Lent is almost over. Only a few days remain until Good Friday. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem signals a shift towards the end. As Christians we continue to journey with Jesus. This week we will focus on the death of Jesus and what that means for us today. Palm Sunday begins that reflection. Will we shout hosanna’s with the disciples or will we be silent as the Pharisees ask?
Text: Luke 19: 28-40
Palm Sunday Meditation
A few weeks ago I was asked if we should order some Palm Branches in for this morning services. It is Palm Sunday and many churches have a tradition of the children waving the palm branches during the processional. Now, as you may have guessed when asked about the palm branches I responded no.
This year we are working our way through Luke’s gospel. If you were paying attention to the reading this morning that Katie shared with us then you know that there are no palm branches in Luke’s gospel. The palm branches are in Mark and Matthew’s gospel, but for Luke they are conspicuously absent.
We have the familiar scene where Jesus and the disciples stop near Bethany. Jesus instructs a few of the disciples to go ahead where they will find a donkey tied up. Bring it to me he asks them, tell the owner that the Lord needs it. The setup for the triumphal entry is similar in all the gospels and it is well known to us.
However, it is the entry into Jerusalem itself that captures my attention and where I would like us to focus our attention this morning. The first thing to realize is that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is not the only procession which is occurring. The Passover Feast will soon be starting and there has been unrest in Jerusalem. Rumours of a Messiah, a King of the Jews has stirred the people up. The high priests and Pharisees are concerned and so are the Romans. As a result Pilate leaves Caesarea and comes to Jerusalem at the head of a military procession.
You can see the difference between the two processions. Pilate, the Roman governor comes riding into Jerusalem and at the same time from a different direction Jesus comes riding on a donkey. Two kings enter Jerusalem that week: Pilate from the west at the head of a procession of Roman Centurions. Then we have Jesus from the East, riding on a donkey. Two different processions, two very different ideas of kingship. It is a clash of cultures and ideologies.
The crowds which have gathered to receive Jesus are small and they proclaim the words we shared this morning found in Psalm 118. A Psalm where we find the words “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” It is cruel irony which will see many in the crowd which currently receives Jesus turn on him before the week is out. A reminder that often we reject God, who is the foundation of our lives. That we seek to live by our own rules, rather in God’s grace and love.
The crowd also cheers, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Peace. Peace is an idea or concept which gets talked about a lot. We find peace romanticized in song, in literature and of course it is a powerful theme in scripture. God’s peace which transcends our understanding. God’s peace is something which is enduring.
What are the qualities and traits which make for peace?
These qualities and more bring us closer to one another and increase our understanding of God’s peace.
But what holds us back from making peace?
Peace is elusive isn’t it? Harder to accomplish than simply putting words on paper. Throughout history we have tried to make peace and this is most often borne out as a way to end conflicts. As a way to end wars. However, creating peace in this manner is a little like playing chess. If we think of creating peace like a chess game, a game that we reason our way through then we miss the point. We fail to see all the victims on both sides of the board, all those who are sacrificed for the greater purpose. In chess the objective is to capture your opponent’s king and to protect your own. Along the way you might sacrifice a pawn. It is part of the game, a strategy towards winning. This idea works in chess, but in life attitudes like this harden hearts and create divisions which can affect us for generations.
Therein may lie part of the problem, we view the creation of a lasting peace as winning. Except that it isn’t about winning, it is about being at peace with one another. If one side wins, does the other side actually know peace in its truest sense? This is the problem with how we often try to make peace, we use our heads instead of using our hearts.
In order to bring God’s lasting peace to all people we need to break down these barriers which separate ourselves from one another. In many ways these two lists of qualities I shared, while woefully incomplete, represent the two processions which marched into Jerusalem at that time. Jesus led a procession which embodied peace, it was built on love, honesty and integrity. However, Pilate entered into Jerusalem full of fear, anxiety and ignorant of the situation.
We enter Jerusalem with Jesus. We are part of the procession which is shouting hosannas and declaring God’s peace. We do this knowing the outcome at the end of the week. That Jesus’s life will come to a violent end within the week. We know that outcome, just as Jesus did. We know that Jesus will be executed by the Romans as a common criminal. So why is it that we are going to Jerusalem? What motivates us?
N.T. Wright asks the following question, “Are we going along for the trip in the hope that Jesus will fulfill some of our hopes and desires? Are we ready to sing a song of praise, but only as long as Jesus seems to be doing what we want? The long and dusty pilgrim way of our lives gives most of us plenty of time to sort out our motives for following Jesus in the first place. Are we ready, not only to spread our cloaks on the road in front of him, to do the showy and flamboyant thing, but also to now follow him into trouble, controversy, trial and death?”
In other words are we able to cast aside our own fear, anxiety, jealousy, ignorance and hatred? Can we shed those things which separate us from God and each other and in doing so follow Christ fully. Are we able to live out our desire for peace as Jesus would have us do it?
Will we let our fear get the better of us or will we stand with Jesus as he prepares to face humiliation, betrayal, torture and ultimately death.
We are on the door step of Easter. But before we can get there we need to travel through Holy Week, we must complete our journey through Lent. We are required to pass through Good Friday before we can fully understand the power of Easter.
This is what Palm Sunday asks of us. Will we stand with Jesus in both the good times and bad? For surely he stands with us. Will we shout out with a joy which silences opposition, for if we do not the very stones themselves will shout for us.
I encourage you to stand with Jesus, to raise your voice and shout hosannas with the stones and to work towards creating a lasting peace which is founded on the cornerstone of our lives which is Jesus Christ. Amen.