This is Just the Beginning

This is Just the Beginning

Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said, and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
      Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
      Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
   Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple, and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1-11 (NRSVUE)

This morning, during Household Huddle, we read a book called Everyone Loves a Parade. The story was filled with excitement, crowds, cheering and chanting, costumes, music, and dancing.

Folks, for just a minute, I want you to think back to a parade that you have seen, Can you remember what it was like? Now maybe you’re thinking of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day on television, or a Santa parade right here in North Attleboro. But either way, the truth is, when we watch a parade, we see all kinds of things, don’t we? Floats, balloons, banners, children, bands, bagpipers, fire trucks, dancers, public officials, veterans, scouts, and sometimes even Santa… just to name a few!

Now, most of the things in a parade are there to be seen, right? That’s why the people in parades smile and wave at the crowds. Well, in today’s scripture reading, we heard about another parade, didn’t we? And the part about people being in parades to be seen is where I think today’s scripture reading gets a little bit confusing. Because up until this time, if you think about the stories that we have heard about Jesus, each time someone figures out who Jesus is or what Jesus is capable of doing, like healing people and performing miracles, Jesus has made it very clear that they should tell no one about him. Jesus has been careful not to bring attention to himself. And yet, now, Jesus plans a parade?

The first half of today’s scripture reading is about Jesus planning his entry into Jerusalem. He has the disciples go and get a colt that has never been ridden. Now, though Jesus does not dress in fancy clothing and smile and wave to the crowds, his actions identify him as royalty, as someone important, someone who holds authority. And though the people in the crowd are waving their palms and shouting Hosanna, many of them have no idea who Jesus is. They just love the idea of a parade! But the religious leaders and the government officials know who Jesus is, and they have been looking for him. And by riding into town on a colt and bringing attention to himself, Jesus is making a political statement. Jesus, the humble servant rides into town on a colt or a donkey like a king usually does on a fine horse. In many ways, Jesus is mocking and making fun of the authorities.

What always surprises me about this story from the gospel of Mark is that you would expect that this rowdy parade would lead to something big, wouldn’t you? But interestingly enough, scripture says that when Jesus reaches the temple; he takes a quick look around and then heads off to Bethany with his friends. What happened to the exciting ending, the flashy finish? Well, the fact is, this isn’t the ending. Through Jesus’ actions on this Palm Sunday, the story is actually just beginning, and Jesus is making the first move. And over the next week, step by step, the story will unfold.

Now we all know the story because the week ahead is the center of our Christian faith. It is the core of our understanding and the basis of our belief. Yes, the two most well-attended worship services in the Christian church are Christmas and Easter, but without Holy Week and all that happens during it, the rest just doesn’t make sense.

Now I know that we like to be positive people–always looking for the good in everything. As a preacher, I like nothing better than to build you all up and send you out into the world to face each new week grounded in your faith and filled with the love of God. We like to hear the feel-good stories. We like the angel that tells us, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy!” We like to shout out our hosannas and our alleluias, but to be brutally honest, my friends, they don’t mean a thing if they are not also mixed with shouts of, “Crucify him!”

As a Protestant church, we have an empty cross, while our Catholic brothers and sisters have a crucifix, a cross with Jesus hanging on it. We tend to defend our empty cross by saying that we are the church of the resurrection and that the story doesn’t end with the crucifixion on Friday. But the truth is, folks, we can’t get to the celebration of Easter Sunday and the good news of the resurrection without passing through the darkest valley and facing the crucifixion and the pain of Good Friday.

This week, as we travel through Holy Week and hear the stories of our faith, we’ll remember the pain. We’ll remember the suffering, the hurt, the betrayal, and the injustice brought about by human beings just like us. But we will also remember the unconditional love and grace of God, which will never die and has no end.

Folks, I promise you this will be a week of extreme emotion as we find ourselves waving our palms and shouting, “Hosanna!” but also shouting. “Crucify him!” as we claim to love him and yet we betray him and deny him. On Thursday evening, we will gather to remember the Last Supper, when Jesus and the disciples huddled in the upper room, fearing the authorities. We will remember the bread and the wine, the words that Jesus shared with them, and the promises that were made. We will hear the questions asked by his closest friends, and our hearts will ache as we witness one of us betraying him. We’ll remember the garden of Gethsemane and the tears that Jesus wept out of fear and uncertainty as he prayed to God, asking, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You; take away this cup from me.” And then, when he returns to us, his friends, he finds us all asleep.

We hear about the arrest and his trial and the cries of “Crucify him!” And like the disciples, we are afraid. We watch as the criminal Jesus Barabbas is released, and Jesus of Nazareth is sentenced to death. On Good Friday, we gather here to remember the last words of Christ. We sit at the foot of the cross, lost and alone. We experience the frustration of being at a loss of control. We experience the depths of grief, sorrow, and pain. And we sit in silence, and we wait. What a week! What a holy, holy week! And to think that it all began with a parade–a parade with laughing and cheering and shouts of Hosanna!

So now, my friends, the choice is yours. You can jump from today’s excitement of the parade and shouts of hosanna straight to the shouts of Alleluia on Easter Sunday, or you can choose to walk through the sacredness of Holy Week. Friends, if you choose to make the journey, I beg you to keep your hearts and your minds open. Try to listen closely to the story with new ears and experience each moment with new understanding. Though the story may seem to be the same, year after year, we are constantly growing and changing as individuals, and many times, our faith and understanding do, too.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, may you go out into the streets, waving your palms and shouting, “Hosanna!” as you await the unfolding of the story. I urge you to take your time walking through Holy Week, allowing yourself to experience each and every step of the way because it is only then that we can truly understand our faith and celebrate the good news that is on the horizon.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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