Sunday, March 28, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
Don’t you love Palm Sunday? It is one of my favorite Sundays of the church year. Singing All Glory Laud and Honor, waving palm branches marching down the center aisle. As a child, it felt like a Jesus parade. As adults, we know that this day is only the beginning of a week that will quickly turn into a nightmare. But still. it begins with such hope.
According to biblical scholars, in the spring of 30 AD, on the Sunday before the Passover festival, two parades were entering Jerusalem. One from the East and the Mount of Olives, and another from the West.[i]
Jewish pilgrims were pouring into Jerusalem by the thousands to celebrate the Passover… to remember and celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt. The irony of celebrating freedom from oppression while under the thumb of the Romans was not lost on the Jews. Riots had an uncanny way of erupting during Passover —
So, to keep the peace…. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, came with extra troops from his seaside home in Caesarea Maritima to squash any outbreaks of violence.
While Jesus is riding into Jerusalem from the East, an imperial procession was entering from the West. And this parade was staged to intimidate.
Riding on a war horse, Pilate was followed by column of cavalry on horses and hundreds of foot soldiers. Sun glinting off metal helmets and weapons, banners and golden eagles lifted high on poles. Feet marched to the beat of drums as the procession made its way through the large Western gate. The message was clear. Roman power was not to be trifled with. [ii]
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the city, Jesus mounts a donkey colt. deliberately acting out the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9; Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey–riding on a donkey’s colt.
And Zechariah 14:4; On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.
Tattered cloaks were spread out before this king of tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes and fishermen. Parents lifted children onto their shoulders and yelled… “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus no longer hushed his disciples from declaring his praise. Instead, he symbolically declares that YES, he is the one. The Messiah and King they had been waiting for.
God was about to do something powerful and the people were jubilant. But what exactly was this crowd hoping for?
Hosanna, or Ho-Shanna in Hebrew, means “Save Us!” and it had become the slogan of the Zealots. And the Zealots were an ultra-radical nationalist group intent on overthrowing the Roman occupiers by force. When they yelled Ho-Shanna, Save Us! they weren’t thinking about sin. No- this was a treasonous chant that meant save us from our Roman oppressors!
Palm branches are mentioned in John’s account of this event. I always assumed palm branches were a symbol of peace, but by 30 A D, they also had become a symbol of Jewish nationalism and political freedom. Waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna,” was a rallying cry to force out Roman rule.
Jesus, riding in on a donkey colt, symbolically proclaimed that he was indeed the Messiah. But the people’s political “Hosannas” made him weep. He wept over them and the devastation that their warring would bring upon Jerusalem.
But they simply could not see what would bring them peace.
Nor could they comprehend the kind of kingdom he came to bring.
These two processions – and the kingdoms they represented – could not be more different. One of earthly power, wealth, comfort and might. And the other? A kingdom of peace, with power cloaked in humility and the vulnerability of love.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: which parade do march in? In which kingdom do we place our hopes, our trust, our dreams?
Following Jesus is not easy. Especially THIS week, when the crowd’s Hosannas quickly turn to shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
If you choose to follow – you will find yourself in the upper room, being offered bread and wine, symbols of Jesus’ sacrificed life and undying love. You will see his sorrow over Judas’ kiss and Peter’s denials. You will struggle to stay awake as he sweats drops of blood in prayer, and then watch in horror as he is mocked, spit upon and then slowly executed, hanging in agony.
By Friday night, it will look like the powerful worldly kingdom has won and we are all fools. Chances are, we will also realize how we too have denied, betrayed or turned away from Jesus when the road was simply too painful.
This is a hard year to enter into even more pain and suffering. The pandemic, the shootings, the isolation, the loss. Why would we choose to follow Jesus here? Now?
Two processions. Two kingdoms. Two parades. One promises the good life – but leads to death. The other, through death, brings life everlasting. Which will you choose?
Let us pray: Lord, we pray for the courage to follow you, even when the path is hard, and it feels like everything is falling apart around us. Give us the grace to lay down not only our cloaks but to lay down our very lives before you. Our messiah and king – Our Savior and hope. Amen.
1 Borg, Marcus J. and Crossan, John Dominic. The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006, p. 3-5.