A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.
After he had said this, [Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ..
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
What comes to mind when you think of the word “protester”? Regardless of what you may initially picture, there are many types of protesters, of course. There are antiwar protesters, Tea Party protesters, protesters for common-sense gun legislation and gun rights protesters. There are protesters for liberal causes and conservative causes and everything in between.
Sometimes, they clash with each other. Protests tend to make us nervous because they carry with them an inherent risk of instability. Outside the United States, there are even more types of protesters: those who rally in favor of governments and those who seek to overthrow them.
Before I say more about protests, I must admit the first few verses of this text are powerful. “The Lord needs it.” I love the brevity of this explanation given for the two disciples to use when asked why they were untying a colt to take to Jesus. The coolest thing is—it worked! The owner of the colt obviously didn’t need any further explanation for loaning it out on Palm Sunday. Wow, if we might be so flexible in turning loose of our possessions when it becomes obvious that “the Lord needs it!”
Today, set your feet in the dust of Jerusalem and look across the sunny stone streets. Hear the cries of a different kind of protest in an occupied land: the people are spreading their coats along the road. The crowd is pressing in, clamoring to see the one they’ve heard about: Jesus of Nazareth. They even dare to proclaim him “king.” In Luke this isn’t a Billy Graham revival kind of gathering, this is a ragtag bunch of people that observers are speculating about and the Pharisees, of all people, are trying to convince Jesus to stop making a ruckus or things will get bad. But Jesus continues, and so does the speculation.
Hear the talk around you: “I heard he can make lepers clean,” says one man to another. Nearby, a woman says, “I heard that his birth was announced by angels.” “That can’t be,” comes the reply of another woman. “Who is he, anyway? Moses himself?” “Well,” comes another voice, “I have some relatives in the north.
They say that there was this widow whose son had died, and Jesus of Nazareth brought him back from the dead at the funeral. My relatives say they saw it for themselves.” The speculation continues as everyone’s eyes go wide.
Just then, there’s a commotion in the midst of the crowd. Jesus is coming closer. He’s riding… a colt? The people lay their coats on the road before him as they welcome him into the Holy City. They truly give him a royal welcome, reminiscent of the welcome that David got when he brought the ark into Jerusalem. They chant “Hosanna” together.
It seems almost lost to us now, but remember: Israel was not a free country. They were a country that was occupied by a foreign empire and bitter adversary. People did not have the right to peaceably assemble, much less assemble to declare a teacher to be a king over and above the mighty empire. There is not supposed to be any ruler of Israel except Rome’s emperor. And yet, here we are, gathering, chanting, cheering.
While we may think little of it today because we’re so familiar with the story, giving a royal welcome to a religious teacher and shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” was a highly subversive act at the time. Rome ruled with an iron fist, and they took subversive action seriously. Those gathered on this first Palm Sunday were risking their lives, and they knew it. Which, again, is why the Pharisees were warning Jesus.
But they still continued forward to see, to shout, to protest the oppression and celebrate the one they thought might free them. And today, we stand with them.
Today, we declare that we, too, have only one ruler, and that there is no person, economic philosophy, or political party that is above Christ. Only Jesus gets the royal welcome.
Welcome to Holy Week, friends. It begins with shouting.
Of course, we will learn later in the week that this royal welcome will not last. We humans are fragile creatures, and we often get it right before messing it all up again. Our momentary courage often precedes our running away. This is what will happen to Jesus. A crowd today shouts, “Hosanna!” and on Friday another crowd will shout, “Crucify him!” They will come to fully understand the danger that Jesus poses to their stability. They will see that he is not a military leader. And they will sacrifice him for continued peace with Rome.
Today, we again set our feet on the road to the Last Supper, to the garden to pray, to the cross, and to the tomb. And while you may already know the ending, pretend for a moment that you don’t. The disciples didn’t. When Jesus died on Friday, that was supposed to be the end. If death is not real, then Easter is no miracle.
This Holy Week story is life. This story is our lives. Joy. Love. Fear. Grief. Betrayal. Pain. Even the ordinary: eating, drinking, washing. This place is where we learn both joy and grief, celebration and pain: in church. Here, we see our ordinary lives echoed in the life and love of Jesus Christ, the Eternal. We see our imperfect lives reflected in the perfect and saving love of Christ. And in it, may you, too, find some seed of hope. This story is our story.
And every year, the Church gathers to tell it again, beginning on those dusty Jerusalem streets with the crowd that dared to gather to celebrate the teacher that many had only heard about. Today, the story begins again.
We tell this story of love, death, and resurrection, just as every year around this time Jewish people gather in their homes for the Passover, to tell the story of God’s people journeying from slavery into freedom. Because the God of Israel saves. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, writing of the Passover, says, “Every Israelite must sing the [story] again, not only for what is remembered, but also for what is experienced directly, immediately, personally, at first hand.”
My friends, we are invited to gather on Jerusalem’s streets and shout Hosanna and sing this story together again. May our lives reflect the protest that we have held here today: that despite what the world may tell us, our highest loyalty is to Christ alone, the one who died and lives again, the one who binds us to people of all races, nationalities, and affiliations. Christ, the one who joins us together with people we love and with people we’d rather not associate with.
We gather with the Church all around the world to tell the story, because every Christian must sing it again, not only for what is remembered, but for what is experienced.
- We sing it again just as our ancestors in the faith have.
- We sing it again as the Church did last year.
- We sing it again as the Church will next year. Because this story is not just Jesus’ story. It is our story.
- We sing it again not only for what is remembered, but also for what we have experienced of this saving God in our own flesh.
And so, with our hands and our feet, with our sight and our senses, with our singing and our prayers, let us walk through Holy Week again.
We sing it again because it is our story, and we sing it again to proclaim it to the world. We sing it again because this week, in this time, we keep the rumor alive that there is a God in Heaven, and that despite the pain that we see every day, that God is a God of Love and Hope, and a God who cries with, loves, and cares for every person. Until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at the Heavenly Banquet.
The story of Holy Week, this story, Jesus’ story, and it is our story. It is the story of how love and grace became flesh and defeated death and changed everything. It is the story of every time you have experienced grace when you thought your world had ended. It is the story of how very loved we all are.
So, let the Church rise up, imagining itself on the streets of first-century Jerusalem today, and let God’s children shout: Amen.