Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.John 12:12-16 (NRSV)
There are all kinds of stories, aren’t there? There are fairy tales about princesses and kings and wizards and faraway places. There are fables about mice helping lions, and dogs being greedy with their bones. There are bedtime stories about three bears or three pigs, shoemakers and elves, and magic beans and giant beanstalks, and most of those stories have a moral or something that they are trying to teach us, but they also help us to wonder and to imagine and to think outside the box and the everyday way that we see and experience the world around us.
Well, our Bible stories, are no different. There are stories that feature things as small as a mustard seed and a big as a giant. Some stories sound crazy and put people in the weirdest places, like in the belly of a whale or in a fiery furnace or in a lion’s den. Some talk of crowds like the feeding of the five thousand or the Sermon on the Mount, while other stories tell of individuals like the blind man who is healed, or the good Samaritan, or the woman at the well. Some are stories about being lost, like the lost sheep and the lost coin, and others are about being found, like the prodigal son.
The key to every biblical story though, is that every story is told through the lens of love. Even if the situation is difficult or the lesson is hard to hear, the foundation of the story is built on love. Now, biblical stories were handed down for generation, even before they were written down. They were used to comfort and encourage, but also to challenge and teach. The Bible is not meant to be a book of rules and regulations, but a book of stories to guide us on our way. It contains histories and genealogies, parables and poems, all of which are used to encourage us, to inspire us, and to help us look at our faith and the world around us more clearly. They also help us to remember that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and that whether we get it all right, or all wrong, or somewhere in between, that God loves us and will never let us go.
Friends, today we celebrate Palm Sunday — the first day of Holy Week as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem and eventually to the cross. This is a week full of wonderful stories and emotional ups and downs. One minute we are shouting, “Hosanna!” and celebrating a parade. Next, we are experiencing an intimate moment with Jesus in the upper room as he teaches us to remember him through the sharing of the bread and the cup. We witness the betrayal and the trial and eventually the crucifixion, and then we wait.
If there is ever a week that we should be shouting, “Hosanna!” and sharing the good news of Jesus, this is it! But things are not normal right now. Because of all that is going on in our world and in our communities, we are called to stay home and stay safe. Though this may not be a time that is easy to talk with others about your faith, maybe it’s a great time to turn off the tv and social media and talk to your family or those in your household about your faith. It is also the perfect year to dig into the stories of our faith. Rather than jumping from the parade on Palm Sunday to the celebration on Easter morning, we have a chance to actually listen to the stories of our faith and to allow those stories to help us better understand and deepen our understanding of who and whose we all are as disciples of Jesus.
There is another story that is central to our faith. It’s a story about compassion and mystery, grace and forgiveness, humility, and unconditional love. If you have never heard this story before, please listen very closely. And if you have heard it before, I urge you to try to listen to it this time with new ears.
The story is about a man named Jesus. You see, it was Passover, and Jesus had gathered in an upper room with his friends the disciples. As they sat around the table, Jesus took the bread then he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them saying “This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” His friends, the disciples didn’t understand, but they ate it anyway. Later, he took the cup and, pouring it out, he shared it with them saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of me.” Again, they didn’t understand but they drank it anyway.
That night, when Jesus looked around the table, he saw his friends, but he also saw one that he knew had betrayed him, and another who he knew would deny him. And he knew that the rest would eventually abandon him, but Jesus welcomed them at the table anyway. And Jesus knew that they didn’t understand what he was talking about, but Jesus fed them anyway. Jesus simply said, “Come,” because all you need to be to come to this table is hungry.
The truth is, my friends, there are a lot of things that we do in the church that just like the disciples, we don’t fully understand. Many times, we are simply following traditions of the past or carrying out rites and rituals that were designed by the early church.
Well, this year, as we are separated from many of those traditions and rites and rituals, perhaps our eyes will be opened. Rather than focusing on palm branches, the words of familiar hymns, the sharing bread and cup, the extra visitors in worship on Easter, the Easter lilies and Easter dinners and fancy Easter clothes, maybe we will focus a little more on the actual stories that for thousands of years have called us to do what we do and to be who we are as followers of Jesus.
Friends, in today’s scripture lesson, we hear the Palm Sunday story. We hear about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Can’t you image it? The cheer of the crowds as Jesus rides by on the back of a donkey. And this was an impromptu parade. It was nothing that had been planned ahead or choreographed. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. The people were so excited and so moved at the idea that Jesus could be the Messiah that they had been waiting for, they tossed their coats on the road and waved their palm branches high in the air as they shout. “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!!”
Though from the outside, the story of Palm Sunday sounds like a story of joy and celebration, that is only one side of the story. There were others in the crowd that did not like what was happening at all! The Pharisees in the crowd were getting very uncomfortable. They knew that this parade, this show of support, would not go well with the government. And that was just the beginning of Holy Week!
Friends, this week, for the final week of our daily Lenten devotionals, our spiritual practice will be the practice of entering the story. Each day, we will hear about the footsteps that Jesus walked. From that Palm Sunday parade to the celebration on Easter morning, the good news of each of our faith stories is that no matter how anxious and frustrated and filled with sorrow we become, we learn that joy always comes in the morning. No matter how dark the night may seem, that the sun always rises again. And even as we sit at the foot of the cross filled with sorrow and grief, we learn that love always wins, that death never has the last word, and that God never ever leaves us alone.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you journey into this Holy Week, may you begin by shouting, “Hosanna!” from home as you wait for the story to unfold. I urge you to take your time walking through Holy Week, allowing yourself to experience each and every step along the way. Because sometimes, the only way that we can truly understand is when we allow ourselves to look back and remember the story!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!