Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
Originally Given Palm Sunday (March 24, 2013) at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
It seems to me that most of life is about the struggle that we face between being the children of God that we were created to be and the broken and sinful messes we have become. Virtually every moment of our lives is a battle between our better angels and our demons and that seems most poignantly placed on display in the time that we call, “Holy Week.” On the one hand, we find ourselves entering into Jerusalem with Jesus. Perhaps we are walking with the disciples or are in the crowd who has gathered to welcome Jesus into the city for the last time. But on the other, we are the people who sit in the crowd a few days later and shout out with all the rest, “Crucify Him!” We are the people who have walked with him through his ministry never fully understanding all this talk of death and dying that he seemed to engage in until we find ourselves in the position of making it happen. Because I think it is easier to see ourselves as one of the folks standing in the crowd shouting hosanna than it is to think of ourselves as the ones who screamed out for his death. At least I know it is for me. When I think about the great moments of history when people have been in a position to choose between the easy path or the road not taken I have always foolishly assumed that I would be leading the way down the one less traveled by, never fully acknowledging my own shortcomings and, at times, cowardice. And yet, that is what makes this week so crucial in the Christian calendar. That is what makes this time so essential in understanding the message and ministry of Jesus. That is what makes this time of celebration and death and redemption all the more powerful, all the more grace-filled, all the more loving. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and its never clear which one any of us is going to take. Now let’s listen to the story.
At the beginning of Holy Week lies the triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus. What started sometime ago when we are told that Jesus turned his face towards Jerusalem culminates in this curious story of the disciples borrowing a donkey and taking their outer cloaks off, they place Jesus atop it in a manner that suggests the royalty of being the King of the Jews. And as he begins his ride into the city, as if almost out of thin air, each of the disciples that he has collected in his ministry begins to line the streets of the city. And in our mind’s vision of the events, they are shouting and taking their cloaks off and placing them on the ground, and breaking palms out of trees, and waving them and laying them on the ground as if to say, you are the blessed, the victorious, the one who comes in the name of our God. And in the church we have tried to bring those last moments of exaltation into our worshipping space. Growing up some of my best memories from church centered around Palm Sunday. Each year, as part of the celebration on Sunday morning, the various kids choirs at the church would get palms and process in through the center aisle of the sanctuary. In one hand we would have our hymnals and in the other we would have palm branches and we would sway them back and forth and shout hosanna as we made our way to the front of the church. In addition, I remember everyone in the church having palms as well, waving them and smiling. It is a nice feeling to feel like everyone in the worshipping space is in the same place. We had all be transported back to first century Palestine and we all took our place along what in my mind must have been a dusty path lined with people and olive trees and we waited for Jesus to make his way down the path on his colt. Its nice to have those moments in which the biblical story can come alive both in one’s mind but also in the physical space in which you are inhabiting. And we can all use a time of celebration. We can all use a time to sing loud praises to God and to let go of all the muck and mire in which we have dwelt for much of this Lenten season.
But not all is well in this story and its hard to know who had their collective toes stepped on more by this royal celebration the disciples had offered Jesus as his journey to Jerusalem comes to an end. Because, as the story for today comes to its conclusion we see a group of worried Pharisees coming to Jesus and saying, “please, you have to stop these people, they will listen to you, they will do what you say. Can’t you see the spectacle that you and they are making in this occupied space.” Because Jerusalem is still an occupied space with two factions, the religious and the civic, seemingly intertwined in a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people. And religion is strong and it can capture people’s hearts and lead them to do both wonderful and terrible things. But so is the sword of an occupying force. And you have to wonder if in coming to Jesus and demanding that he put an end to all this raucous celebration that part of what they are saying is, “do you want the Romans to come here and bring this celebration to a brutal end? You are a Jew in an occupied land and you know how it has been for us for some time. You know what they are capable of. Please, Jesus, you have to stop it.” But you can’t stop an idea whose time has come.
In coming into the city in the manner that he did at the time in which he did, Jesus knew full well he was thumbing his nose at both the religious and civil authorities. He knew, he knew that this would cause a reaction, would generate a response, and yet, his own retort to the pharisees suggest that trying to put a stop to the movement of the people was impossible. This idea was so pregnant, so ready to be birthed into the world, so tangible, so tantalizing, so immediate that if the people were to instantly stop what they were doing the stones would cry out.
History is replete with instances like this. Instances in which an idea’s time has come, an idea has battled for so long and clashed against the forces of the old order so many times that it cannot be any other way but alive within the hearts and minds of the people. In the Civil Right moment of the 1950s and 60s, there were times in which, for the sake of peace and tranquility leaders were approached and asked to call off the demonstrations. There were times in which the reaction of those in charge to the efforts of African Americans to be considered full and equal members of society were violent and bloody. There were times in which the backlash against the community came in the form of children being killed, churches being blown up, cars set on fire. There were times when fire hoses were turned on people who knelt in prayer and arrests made and marches interrupted and yet time and time again we saw that you can’t stop an idea whose time had come. To do so was impossible because even if you stopped every person from protesting, every person from boycotting, every person from marching, even if you stopped all that, the stones would cry out an idea whose time had come.
Unfortunately, many of the same struggles faced in the 1960s are still being faced today. So many folks still strive to be seen as fully human, to be welcomed as full members in our society. Whether that’s gay folks or Latinos, poor folks or women, people of different religions or no religion at all, the struggle towards full inclusion continues to press on. And we are called to be in the midst of that struggle with them. We are called there because that is where Jesus is found. We are called there because that is where we will find the “least of these.” We are called there because that is where Jesus continues to pass into the city with his disciples lining the streets and throwing down their cloaks, tearing branches out of trees and screaming, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.”
But when we choose to battle against the old order of the world we battle not just with the forces that gather out there. We also battle with the forces in here. In each of us. The part of us that seeks order and comfort at the cost of the order and comfort of other folks. And so it is that on the other side of Holy Week, we find ourselves back in the crowd but this time shouting a very different message. This time being swept up in the fury and passion of a people seeking to put down the struggle for justice and peace, for grace and love. This time trading in our shouts of “Hosanna!” for shouts of “Crucify Him!” Turning our backs on what is right, for the expediency of what is easy.
It is hard to know exactly what it was that turned the crowd against Jesus so quickly over that time. When on Sunday he enters into the city he is greeted as a king, as a savior, as the one who will overthrow all the forces of oppression and violence that have taken over Jerusalem and all of Palestine with it. But by Friday, we see and hear a very different message erupting from the people of Jerusalem. Perhaps it was the religious leaders of that time asking folks to not challenge the faith of the day. Demanding that folks turn their backs on this upstart leader of a rebellious way and return to the faith traditions of old. Perhaps the Roman authority had been especially brutal to all the people who had come into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and the people just didn’t have the strength to struggle against overwhelming force and overwhelming odds. Perhaps it is easy to walk in greeted at conquering heroes and much more difficult to stand and be counted when the leader of the movement is on trial for you life and just like wildfire, first one starts as a whisper, “crucify him,” and then another joins in and a chant begins, and another and another and another until the sheer force of the power of groupthink has overcome all other thoughts and devotion and each one decides for himself that this Jesus guy represents a threat to the established order and living counter to that is too tough. “Crucify him!” they all shouted and lets be done with it.
And maybe that’s where many of us find ourselves today. In between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Maybe many of us find ourselves wanting to be followers of Jesus but know to do so means standing against the current power of the old order of the world. Many of us want to walk more closely with Jesus but knowing that to follow him means to follow him all the way to Golgotha, to the cross, to death. But that is why we need each other. That is why we need this community of believers. That is why we need the church to be the church and for us to stand together and with one another. The road on which we each find one another is not easy. The path we tread is stony and rocky and filled with struggle and pain and heartache and the unknown. We don’t know where it leads. That is the beauty and difficulty of the faith that we have chosen to claim. “The Spirit blows where she will,” we are told, “and we don’t know where she has come from nor where she is going” but it’s an amazing journey.
We have journeyed a long way together over this Lenten season. We have sat with one another while we laughed and cried. While we talked about faith and a lack of faith. While we broke bread together and sang together. All the while knowing in the back of our minds that the hardest part to travel was still in our future and now we stand at the precipice of Holy Week. And it is hard because it reminds us of our own mortality and we have to stare into that place that we would rather not go. But it also reminds us that we are called to follow Jesus not just when he is healing and telling parables but when he flips the money changers tables, when he challenges the religious authority of his time, and when he thumbs his nose at Roman occupation. We are called to follow him in the hear and now as struggle with those who struggle for a more peaceable kingdom, a more just realm, a more loving existence. You can’t stop an idea whose time has come. If we are silent the stones would cry out. Let’s not be silent. Amen.