The premise of this sermon begins with the fact that the service was "backwards" for April Fools Day. We began with a benediction, flowed to communion, back through the service, concluding with confession.
How do I give a sermon backwards or upside down? Do I begin with the point I would close with and close with a pointed story? I’m not sure. On the best days, the Spirit works through the sermon to give us the food for thought and the faith that brings us to the table to receive, and commune with, the presence of Christ. Since we communed first today, I’m trusting that the communion that is in us and among us… is also opening us up to a new way of looking at this holy Sunday… Palm Sunday.
Today’s gospel lesson is usually called the “Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem”. What makes it triumphant?
- The people greeting Jesus?
- Like a parade?
- Treating him like a king?
The crowd is shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” What does that mean? Hosanna is actually a very April Fools kind of cry. It sounds happy, but it isn’t. It doesn’t mean “Hooray” or “Cheers” or anything we could imagine yelling in a parade. Hosanna, in both Hebrew and the equivalent Greek, means “help us” or “save us”. So people are waving leafy branches and calling for Jesus to help and save them. They are expecting salvation from Roman oppression, from physical ailments, from the unbalanced temple system of the time.
Sometimes when we see pictures of Jesus riding on the colt, he looks like he has indigestion. It’s a strange look for someone who is receiving a parade in his honor, but it’s not so strange if we think about the message Jesus has been preaching and the upside and backwards expectations people have of him.
Speaking of the colt, why do you think Jesus’ parade vehicle was a “colt that had never been ridden”? That probably wasn’t the smoothest ride he could have found. Many people point to a verse from the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9) Jesus knew his Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, and he could have been fulfilling this.
Yet, there’s something a little further back that might also be a factor and goes hand-in-hand with the understanding of Jesus as a very different kind of king. When Solomon was crowned king, he rode to his anointing on his father David’s mule. (1 Kings 1:38-39) This symbolized Solomon’s succession to his father’s throne. Very frequently when new kings take over, they do so by re-fitting or re-claiming the symbols, possessions, wives, and residences of their predecessors- as if to clearly establish who is king now and who is not. People are greeting Jesus as a king in the line of David, but is he? Is it possible to be in the family of David, but to be a king in an entirely different way?
Jesus rides on… a colt that has never had a rider. He’s coming into a kingship that has no predecessor. What did we sing this morning: “His is no earthly kingdom, he comes from heaven above. His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love.” (Prepare the Royal Highway) By riding a colt with no previous rider, Jesus is revealing, perhaps too subtly, that what he brings is very different from what previous rulers have offered.
Yet the crowds miss that. Most of the disciples don’t understand it. They’re too busy calling for salvation and they know exactly what they want that to look like.
They know exactly what they want salvation to look like.
This is one of the challenges of Holy Week- letting go of what we want salvation to be and allowing ourselves to be open to what it is. On Wednesday night, a few of us talked about the favorite moments of the week. It came up that Easter is supposed to help us not to be afraid of death. Someone responded, “I’m not afraid of death. It’s the dying part that I don’t like.”
That’s so true for most of us. It’s the dying that we’re afraid of. And Holy Week has a lot of dying. The recollection of betrayal and false accusation and crucifixion causes us to tremble, but the dying begins here- with the palms in our hands. Dying well takes honesty. How honest are we ready to be?
Are we prepared to be honest with the emotions we feel this week? The discomfort at being touched? The uncertainty at the story of the crucifixion? The sense of being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by a story that’s been told many times? Are we will to be honest that Jesus isn’t the king we’re expecting and sometimes we don’t like that?
Are we prepared to die to the notion that our goodness, our right behavior, can save us or make us right with God? Are we prepared to be honest that we don’t always look for Jesus in other people and we do not always let people see Jesus in us? In this Holy Week, are we prepared to die, within ourselves and in our actions, to our prejudices, to our blind spots, to our fears, to our insecurities? Are we prepared to crucify injustice, anger, judgment, and mistrust? Are we prepared to cry, “Hosanna to the King of Kings”, and mean it? To mean, “Save us, Jesus, save us from ourselves, from our possessions, from our efforts to control.”
Something must die to make way for rebirth. And the dying is scary. But this week is all about dying… in particular, dying so that we might live
Who can help us with that? To whom shall we cry, “Hosanna! Save us!”?
The Jesus who came to us at the table… the Jesus whose death brings the possibility of resurrection… and resurrection brings the promise of new life.
Are you ready for Holy Week? Are you ready to remember? Can you be open to the dying that makes way for new life? Are we prepared to ponder the different kind of king that Jesus is and the different kind of life to which we are called… or will we hold back… hold back and have the joke be on us?
Jesus, you are king forever. We would never betray you or your call to us. April Fools.
Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna.