I preached this Sunday, March 20, at Emmanuel-St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hudson, New York. And it went something like this:
Palm & Passion Sunday (Year C)
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-16
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Luke 22:14 to 23:56
Ho-sanna, Hey-sanna, sanna sanna ho, sanna hey, sanna ho-sanna…
Anyone remember that melody? From Jesus Christ Superstar? Anyone?
We’re missing something in our readings today. We’ve got the whole bloody story of Jesus from that last supper in the upper room to the betrayal, to Peter’s denial, to Jesus being mocked and tried and handed over and put to death. On that cross, that cross Simon of Cyrene was forced to help him carry all the way up that hill. We even have his burial, in that borrowed tomb.
From a rented room to a borrowed tomb. No place of his own. We have that today.
But today is Palm Sunday, and we’re missing the Palms, the waving, the singing of “Hosanna” and the calling out — Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
I’m going to beg your indulgence today, but I need to read just a wee bit more scripture. The Holy Gospel from Luke, the 19th chapter.
28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it? ’ you shall say this:‘The Lord has need of it. ’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:28–40 ESV)
I’d always imagined the crowds waving Jesus into the city, riding on that colt with his bemused disciples who weren’t entirely sure what was happening.
But that’s not the story Luke tells us here. It isn’t the crowds shouting and clamoring for him. In fact, there might not be crowds lining the streets at all. There is a multitude — of disciples, Luke writes — and they are the ones who are suddenly shouting and chanting and praising God with those words from Psalm 118, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
The crowds, the multitudes, are his disciples, entering the city with him, chanting and praising, raising such a ruckus that the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell them to shut up.
It’s a little like an absurd and audacious carnival has wandered into town, making noise and hooting and hollering while everyone kind of looks on and wonders what on earth is going on.
Or maybe, it’s a little like some strange wanna-be presidential candidate — for those of you who are old enough, think Pat Paulson, or if you are a little more up on current events, Vermin Love Supreme, or maybe Jeb Bush — arriving with an entourage in Washington DC some January 15 and proclaiming that the new president-elect has just arrived, and hail to the chief!
Because few had heard of him, or took him seriously, and he most definitely did not win the election.
So, really, it’s no wonder things go south for Jesus and his disciples so quickly. The city of Jerusalem didn’t hail him as their new king — his disciples, and only his disciples, did. Only this multitude of Jesus’ disciples, convinced he’s King and Lord and come to take the throne. With the city and its people probably looking on in mute wonder, unsure exactly what this all means. Except that it’s spectacle. Strange and wonderful spectacle.
The Pharisees know who Jesus is, and they do something interesting. They don’t condemn him, they don’t say, “who do you think you are proclaiming yourself the king of Israel?” They look at him, as if he were one of their own, and demand he rebuke his disciples, that he silence them and their traitorous and even heretical utterances.
And hear what Jesus says:
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
The pharisees may think they know who Jesus is, but this city — its very stones — they know. They really know who Jesus is. The very stuff from which this city is build, ancient and worked with human hands, know his disciples aren’t wrong.
And the mute crowds, either curious or indifferent, who will on Friday morning demand “Crucify him” and “release to us Barabbas,” know nothing.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist tells the crowds who come to him in the wilderness to repent and bear good fruit, because it is not enough to be children of Abraham. “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
Stones. Mute. lifeless. Unable to testify to anything. But they could become disciples if God willed it, just as Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones came to life when God spoke and breathed life into them. Or these stones would cry out to heaven if the disciples were not there, in this strange procession, praising God, bearing witness, that blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven and glory to the highest!
This, sisters and brothers, is why this week will end on a bleak hill called The Skull outside Jerusalem, with a wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then in a tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea. Because there was never any hope — except maybe on the part of the disciples, who although they’d been warned three times by Jesus alone the way what was coming — and never any promise it would end any other way.
Jesus is not that kind of king.
This week, Jesus will stir up trouble. He’ll toss the money changers out of the temple. He will be asked about paying taxes to Caesar an answer in a very ambiguous way. He’ll prophesy the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It may be by Tuesday or Wednesday this audacious proclamation of his kingship is, at least in the eyes of some, beginning to amount to something. This Jesus really could be the King of Israel! And so, the chief priests will conspire, and whatever support Jesus may have gained — for Luke tells us they had become afraid of the people, who were hanging on Jesus’ very words — will vanish once Jesus is arrested.
And they will go from mute wonder to hanging on his every word to … demanding his death.
The stones remain silent. Eventually, just as Jesus prophesied, they will be pulled down, battered, broken, one by one, and nothing will be left but rubble.
But we are not silent. Not today. Not this week. Not ever. We bear witness. We testify. We have seen mighty works in our midst, the waves and wind calmed, the dead raised, the sick healed, and thousands fed. We do more than sit and gawk in wonder. We are his multitude, following along, proclaiming in a loud voice:
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!