“When the Cheering Stops”

Zechariah 9:9-10

Luke 19:28-40

April 4, 2004

 

          Maybe you noticed what is written on the bulletin as the name of this Sunday.  Maybe you wondered why today is Palm/Passion Sunday and not just Palm Sunday as we are used to calling it.  Maybe you’re thinking I just couldn’t make up my mind on which to call it, so I put both.  No, this Sunday is called Palm/Passion Sunday, but it does sound strange to call it both.  There is almost a contradiction to it, something confusing about it, leaving us scratching our head wondering if this Sunday is supposed to be one of celebration or solemnity. 

          When I first started hearing Palm Sunday being called Palm/Passion Sunday, it didn’t sit so well with me.  I was so used to celebrating Palm Sunday as just a day of celebration, that to suddenly throw in the word, Passion, was like…well, it was like having my Mom drive Jill and me on our first few dates until I got my drivers license: awkward and comfortable.  

But, what I have come to understand about this Sunday is that it’s supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable.  It’s supposed to keep us a little off balance as we both celebrate the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem and at the same time remember what happens to him in just a few days.  This is what Palm/Passion Sunday is all about, for this Sunday is not just another Sunday; it’s the last Sunday of Lent, and the first day of Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian year, and of the Christian faith.  

          But maybe this is why this Sunday is so awkward and uncomfortable for us, because we cannot read this story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem without also thinking about what will happen to him on Good Friday.  We cannot read this story detached from the knowledge of the events that will soon play out.  We already know the plot of the story.  We already know what will become of Jesus.  We cannot read this story and not see the sheer irony of it.  We cannot read this story and not remember that the same ones who follow Jesus in this triumphal procession and sing out with a loud voice, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” will be the same ones who will run away and desert him in his darkest hour. 

But maybe that is the point Luke is trying to make in this text; that being a disciple means living in the tension between Palm and Passion, between the Jesus we want and the Jesus we need, between the Jesus, who comes as the king of peace and the Jesus, who comes already wearing upon his brow the crown of thrones.   

          The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurs in all four gospels, but Luke’s account has some interesting differences.  In Luke’s account, there is no greeting and ovation by a general crowd of people, and there is no mention at all of palms or branches cut from trees, shouts of “Hosannas,” or even references to David or the Davidic throne.  These are the things that belong to parades and festivals with nationalistic overtones, and are found in the other gospels, but not in Luke. 

For Luke, this story is about one thing, Jesus and his disciples; about the One who comes as the humble king bringing peace, and about the ones who follow him.  But even this begs the question about where we fit into this story?  Can we truly put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples who were with Jesus that day?  Can we truly identity ourselves with the multitude of disciples, who have yet to go through the events that are yet to unfold? 

          The reality is that we can’t.  The multitude of the disciples with Jesus on the day he entered Jerusalem are unaware of future events, unaware of the growing conspiracy, unaware of the shadow of the cross that has fallen over them.  For them, this is a great and glorious day, a day that they have long awaited, a day that they have long dreamed of.  For them, Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the divine promise and prophecy of old, as the one who comes as a king triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  For them, Jesus is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, and all they can do is praise God joyfully for all the deeds of power that they have seen.  They may not know what is going to happen, and they may not fully understand Jesus’ messiahship, but for now they are right. 

But what happens when the cheering stops, and we know it will.  We know that the disciples are swept up in the moment of the present.  We know that they have not come to complete clarity and maturity as Jesus’ disciples, and we also know that the events that will soon transpire will test them, and some will fail. 

From our vantage point, two thousand years removed from the actual event, we see with much more clarity what the disciples could never see or even know, that the one who comes as a king today will die as a criminal at the end of the week, and so we must live in the tension of our own desire to celebrate with the disciples and the knowledge of what is to come. 

The danger for us is to avoid this tension, to bypass the events of later this week in favor of the celebration of today and next Sunday, to hold onto the triumphant Jesus of today and the glorified Jesus of Easter, and stay away from the awkward and uncomfortable suffering Jesus of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. 

And yet, we also know that our first inclination is to do just that, because human beings don’t like tension or anything awkward and uncomfortable, or anything involving suffering.  It is much easier for us and safer for us to remain where it is most comfortable, in places that are less threatening, and in events that keep us feeling good about ourselves. 

We would much rather hold on to the Jesus who arrives as king, than the Jesus who is betrayed and arrested.  We would much rather hold on to the Jesus who has the power to control an untamed colt, than the Jesus who is beaten, flogged, and spat upon.  We would much rather hold on to the Jesus who is surrounded by the voices who cry out, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven,” than the Jesus who is surrounded by the voices who cry out, “Crucify, crucify him.”      

          Deep down in all of us, we know that this is not the way of discipleship.  We know that in avoiding the events of Holy week, we are only avoiding the truth about ourselves, only avoiding the truth about our own brokenness and sinfulness, only avoiding our own culpability in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in doing so, we end up missing the message of his Gospel. 

Jesus is the humble king, not because he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, but because he willingly humbled himself to the point of death – even death on the cross, as the atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and perfectly revealed the love of God for the world.  This is what Holy Week is all about.  It’s about what happens when the cheering stops.  It’s about what happens when the weight of the world comes crashing down upon Jesus’ shoulders.  It’s about the depths of human pain that Jesus suffered, so that we may be set free from the bondage of sin and it’s consequence of death. 

Holy Week is more than just a statement about you and me.  As Luke reminds us, when the Pharisees asked Jesus to order his disciples to stop cheering, Jesus said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  Holy week is more than just a reliving of the past; it is a proclamation and witness of creation itself of the coming of the new age of God’s reign in Jesus Christ of which the whole of creation is in waiting.  In the events of this week, we experience more than just what God has done and will do for us, we also experience what God has done and will do for all of creation.  This week is about the righting of all that is wrong, about the reconciling of all that is estranged, about the redemption of all that is broken. 

          On this Palm/Passion Sunday, let us rejoice in the triumphal arrival of the humble king who comes in peace.  Let us live in the tension of knowing what is to come.  And when cheering stops, and the darkness of night comes, and the sounds of betrayal is in the air, let us join together at the Lord’s table, sharing in the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and let us come together at the foot of the cross, for there is the only place where we will find the glory of God’s grace revealed and the only path that will lead us to the dawn of the resurrection.   Amen.