Our season of Lent is drawing to a close, and we move ever closer to the cross of Jesus. Today we face the entire set of emotions from extreme joy to extreme sadness and grief as we move from the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem to his final hours on the cross. Celebration and praise will converge with loss and grief. Not unlike how many of us might be feeling right now. We are happy that we are well and with our loved ones, but sad that we cannot be together in our church building on this beautiful Palm Sunday.
But this feast calls us to communal faith, and no matter where we are today, or when you might view this video, we have gathered and will continue to gather as Church.
This singular event drew people from all over the region. Jesus’ fame had reached the far ends of the Empire, and everyone wanted to see him. He was not going to be able to slip into town; they were going to welcome him as a king, or were they?
Keep in mind that those that were expecting the Messiah to come were expecting a military genius one that would free them from their bondage to the Roman Empire. Sure, the Messiah is a King and did come to free them from slavery, just not the bondage they were expecting. When a king or ruler, who just conquered a city, went into the city, they would ride in on a horse, a warhorse if you will. They were coming as a conquering hero to claim their prize.
But, and this is important, the King was coming in peace, they would arrive on a much nobler beast, the donkey. This would show submission and not triumph. Jesus came to Jerusalem to bring peace, not war. Jesus came to Jerusalem to bring love, not judgment. Jesus came to Jerusalem to bring forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of sin, not the slavery of political oppression. Jesus came as a peacemaker, not a conqueror.
All of this, as you can imagine, caused the religious and political authorities of the day to sit up and take notice. Until this point, Jesus had just been a burr under their saddles, a little painful but not much to worry about. But now, he has just raised a man from the dead, and the people have crowned him King; this was something they could not simply ignore. They were going to have to take action.
The people come, they cut down branches from the trees, they place their cloaks on the ground and sing Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna. They are happy and filled with anticipation of what will come next, or what they think will come next. The people who had come out were doing so at significant risk to themselves for in proclaiming Jesus King they were, in fact, committing treason.
But as we know that joy will soon turn ugly and go to a very dark place.
Some theologians will argue that this was intentional on the part of Jesus. His time had come, and he had to do something to raise his profile so he would be noticed. As I have already mentioned, they did not pay him any mind at all; he was just some backwater preacher going around doing good for folks and not getting in the way.
But if we leave the story here, all we have is the triumph, and for many, that is where they want to stay. Many want to go right from Palm Sunday to Easter without the pain and agony of Good Friday, Jesus was one of those for a bit in the garden when he was praying. But we cannot skip over the unsavory bits to get to the parts we like. We cannot ignore the difficult parts of Scripture and focus on the nice happy bits. What the story of Palm Sunday reminds us is that in the life of the Christian, there will be joy as well as pain, sorrow, and grief. And we must experience it all.
The German Theologian and Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer often spoke of what he called Cheap Grace. Bonhoeffer was concerned that we had lost the idea of Good Friday, that we had forgiveness with repentance. That we had, or thought was had to do nothing to work at in our Christian life. This is not only wrong, but it is bad theology.
An English Orthodox Bishop tells the story of being asked about being saved. I don’t know about you, but I often get asked by some Christians if I am saved. What the bishop would say is that he is not saved, but instead he is in the process of being saved, salvation is something we continuously work toward it is not a moment in time when all things change, and we are on the right path, no it is the very opposite. We must continuously work at our faith, t is a daily struggle between the joys of Palm Sunday, the agony of Good Friday, and glorious feelings on Easter. We must go to the tomb to be resurrected.
But the other meaning behind this feast is that we must come in the same way that Jesus came. We must come with no expectation, with all humility, and with love, love for God and love for our neighbor.
This week we made the difficult decision not to stream worship live from the Church. This decision was made to provide an example to those who are advising us to stay home. The only way we will get through this is if we shut ourselves in for a while, it has worked in other places. As much as we feel we need to go out, we simply cannot. But thanks be to God we can video this message and service so we can be together during this time to support one another.
But I mention this because, for me, it comes back to this idea of love, love of neighbor. Our staying home might save someone’s life. Our staying home might be the greatest example of love that we can show to another person. Our staying home keeps them and us safe, and that is an expression of love.
There will be time to celebrate when this is all over, and we can once again gather for worship. But for now, this is what we do; for now, we must pause a little while at Good Friday, and then, our Easter will come.