A Celebration of the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Luke 19:28-40
I wonder if we give Palm Sunday its proper due?
Why? Well, the story of Palm Sunday, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry,” is featured in all four gospels. The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover celebration, the story of a humble donkey, of shouting crowds, branches, coats and cloaks spread like a carpet upon the road, this story has center stage in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Now, making the cut in all four gospels, that’s a big deal, biblically speaking anyway. I mean, Christmas didn’t even make it into all four gospels for crying out loud. We find birth narratives only in Matthew and Luke. The prayer that Jesus taught his followers, the prayer the church has recited over the course of more than two thousand years; the Lord’s Prayer. It only made the cut in two gospels. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are found only in Luke’s account. And finally, The Beatitudes, you know, blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, blessed are the poor; only two gospels. But the Palm Sunday story, the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, this story is retold in all four gospels. [I]
Which makes me wonder if we’ve overlooked the importance of this event in the past. I mean, over the course of the past couple of decades, there’s been a movement in protestant churches to piggy-back the passion story with the triumphal entry. It’s actually listed in the Revised Common Lectionary as Passion/Palm Sunday. And I can see the rational. Some have called it the “celebration to celebration” problem. In other words, many people come to church on Palm Sunday, like today, and it’s a time of celebration. Most then skip the holy week services altogether, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then return to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Easter. The challenge here is that we miss the darkness of Christ’s journey through holy week. The Passion Story is a journey that takes us through the upper room, into the anguish and betrayal of the garden, and deposits us on the steps of the Temple to witness Christ’s arrest and trial, his humiliation and suffering, and of course, the heart-ache of his execution on the Cross. So, many-a-theologian has thought, “Hey, let’s cram it all into the Palm Sunday service.”
But, as you can probably tell from my tone, I’ve never been a fan of Passion/Palm Sunday. I think we need to celebrate for a while. I think we need to bask in the joy of this moment. I think we need to let the Triumphal Entry story stand on its own. Why? Well, in order to answer that question, I think we need first to set-the-scene.
The ancient city of Jerusalem during the annual Passover festival was a lot like Cable during the Burkie. Our town swells with visitors from all over the world. It’s alive, abuzz, international, exciting. Every possible room is rented at a premium price and Rondeau’s have stocked their shelves to capacity. There are vendors selling their wares as nearly everyone makes their way to the starting area. It seems like the whole world has come to Cable; or rather, to Jerusalem. Expectation was in the air.
Now, this is why I think the Triumphal Entry story is so important! Up until this point in the gospel narratives, the followers of Jesus had been just that: followers, largely passive, reflective. I mean, when Jesus argued with the religious officials, I can imagine the disciples watching, tense and riveted. When Jesus defended a prostitute, they must have gasped. When he conversed in public with a woman from Samaria, they winced. When he defied the Sabbath laws, they cringed. When he declared that the last shall be first, the first last, and challenged the commonly held understandings of the day; understanding of clean and unclean, of rich and poor, of outsider and insider; I can imagine the disciples quickly glancing around to see who was listening. When Jesus heals a leper and as he restores those with mental illness, with broken bodies or spirits; the disciples must have whispered to each other with fascinated awe.[ii]
But on that first Palm Sunday, with the gathering crowds all around them like Cable at Burkie time, we see a shift occur; we see a transformation begin to take place. As they enter Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers became leaders. Yes, there would still be challenges as they grew into this new role. Most of the disciples would scatter later that week and Peter would deny even knowing Christ three times. But despite these setbacks, Palm Sunday, in my mind, is the day that the followers of Jesus found their voices, summoned their courage, and assumed their role as champions for God’s Reign of justice and peace; vessels of Christ’s compassion, grace and forgiveness, and tellers of the Divine story. And here in Luke’s version of events, in recognition that the disciples had found their voice, Jesus says, “I tell you, even if these bystanders were to keep silent, the stones themselves would shout!”
So, where does this leave us? As today’s disciples, as post-modern leaders of this ever-changing, ever-evolving entity with call the Church, what are we shouting
Now, at this point, I need some help up here. I want all the young people to come up here once again, no rabbit this time, but I want you all to be our “shouting stones.” Every time I say, “can I get an amen?” I want you to shout, “amen.” Let’s practice. Can I get an amen? Amen. Okay. Here we go.
We’re shouting stones when we open the door for someone who’s on the outside looking in; when we provide an extravagant and wide welcome to everyone. Can I get an amen?
We’re shouting stones when we us our voices to speak-up for the oppressed, when we speak-out against racism, against hatred; when we use our voices to speak for the voiceless; the immigrant, the refugee, the child in a cage on the border. Can I get an amen?
We’re shouting stones when we seek justice for all of God’s people; when we celebrate the diversity of humankind, our many colors and languages and faith traditions; we become shouting stones when we live in peace and harmony with one another and encourage others to do the same. Can I get an amen?
We’re shouting stones when seek environmental justice. When we use our voice and our vote, our hands and our feet, to work toward conserving creation rather than destroying it; when we make sacrifices to limit the lasting effects of global climate change for our grandchildren and their children. Can I get and amen?
And finally. We’re shouting stones when take the gospel seriously. When we attempt to live-into and reflect Christ’ command to love one another; to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Can I get an amen?
My friends, Palm Sunday is a time of celebration. A time when we celebrate the beginning of Christ’s journey through the darkness and into the light of the Resurrection. May each of us here today, symbolically, take this trek as well. May we emerge from whatever darkness is surrounding us into the Light of Easter; into the restoration and healing of God; into a Resurrection of Life.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen& amen.
[ii] Ibid. Taylor