What an interesting day this is. We begin today praising Jesus and then end our day condemning him. If ever there is a day of extremes in the church calendar, today is it. But then again, the extremes of today may not be the polar opposites we think they are.
Today is one of those days when I am not sure our Sunday school upbringing has helped us out. If you are like me, Palm Sunday is as wrapped in maudlin nostalgia as the Christmas pageants from the days of old are. Somehow our heads have been filled with innocent and exciting parade-like elements which have made Palm Sunday more exciting and more dear than Easter.
The first Palm Sunday was anything but innocent or worth waxing nostalgic over. The first Palm Sunday was as planned and as deliberate as the crucifixion itself. Jesus knew danger lurked inside the walls of Jerusalem, but he chose to enter the city anyway. Jesus knew his public entry into Jerusalem could and would upset all in charge of the city. And Jesus knew his entry into the city would eventually cost him his life.
But Jesus entered Jerusalem anyway. Jesus determined how and when he would enter. As Mark’s gospel indicates, it was Jesus who had arranged ahead of time for the colt to be ready for his use. And I suspect it was Jesus who had pre-arranged for the crowds to be present with palm branches in hand when he arrived at the city gate on that fateful day.
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem was as much about who Jesus was and is as it was a moment of fulfilling scripture. Just like Luke’s description of Jesus birth, the triumphal entry is a proclamation of Jesus as the divine King. As Jesus enters the city, the Gospel writers are clear, Jesus is, as psalm 118 proclaims, the stone the builders rejected and now used by God as the corner stone of the divine Kingdom. As Jesus enters the city on the back of a young horse with feet dragging on the ground, the Gospel writers tell the world that Jesus’ authority and power are derived from sources other than temporal power and wealth. As Jesus enters the city with a rag tag company of peasants for soldiers we are told the Reign of God is not like any earthly reign. And, as Jesus enters Jerusalem under the shadow of Roman animosity, the people gather to celebrate what God is doing now as they prepare for the divine kingdom that will be.
This is what we gather to celebrate today. We gather to celebrate how God is with us and active in our lives today as we prepare for the Reign of God that will be. Just like the earlier followers of Jesus, we too celebrate in a world that is growing continuously hostile towards Christianity. No longer does the world make time for Sunday morning. No longer does the world support the need for Sabbath keeping. Our currency tells us “ in God we trust,” and our pledge states we are “ one nation under God,” and yet, we as a nation, spend more money on defense than we do caring for the basic needs of the poor and our frail elderly.
Our greeting Jesus at the gate is as controversial and as seditious today as it was 2000 years ago. As we symbolically walk around the church today, we tell the world we are more concerned with loving our enemy than defeating our enemy, we are more concerned with preserving God’s creation than exploiting it for commercial gain, we are more concerned with divine justice than personal gain, and we believe that the Kingdom to come is greater than the kingdom we have today.
And so we march today. We march into the world on behalf of Christ to praise his name and shout hosanna. We march today in solidarity with the poor, in solidarity with those who are marginalized, in solidarity with those who speak for justice. We march today in solidarity with Christ, the divine ruler whose steed is a colt, whose throne is the cross, and who reigns over all creation.