Today is the day we all, with the crowd of Jerusalem, shout hosanna; we lay down palms and imagine a donkey trotting over them. There are times that our shuts and praises take us back and put us into the midst of the crowd. This morning you heard about the crowds who were squeezing into Jerusalem and that several hundreds or thousands who, caught up in the euphoria, joined in the ragtag procession. We yell, sing, and dance with joy for our king entering his kingdom today; we have joined that crowd celebrating Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. And that is the trouble! All too often we celebrate exactly as the crowd did that day.
Tens of thousands of people entered Jerusalem for that Passover most of them anticipating the day when God would raise up a king for Israel. The dominant theme was that this king would ride into Jerusalem at the head of a great peasant army and engage the Roman enemy. God would give this king miraculous victory and Israel would be restored to an improved version of the good old days when David and his sons ruled the people. Frankly, their imaginations were too small to conceive of anything else. So, when Jesus, the celebrated miracle worker and Rabbi, rode into Jerusalem that day many including those closest to Jesus expected something like this to happen. Or, at least, Jesus was telling Rome he was coming for Her. The people were waiting for this day, they had already tried once before to crown him king. If we look to John’s Gospel it seems that when Jesus fed the five thousand in the wilderness in chapter 6, he was feeding his would-be army. These poor people had picture in their minds of who the king was supposed to be and they tried to cram Jesus into it. Fortunately for us Jesus was big enough to burst through their picture (a little like that ridiculous Geico commercial).
The real problem is we are still doing the same thing today, we come to Palm Sunday with our own notions of who Jesus is and what his kingship means. We still try to cram Jesus into our own selfish or ignorant picture of who he is, and yet again thankfully he is too big for our imaginations. We who talk about putting Jesus into the center of our government, but then are more likely to accept the endorsement of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton (depending on what side of the fence you’re on) than listen to anything a religious leader says. We who preach forgiveness and turn around gleefully wanting to watch terrorists burn in hell (or perhaps more accurately we simply don’t want to see they made it to paradise). We proclaim generosity and are stingy with our wealth because we earned that money. Jesus come as king; but come on my terms.
That is the point of Holy Week though, we start joyously raucously welcoming Jesus as King. We work out of passion and emotion, and then the gravity of the Passion begins. With a mixture of joy and reverence we celebrate Maundy Thursday, hearing Jesus say, “I give you a new order, you must love one another. Love one another just as I loved you.” We witness Jesus in prayer in the Garden as he calls us to be vigilant and pray with him. And we listen and obey we learn to love, we sit in prayer
The agony of Good Friday comes upon us as we see the suffering that love, and forgiveness caused the man we call king. We grieve in the awareness that he has left this world will not set up his own court, Yet.
It is as we go through the week with Jesus that Palm Sunday begins to take shape we recognize how Jesus was reorienting our expectations. We go through the week in prayer, connecting to the great power of the universe and drawing that power into us so that we can spend it in the world, we are making ourselves the conduits through which God rules and changes the world. Theodulf Bishop of Orléans realized this meaning of Palm Sunday in 820, while suffering in exile. His suffering and silence in exile led to his penning Gloria, laus et honor. Look at the third verse “The people of the Hebrews with palms before thee went; our prayer and praise and anthems before thee we present.” Verse 5 goes on “Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring,” I love this because it does not equate our praise with the praises of the Triumphal Entry, but our prayers our meditations on the completed work of Holy Week. They sang out in expectation of something they could not imagine, and now our prayers and meditations allow us to echo the angels’ chorus. We must not stop at the emotion of the King’s arrival today, if we do we are likely to miss the point. People often ask, “how could so many thousands of people go from singing Jesus’ praises on Sunday to yelling crucify him on Friday?” Simply put the crowd who lauded Jesus on Sunday had their own ideas of who Jesus should be and what he should do. They did not follow Jesus into the garden, not did they let Jesus change them. On Friday the crowds saw a man who failed to live to their standards so they moved on and abandoned him. What is your decision, you who cry hosanna today, are you going to leave Jesus who does not conform to your standards? Or, are you going to let him change you this week into someone whom he can inhabit and work through as the Risen Lord?