Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.[a]This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Have you ever had an expectation of something big and then it did not turn out the way that you had anticipated? Or something happens, like a pandemic?

In my role as a pastor, I have the privilege of officiating weddings from time to time.  Of course, not right now during this time of “stay to shelter” and “social distancing”.  But, they are usually great moments in the lives of those getting married.  The persons who are in attendance at weddings are usually family and friends who are genuinely excited for the couple.  One of the best moments of a wedding is the processional.  The wedding attendants proceed in, the music is playing, then everything changes…oftentimes with the change of music, or simply a nod or motion by the minister.  Everyone stands and all eyes are on the bride as she walks in.  

Yes, for me, it’s a privilege to be witnessing that moment and to enter into the celebration with all who are present.  

Rich and Deb’s wedding with the good Reverend (and friend) Jim Simpson!

Of course, after the processional, there are some serious life altering words that are shared.  A commitment is made.  After the ceremony, there is usually a party, a honeymoon, and then life.  Sometimes that life is up and down, hard and joyful at times.  Decisions are made, people change.  Life happens.  Sometimes life prevents those commitments from being fulfilled.  Oftentimes the marriages don’t go the way that folks entering into those commitments hoped they would.  People get disappointed, let down.  Sometimes even filled with despair.  

Of course, there are also stories where folks get through some of the hard times.  But, through it all, life together can bring deep growth and joy, it will also bring scars and pain.  

And, yes, whatever the outcome in a marriage, or whether ones gets married or not, there is always something deeper going on, something beautiful, something worth seeking out eyes to see, ears to hear.  

This is palm Sunday. 

We commemorate this day by waving palms and singing “hosanna”.  According to Scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of passover to celebrate this occasion with his disciples.  

In the other gospel accounts, we read that Jesus rode in on a white donkey.  The writer of Matthew is mentioning this to give us a picture that Jesus was not on a warhorse, not coming to establish they type of earthly kingdom that folks in Jerusalem thought they wanted.  Common folks such as merchants, clergy at the time, or others would ride donkeys.  The symbolism is that Jesus is like one of us and comes to bring peace, not war.  It was also prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey in the old testament.

The people of Jerusalem were gathering from all over the countryside to come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover.  They had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed, some were curious, most were hopeful, they were caught up in the festive atmosphere.  They welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna, which literally means “God save us”.  The people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they wanted to be liberated and free to live as they thought they should.  They were hoping for this Jesus to deliver them.  They probably were enslaved by even deeper things within their own lives, their way of thinking that prevented them from being the people they wanted to be…and, as is often the case in history, placed their trust and hope in an idea of a person or were transferring their hopes and dreams on to this person, rather than dealing with their own issues.  

So, they waved palms, symbols of expressions of joy, even the coins at that time would have had inscriptions of palms and the words the “redemption of Israel”.  Again, different ideas of what that meant.  They welcomed Jesus and Jesus entered into the moment with them.  

Jesus knew that things were probably not going to go so well in a few short days.  Yet, just like when we come to a wedding, we know life isn’t going to be easy for the couple getting married, yet, we celebrate and we know that something deeper, somehow, some way, is happening or has the potential of happening.  Much like life these days, we don’t know how pandemics are going to turn out, we are doing all that we can to “suppress the curve”, “maintain social distance”, and be safe…we are looking out for one another as best as we can.  

And, in the midst of this disruption, hardship, death, and life, we find moments to celebrate.  We are being reminded that life isn’t easy, yet there is joy in the suffering.  

Today is not only known as “Palm Sunday”, but it is also known as “Passion Sunday”.  We have Easter coming up on our calendar.  We know that in order to get to resurrection, we must pass through loss, struggle, and even death.  It is a struggle, we suffer…the very word “passion” means to suffer or struggle.  

Back to our story.  

There were some though who didn’t enter into the festivities, they watched and criticized.  The religious rulers, those involved in the maintaining of the institutional temple worship had been trying to discredit Jesus, trying to gain the upper hand in discussions with him, attempting to validate their roles, the status quo if you will, by winning an argument, or by other means.  It’s easy to get frustrated with them, yet, we also know what it’s like to have anxiety over change, even if that change is going to be good.  The religious leaders may have known that their system wasn’t perfect, wasn’t sustainable, wasn’t good for everyone, yet it was the system they knew and they didn’t want to have that boat rocked.  Perhaps some of them knew that when something new comes along that it would require a certain time of discomfort and struggle…they wanted to avoid the suffering.  

They saw the crowds changing for Jesus, they saw the hope for something more in people’s faces and in their actions, yet they couldn’t enter in to the joy.  So, they began to conspire in even more sinister ways.

Jesus saw the injustices, Jesus also heard the deeper cries of the crowd for salvation, for hope, for something more.   Throughout the week between Palm Sunday and that dark Friday where Jesus was crucified, he spoke openly and honestly about deliverance, about the need for a God who was on their side.  Really on their side, not on their side for an earthly or temporal “win” but for the deeper things of life, the hard things and good things that produce a deeper sense of worth, of value, of forever permanence.

At the end of that week, the crowds turned on Jesus as the religious leaders stirred them into action.  Fear and anxiety overtook hope and the deeper need for love, change, and growth.  They, we, wanted to go with what we knew, rather than have faith and hope in something even better.  So, we killed Jesus, we experienced brokenness in our relationship with God, and with others.  

I know it’s easy to judge the folks in Jesus’ time.  To ask why couldn’t they see.  Yet, it’s a drama that’s played out in our lives everyday.  We put hopes in something or someone, and when life happens in ways that we don’t anticipate, we get disappointed, hurt, fearful, anxious, and may experience brokenness and despair.  We may even make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions that have dire consequences.

In our lives together at Fleming Road UCC and in this neighborhood and in our own families and some of our deep friendships, we have experienced weariness, tiredness, anxiety, and disappointment.  

As your pastor, I know that I will get tired, weary, disappointed, maybe even a bit anxious, especially in this time of disruption, of pandemic.  You will as well, and with each other at times.  

Yet, that’s not the end of our story, nor is it the end of the story with Jesus.  He was crucified.  But, there was something deeper going on in Jesus’ coming to us, his life, and even his death.  Jesus rose out of the grave three days later.  Jesus’ love for us was stronger than all of the disappointment, all of the weariness.  His love was deeper than our desire for an earthly king.  He overcame death and showed us that God’s belief in us, God’s expansiveness, God’s love for those on the margins, God’s desire for change, growth, and for a more just system…God’s pursuit of everyone and model of radical inclusive community, is stronger than anything in this world.  

This same God does not want us to be ashamed of our lives, ashamed of how we have reacted to our disappointments in life, but to realize the gift of growth, change, and relational presence God has given us.  To own our space and to celebrate with God what God has done for us and who believes in us.

That gives me, and all of us, opportunities for strength as our minds and hearts are inspired and renewed, by a God and God’s presence in our lives. 

I used the example of weddings for this conversation.  It is interesting as I reflected on this talk that we, the church or God’s people, all of us, are Jesus’s bride.  Jesus is the groom.  This metaphor is used in scripture.  God is standing at the front of the sanctuary, looking out at our lives, and sees us proceeding in and is filled with Joy.  As we’ve said in the past, God’s glory is wrapped up in our being who we were created to be.  The disciples didn’t get it as it said in this mornings passage, but they did get it after Jesus rose from the dead.  This gave them hope and a sense of purpose that they could face anything, that their momentary disappointment would give away to growth and a promise of even more beautiful things to come.

This same God calls us into deep community with God’s self and with others.  We will move through the throes of life, and our current situation, together, and we will see a future filled with promise, even as we live in the moment, present with each other!  We have a God who does save, who does give us a deeper hope and imagination than we could even imagine.  Makes me want to wave some palm branches and not just say God save us, but thank you God for saving us!

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