This is the day! This is the day we have been waiting for these last five weeks. Finally, what started as a reminder of our own mortality is coming to a close on this day with shouts of hosanna in the highest heaven.
This is the day. A day of contrast, a day of raw human emotion that will turn the world on its ear.
This is the day. This is a slash day, passion/palm Sunday, when in one liturgical service, we move from shouts of joy to cries of murder and revenge. This is the day.
Jesus knew his time was coming to an end, and he knew not only what was coming as an end for him but how he had to make it all happen. Until then, he was a mere annoyance, a preacher/do-gooder from the back of the beyond preaching about love and helping people. Okay, that is all well and good until it starts to interfere with those in charge.
Jesus had been to Jerusalem before, so it was no big deal for them to go back. Passover was coming, and he wanted to celebrate it in the Holy City. There is nothing unusual about that. For Jesus, this would be his last Passover with his disciples, but they did not know that. For the disciples, this was just an ordinary Passover.
In our first Gospel reading this morning, we heard of Jesus sending two unnamed disciples into the next town to, for what it looks like, steal a donkey. They were simply to tell the owner that “the Lord needs them” and take it. I can tell you this does not work in today’s world, so please, don’t try this at home.
Rather than walk into Jerusalem, Jesus is going to ride. But this is no mere ride; this is the ride that will put things in motion, for this will be the “ride heard round the world.”
When one city loses a battle with another city, and it will be taken over, the King or ruler of the victorious city enters the conquered city riding on a horse. The horse is an animal of war and battle. The horse is a powerful animal, and the bigger the horse, the more powerful. The horse symbolizes the rider conquering the city they are entering.
On the other hand, the donkey is an animal of peace. Also, Matthew mentions that the Donkey would have a colt with her. The donkey has recently given birth and is still caring for her newborn. This is no war animal; this is an animal of nurture and support.
When a king from a neighboring city came to visit another king, they often entered that city riding on a donkey showing that they came in peace and not war. The donkey is a work animal designed to bear a burden. Donkeys are, for the most part, docile and stubborn animals, not really one can rely on in an attack. Donkeys are smaller than most horses and do not threaten anyone.
Although Jesus is coming as a conquering king, he comes in peace and love, so he has chosen the donkey. Unfortunately, those around him completely missed the nuance of the situation as they usually do, but the religious and political leaders did not.
Jesus climbs upon the donkey and heads toward the city gate. People start to gather as usual when a parade is going by. Many are wondering who this is and what all the fuss is about. Remember, Jesus is relatively unknown still. The crowd grows, they don’t know why, but they start to sing. Many take off their coats and lay them on the ground with branches from nearby trees.
They start to shout “Hosanna,” which by Jesus day has become more of a greeting like “howdy,” but the original meaning was “God be with you.” Then the crowd calls Jesus the “Son of David,” and eyebrows start to rise. David was the King, the great King, and all of the kings of Israel have come from his line; they are calling Jesus king!
Last week, we heard the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. There was no mistake, since Lazarus had been dead for four days, that Lazarus was dead. We heard in the Gospel that a decision was made that this Jesus needed to be destroyed. He was doing too much good, and the authorities could not have that. There was no way to control him, and the authorities did not like that it made them uncomfortable. But their discomfort was about to get worse.
There was a fine line between the Roman and Jewish authorities. For the most part, as long as there was peace, the Romans allowed the Jews to do whatever they wanted. Of course, they had the temple guard to keep the peace, but the Roman soldiers always lurked just out of view.
Jerusalem was not a plumb assignment for a career diplomat like Pilate. He must have done something wrong to get assigned to this backwater, one donkey town. He needed to get back into Caesar’s good graces to get a better post. He needed to make sure things stayed peaceful, whatever the cost.
Then along comes this guy named Jesus, who has just been declared King by the crowd, riding on a symbol of kingship and entering the capital city of that region. This was a powder keg ready to blow, and something had to be done.
But it does not end here.
Remember, Jesus knew what had to be done. He needed to be killed, not as some payment for some debt, not because some heinous bloodthirsty God required that his flesh and blood be destroyed. No, Jesus suffered and died for us so we would know that Jesus understands what humanity goes through. Sure, Jesus could have lived to old age, but what would that prove? Jesus was killed, at the hands of the government, after a sham trial because he made them nervous with his revolutionary talk about love and equality. It is incredible how a little equality talk cause people to do all sorts of crazy things.
Later this week, we hear the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard. This act of rage and anger confused those following him. He had never done such a thing. How could the one who preaches love, acceptance, and peace become so angry? But the authorities saw this differently. For them, this was an attack at the very heart of their economic system. Jesus exposed corruption in the system, and they did not like this. This was the final straw; they had to do something.
In the second Gospel from Matthew, we hear of the authorities conspiring to arrest and kill Jesus.
This is a story of how easy it is for a crowd to believe something just because someone in authority told them it was. This is a story of a group of people so desperate to stay in power that they lied and rigged a trial to execute someone who came in peace, preaching love and equality. This is a reminder of how quickly things can go from good to bad.
Today is a day of contrast, and we must ask ourselves where we would be. Would we go along and follow the crowd? Would we be the ones shouting Hosana today and a few days later be crying, crucify him? I urge you to take time this week, this Holy Week, to meditate on all that we will see and hear. I ask you to come and spend time with Jesus and the others as he walks willingly to his death. We cannot celebrate the resurrection if we do not experience death.
Let us enter this Holy Week prayerfully and in expectation of all that is to come.