignities or persecutions or sufferings may attach to this life, God promises to keep our life, from beginning to end, and beyond, in this Jesus of Nazareth

Human expectation and understanding has mostly been defined by human ruling and religious authority. And so some expect that Jesus and the kingdom (of God) he carries inside himself is supposed to somehow “guarantee” that life with him will be free of hardship or suffering.  Some are expecting a life with Him to always bend to meet our self-defined needs and expectations.  Some have decided ever since that first Palm Sunday that if the God of Jesus of Nazareth is “real”, legitimate, then this life must then resemble heaven rather than the fluctuations between hell and heaven that actually accompany life in this world.

If life in this world was to avoid calamity or trauma, loss or death, we wouldn’t want or need a Savior who took it all on himself.

The life Jesus brings with him isn’t free from suffering or hardship.  But it is sacred.  And so when we are, as Jesus was, touched by the destructive forces of life, when we are betrayed or persecuted … when we are visited by illness or death or suffering, hell on earth, Jesus is too … “ … he descended into hell …”  If we are ever so distraught that we cannot feel him anymore, if we ever could, or if we are so defeated or so depleted that we are, in that moment, convinced that this is all there is and we are all alone, and there is no God and there is no life after life, Jesus shall meet us there.

We know this because on Palm Sunday the steadfast love inside of Jesus moves intersects with the destructive forces of this world and this life and this body.

We know this because everything Jesus said and did when he walked on this earth came to an end. His healings, his teachings, his defeat of demons, his calming the storm, his feeding the multitude, his blessing and breaking of the bread, his words to his disciples, his arguments with the powerful, all of it comes to an end when his life comes up against the cross.

If the kingdom Jesus brings with him were any other kingdom, just a fancier version of the kingdoms that have always come before, the cross would have been the end of it all right then and there.  There would be no Palm Sunday, no Holy Week, no Easter … nothing to talk about because if the kingdom was anything other than God’s it would have died with Jesus and it would have stayed dead.

And so with no Palms or Hosannas to be found in Luke’s account of Palm Sunday today maybe our attention can be fixed on the person of Jesus in whom the steadfast love of God met no bounds. Without any palms or hosannas to throw down upon the road before Jesus … maybe all that is left to throw down before Him is our distractions and our assumptions, holding back no aspect of our life from Him.  Maybe then we can let Palm Sunday take us somewhere with Jesus we’ve never gone before, Jesus rides over every one of our distractions until all that is left is Jesus and what comes next … for us and for him … including the cross which dares us to trust our unknown future to the steadfast love of God who longs to make every day, every hour and every week of our lives “holy” … until we breathe our last.

O praise the Lord for He is good.  His steadfast love endures forever.

Forever.

 

Luke 19:28-40

28 … he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.”

35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”