Palm Sunday 20 March 2016
(Isaiah 50:4-9 Psalm 24 Philippians 2:5-11 Luke 19:28-40)
“Taking the First Step!”
Palm Sunday is here! Jesus is on the final two miles of his journey to Jerusalem and is close to entering the Holy City. The disciples do as they are commanded and the events unfold exactly as Jesus said they would. The crowds are gathering, yelling and screaming; just what the Romans were afraid would happen! People are throwing their cloaks on the ground and shaking palm branches. It is quite a day; however, before this week is over, this same man will suffer and die. And while today we marvel at such a triumphal entry, it is a triumph yet to be comprehended by those who followed after him and those who sang him into the city.
And if the events of this week appear to be confusing and contradictory as we hear them today, it is no less so in our lives today. In a world where good and evil seem to run together, when the “good guys” don’t always wear white, this Gospel text confronts the courage on our part to act with faith in such a messy world.
The Jewish rabbis had an insightful saying that went like this: “The miracle of the Red Sea was not when God parted the waters. The true miracle of the Red Sea was, with a wall of water on each side, someone took the first step to go through.”
To me, the implications of this story are clear: in this world when there are monstrous walls of water coming at us on all sides, that God may is all powerful and eternally faithful is not the point. The point is that God still needs us to step into the turmoil and chaos of life! What is crucial is that, we with God’s grace, have the courage and faith to step into the raging waters of life because we believe God steps in with us.
Just as surely as there was need for courage at the Red Sea, just as surely as there was need for courage on Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem, so is there need for courage here and now, in our world today. The road to Jerusalem is clear. We are surrounded by raging waters, by situations that have solutions but, too often, are without individuals who will take the first step.
On this Palm Sunday we have arrived at the same Jerusalem over which Jesus wept. This is the city that practices religion and forgets the Gospel. So, into this mix of struggles and tension of opposites, we come to Palm Sunday yet one more time! And the question we hear in the Gospel text is both simple and haunting: “Who will cry out?”
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop calling attention to you,” demand some of the Pharisees. “We have our own people to protect. We have our own agenda to attend to.”
I absolutely love this final line in today’s Gospel text, because I can hear Jesus’ tone of voice, when he turns to them and says, “Excuse me, gentlemen, excuse me, if I order my disciples to stop calling out, if these disciples of mine do not speak up, I guarantee you do not want to know the alternative, because then even the stones will begin shouting out, and you won’t want to be around if that happens!
In other words, there are some things that are so major, so world-shaking, so morally demanding that they simply will not go away, no matter how much we try to ignore them, nicen them up or command them away. There are things that negatively affect the dignity of so many people that cannot be minimized or dismissed. You can name them as easily as I!
So, the haunting question persists as much today as it did on that first Palm Sunday: “Who will cry out if not the disciples of Jesus?
We have come to a decisive moment in our Lenten journey. Just when we thought we were rounding third base and were heading toward home plate; just when we thought we could coast through this final week into Easter, today we find ourselves in a crowd of raucous, sweaty, unruly people outside Jerusalem, caught between the Pharisees and Jesus; caught between the keepers of the system and the Word of God.
In a world that needs the courage of the Gospel just as much as it did on that first Palm Sunday, the question that hangs in the air is: Who will cry out?
The honest answer, the smart answer is: “not me, anyone else but me! Let someone else speak up!” Therefore, many people do abandon the church and the good it can help set in motion. Many people do leave the political system and ignore the elections. Many people do flee the family when the going gets messy. Many people do drop out on the road to Jerusalem.
But there are the others! There are so many others who keep on shouting, who keep on praising God, who keep on telling the story of God’s love over and over and over again, even when the walls of water appear ready to sweep us away. And just as his mind would not be changed as he headed on that road to Jerusalem, the mind of Jesus is just as obstinate that Jesus will walk with us into our really messy weeks every time they occur!
Today, I don’t prefer a rock concert. I much prefer a human concert of voices, voices calling out with courage the love of Jesus, especially in the difficult places of our lives. Let’s take the first step together! Amen.