Luke 19:28-40 or Matthew 21:1-11
Today we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In this procession we begin the last week of the life of Jesus. It is in some ways a strange story. The details raise some questions about what might have actually happened. The procession begins on the outskirts of the city and moves to the center of Jerusalem. One wonders if Bethany or Bethphage is a gathering place or center for Jesus’ mission. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live there. It is a place where Jesus goes with some frequency. Bethany perhaps was a base for the work of Jesus and his disciples. Today, a rather large crowd of followers gathers and moves with Jesus in this parade from the suburb to the center of the city. We sense a mixture of humility and exaltation. The colt is a humble animal, in contrast to the great war horses of the day. The colt reminds us that Jesus comes to us still in humble ways. The humility of Jesus is echoed in the first reading, about a noble king riding on a donkey.
Still, for all the humility there is also exaltation in this demonstration. This is what the Messiah looks like! Palms are waived with hosannas. We have the songs and shouts of joy, the noisy rejoicing as in a royal procession, and coats laid down on the path. This is an attention-drawing parade. A festival of the street. There is a conscripted offering. The colt is more or less borrowed from its owner. One wonders how the owner felt about this entire thing, but perhaps he or she is a willing supporter of Jesus from the Bethany village. The position of this story is ominous. The intense hostility between Jesus and the religious leaders intensifies. Jesus has become more critical of the organized religious apparatus and its attendants, the priests and scribes. In these chapters he tells pointed parables calling into question the values and motives of religious leaders. As he shifts from his earlier work in the north in Galilee to the south, near Jerusalem, the argument and hostility with the authorities sharpens. With this processional, the hostility boils over. The parade itself ends in the temple court yard where Jesus violently overturns the tables of the money changers and challenges the authority of the sacrificial system controlled by the priests. This demonstration highlights the conflict that often comes with calls to renew the faith of people, to deepen it, to transform it, to change it so that it becomes more in line with the will of God and less in line with the will of the current religious establishment, whatever that establishment is. That call to change will always be resisted by the forces invested in the past and the present. Futures do not come easily. Jesus proceeds to challenge the religious authorities of his people, and those authorities respond with condemnation and death. All of this Palm Sunday material should give us cause to reflect on how our lives are proceeding or processing. Palm Sunday gives us the question: what is our base of operation: our source of strength, our Bethany, from which we are able to launch the greater projects, processionals and projections of our lives? Some of us need to find our Bethany. Others need to return to our source of strength, recognizing it and valuing it. Still others need to get the parade going by moving out of our comfort zone into new areas of faith and life. Palm Sunday gives us the question: what humble things around us need to be lifted up and exalted? It could be a simple piece of bread or a tiny cup of wine, the touch of a friend, the small word of encouragement, a humble act of service that needs to be lifted up. There may be a humble person or event or detail or an often overlooked piece of our lives that needs our special hosannas on this day. Palm Sunday gives us the question: what humble offerings does God seek from us? Some of us hear in this story that the Lord has need of our colts and coats as well as our time for the processional of praise. There is a stewardship challenge here. Palm Sunday gives us the question: how might we praise God? What is the cloth, the fabric of our lives which is offered to God for the pathway of praise? What are the emotional threads of our lives woven into the fabric pathway over which the divine passes? How do the treads of our personal and community history tie us to the praise of God? Palm Sunday gives us the question: what song of praise is in throats? Are our hearts filled more with the grumbling of a reluctant faith? Are we ready to sing? Palm Sunday gives us the question: what shall we wave in the air for all to see? When people look at our lives, what is waving in the wind for all to witness? Are the fronds of our faith moving at all? How might we waive our witness more effectively in a suspicious society that has substituted celebrity for greatness and positive spin for joyful praise? Palm Sunday gives us the question: what about the conflicts in our lives? Are our struggles worthy of the effort? Do we struggle for the things that matter? Do we try to refine our faith, to grow, to become more deeply involved with God’s will for us? Do we live in such a way that we have a least a few good adversaries, friends with whom we differ about important things? Do we stand with the forces of the past or are we willing to embrace the future? On Palm Sunday the story seems to raise some questions about what might have actually happened. It raises still more questions about our lives: about our source of strength, the humble things around us, the important conflicts facing us, the offerings God seeks from us, the fabric of our lives, how we praise God, and our willingness to stand for something greater.