The Space Between
The Space Between
On Palm Sunday Jesus enters into Jerusalem to songs of Hosanna! He enters like a king of old and the people believe he will soon ascend the throne and rule as king. We know that none of these things happen. The events of the week to come turn from triumpant to heartache. In this way we find ourselves on Palm Sunday in the space between.
Scripture: Matthew 21: 1-11
There is a famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh… On one occasion he was with [Queen Elizabeth I] when she was walking through London, and came to a place where rainwater had made the ground muddy and dirty. He quickly took off his cloak and placed in on the ground so the queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet. (Wright N.T., Matthew for Everyone: Part 2, 2002, p.66)
Throwing your cloak, if you happen to own one, on the road for someone to walk on is not a common action. I dare say most of us have never taken our own coat of and allowed someone to walk over it. It is a symbolic gesture and as we witness it in our reading from Matthew this morning one that is meant to signify that royalty, a king, will soon travel this way.
This is the joyful celebration we witness this morning. The shouting and singing of hosannas, the great hope that the people believe Jesus represents. Of course, Jesus does represent our hope but it is not in the way that the people present that day understood. They thought Jesus would be anointed as king of Israel, they had yet to understand the fullness of the kingship that Jesus proclaimed.
Palm Sunday lives on the boarder of joy and grief. As a preacher I have a choice on this Sunday as to which readings we will look at. I can select Palm Sunday readings or Passion Sunday readings. The Passion Sunday readings fast forward us through the week a bit and tend to deal with the events of Good Friday or at least those leading right up to it. Most commonly we read the Palm Sunday passages as we did today.
It is a passage full of pomp and pageantry. A little bit of a spectacle as Jesus enters Jerusalem through the back gate, riding on a donkey. The crowd lay their cloaks on the road while others lap palm branches down. Jesus enters as a king of old, the imagery has significance. It may seem a bit silly to us but the gospel writers are making connections as to who Jesus is. Connecting Jesus with one of Israel’s famous kings whose followers also threw their cloaks on the floor in defiance of the current king (2 Kings 9:13).
The crowd that day witnesses Jesus enter Jerusalem as a humble rabbi. Some call him a prophet, but he enters as a king would. Chelsey Harmon in her commentary puts it this way, “The people call him a prophet, he enters as a humble king, and he is going to die in a few days as the great high priest. He isn’t just the prophet from Nazareth, he is THE prophet, period. He is not just a humble king, he is the Son of David, Zion’s prophetically-promised King. He is from the highest heaven, the priest who WILL save as he comes in the name of the Lord. Prophet, King, Priest.” (Chelsey Harmon – https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-03-27/matthew-211-11-2/)
Jesus enters and the mood is triumphant. The crowd shouts Hosanna’s, we get caught up in the moment and for a while we forget what happens next. We forget how the week ends, because in this moment we see things for how they should be. Jesus is recognized as prophet, king, and priest. This is who Jesus is and the recognition is there. The validation from the crowd is present. And yet a shadow lingers.
There is tension in the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The events of the coming week cast a shadow. Karoline Lewis frames it has the space between hosanna and heartache. She writes, “I wonder if we exist most days trying to keep hosanna and heartache as far away from each other as possible. Attempting to compartmentalize our joys and sorrows, or least keeping them appropriately separated.” (Karoline Lewis – https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/hosanna-and-heartache)
How do we interact with this story knowing what comes next? How does this story reflect in our own lives? How often have we experienced a moment of great joy and wonder, but in the back of our mind lingers doubt, concern, and worry? On this sense of duality between joy and sorrow Karoline Lewis continues, “Today is going to be a happy day. The next, a sad one. We plan our emotions like we schedule our meetings for the week, even mapping out an agenda for a constructive and successful discussion or reflection, with action steps to follow. We might know how unattainable this is, even ridiculous, but try to do it anyway. After all, it’s how the world tends to operate—in binaries that deny complexities; in dualisms that pretend overlapping’s do not exist.” (Karoline Lewis – https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/hosanna-and-heartache)
Holy week which we are about to enter will have us experience a range of emotion. We will witness intimate settings between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus will pray in the garden. He will be arrested, the disciples he recently broke bread with and who have followed him for three years will abandon him. These are the scenes that are brought forth this week and they evoke emotion from us.
Life is complex. There is no one way, there is diversity within and all around us. Change is constant, our emotions and moods can change in the blink of an eye and at times we are unsure of what to do or what to think. It isn’t just hosanna and heartache, it is both at the same time. A constant ebb and flow.
The crowd threw their cloaks to the ground and cut palm branches for Jesus to walk upon. Today we too have put palm branches down. We have shouted our hosannas and sang songs of praise. We have embraced the splendor of this moment, basked in its joy. Yet, heartache lingers.
The crowd followed Jesus that day. As they walked, they stepped on palm branches. Perhaps tearing them, grinding them into the ground underfoot. The once pristine and vibrant branches were trampled. Foreshadowing the heartache that lies ahead.
This is the scene as Jesus enters Jerusalem. This is how our prophet, king, and high priest enters Jerusalem. This is love made real and embodies in the complexities of life. Amen.
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