First Congregational Church
March 24, 2013
"In Looking On the Details"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It was Palm Sunday, but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Johnny stayed home from church with a his older sister. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Johnny asked them what they were for. "People held them over Jesus' head as he rode by on a donkey," his father told him. "Wouldn't you know it," Johnny fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up AND they had donkey rides!"
I recently came across a version of this day's event that I'd not heard before. It was Palm Sunday and Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. He was riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rode along. He was looking for trouble. The people that he passed on his way were in awe of such a beautiful animal but they were even more awestruck by the man who was riding it. As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, "Who was that masked man?"
There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had a job to do. As he rode into Jerusalem he quickly sized up the situation and formed a plan to capture the troublemakers. There was a short scuffle and Jesus won handily over all of them. He hog-tied them and threw them all in jail.
As a large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about, Jesus mounted his horse and pulled on the reigns. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice, "Hi, ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go." As Jesus road off into the sunset, you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background. Du du dunt. Du du dunt. Du du dunt dunt dunt.
I'm sure few, if any, of you have heard that version, either. If you think about it, isn't that the way you would have done it if you were Jesus? Maybe many of you, like myself, hadn't even thought about an alternate way of envisioning the famous Palm Sunday event from 2,000 years ago. I'm certainly glad that a minister named Roger Griffith from New Mexico, put "his" version on his website under the sermon title "Not the Lone Ranger, But the Lone Savior.
Luke 19:28-40, Rob Burch, reading
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Thank you, Rob. As "crazy" as Roger Griffith's version of Palm Sunday is, so was the original version as it happened. Through time we can forget the political electricity that filled every corner of Jerusalem and beyond. The Jewish people of the day knew full well the prophecy from Zechariah, ""Lo, your king comes to you triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). For 500 years they had been watching and waiting for a savior. This was most certainly the one?
Most of the time, we get to this point in the scripture passage, and we hear about the people in the crowd cutting down palm branches and spreading them on the ground in front of Jesus and his donkey. Palm branches reflect honor and nobility. Solomon used them as part of the sacred carvings in the temple. Roman coins sometimes used palm branches, just to remind people who was in power and who should be respected. Did you happen to notice what was missing from our scripture for this morning? Palms. Interesting omission, Dr. Luke.
Did you notice another absence in our passage? No "hosannas." "Hosanna" was a desperate cry from an oppressed people living under Roman rule that means "Oh Save" or "Save us now". The book of John has the inclusion of "hosannas" and palm branches, but nothing about Jesus sending disciples to find the unridden donkey. What's up with the omissions and inclusions? The simple answer is, "I don't know." And I don't know of anyone that would have any conclusive answers, either - this side of heaven, anyway. But looking back over Luke's version, there are some things we can glean - detail sorts of things that can help us in our day-to-day lives.
In our hindsight, we can pick up the fact that Jesus had a plan, a map - as it were - to get him from point A to point B. So does God have a plan for each of us - to get us from heaven to earth and back to heaven again. (It's that "We're spiritual beings having a human experience thing.) In some parts of that plan, there are distinct details, like when and where and how and even what to say. In all parts of the plan, God gives us the freedom to 'go here' and 'go there.' But maybe when we get "specific" directions from God, we might pay closer attention, because it may be that God has a "way" for us to get through what might be called a tough or hard time.
It's interesting, too, that Luke includes the line "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Now when was the last time you heard something to that effect? Last Christmas? Interestingly, it was Luke who mentioned that "suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and say, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." Maybe it's like a frame around Jesus' life - one of joy and gratefulness to God. Perhaps one of the reasons we hold baptism, memorial and funeral services is to frame our lives in gratefulness - and even joy. (By the way, that's why I prefer to call them "celebrations of life" - in reference to the joy part.)
Being so far from this time and place, we may also be ignorant of the physical aspects of that first Palm Sunday. When Jesus mentions that if the disciples can't praise God, then the stones will cry out, I always thought he was referring to the rocks on the road, and maybe he was. One pastor over there at desperatepreacher.com mentioned that as one descends from the Mt of Olives, you pass through a cemetery with ancient gravestones. Some estimates are that there are as many as 150,000 past priests, prophets and observant Jews buried in that graveyard. That understanding brings in the idea that even if you hush the living, the faithful dead buried there will speak out. How sad it would if stones - rather than living, breathing human beings were all that were available to give God praise and thanks for the blessings we enjoy. What an opportunity Holy Week becomes, that we can offer our gratitude, in the midst of remembering, for all that Christ went through on our behalf.
There may be some people who get all knotted up about Luke and John being so different in their accounts of that first Palm Sunday. But when we stand back, and look at this piece of Jesus' last week, we get a better idea of it being just the beginning of a week we might hardly call 'holy,' yet it is exactly that which it has become, what it always has been. Palm Sunday is the first step of a journey that we take - we need to take - to get to Easter. We can come up with a thousand reasons to avoid Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, and many of those reasons may well be good and valid. But most of the time, we are just as glad to celebrate the beginning of the journey and the end, because the middle isn't always so "fun."
But we don't have beginnings and ends without middles. We don't have Palm Sunday and Easter without Jesus' last supper, his betrayal and arrest, his whipping and beating, his crucifixion, suffering and death. If he didn't go through all that, the Easter resurrection would be worth nothing of the sacredness that it is. If he didn't go through the ugliness, we wouldn't fully appreciate the beauty. And so we don't get to skip the hard parts of life, either. But we can go through those time with God.
(Sung in Russian, "Via Dolorosa")
Down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem that day
The soldiers tried to clear the narrow street
But the crowd pressed in to see
The Man condemned to die on Calvary
He was bleeding from a beating, there were stripes upon His back
And He wore a crown of thorns upon His head
And He bore with every step
The scorn of those who cried out for His death
Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King,
But He chose to walk that road out of
His love for you and me.
Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.
Let us pray. God of life and what we call death, we are grateful for the sacrifice you made in sending your son to live among us - to save us. We confess that we aren't always so good at fully embracing the depth of that gratitude, because it can make us uncomfortable, even sad. But the great thing is, is that you already know how we feel, God. You've been there to an even greater degree than we have. So grant us enough faith in your plan to follow you not just into your Holy Week, but through it. May we hear of that plan with eager hearts. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.