What a beautiful, celebratory, victorious morning this is! Oh, it looks a little different than what we may be use to seeing on a Palm Sunday. There have been no chatty greetings among friends, no excited anticipation in the air. There have been no children running in the Sanctuary happy and waving and smiling, and the choir has not processed or led the glorious hymns. There are no trumpets. But none of that changes that this morning is beautiful, celebratory and victorious!
I can only imagine that even if we were able to be together waving palm branches and singing at the top of our lungs – I imagine that our best offerings and chatter and hype would pale in comparison to that day when Jesus entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
This really is a sight to be seen. Remember, Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. There’s all kinds of chatter and hype over that. Huge crowds of people are gathering to prepare for the Passover feast so there’s all kinds of chatter and hype over that. Jesus’ approval rating is definitely in double digits, and there’s all kinds of chatter and hype over that. People are beside themselves with excitement and anticipation, and here he comes – entering into the city in the exact way the Messiah is expected.
Now I do love a good parade, but this is better than the Fourth of July, the Rose Bowl parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade all rolled into one parade! People are excited and chatty – they are laying down their coats and huge palm limbs to make a red carpet moment. And they’ve been expecting this for generations!
You see, about 550 years earlier, the prophet Zechariah had said: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey...” and Zechariah continues to prophesy: “He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
The people are familiar with this prophecy – they know their scripture – they know the stories, know the prophecies – so when Jesus “comes righteous and victorious” (Remember Lazarus? You don’t get much more righteous or victorious than raising someone from being dead.) when Jesus “comes lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey…” when Jesus enters the city this way, the people recognize the signs.
They recognize the prophecy coming alive before their eyes, and they understand the symbolism that is unfolding. A great warrior king would have entered on a stallion. Entering the gates on a donkey, and the colt of a donkey, not only fulfills the prophecy, it also indicates that Jesus is coming as a leader of peace.
Now, I want to pause here for just a minute to kind of peel off some layers of this story. If two men I didn’t know had approached me this morning in my driveway and said “hey, how about giving us the keys to your car because the preacher down the street needs it...” Well, I’m not too confident that I would have handed over my keys – and I know the preacher down the street! But that’s my car, and I don’t know these guys.
This donkey and her colt would have been valuable property – more than likely, they would have been a means of working, used for carrying and delivery. But these guys say, “hey, the Lord needs them” and off they go.
Actually in the Greek, it translates “the Lord of them has need” or “The Lord’s animals are needed.”
That’s what I find remarkable about this part of the story. First: “The Lord’s animals are needed” tells me that everything we have already belongs to God. These are “the Lord’s animals” and God has work to do in this moment with God’s own possessions. Second: because these are work animals, Jesus is utilizing something that represents the people’s work to carry out his ministry and his mission. Third: Jesus’ authority is recognized when he isn’t even in sight. And finally: these animals have never been ridden so they represent a kind of purity, they are appropriate for holy work.
So: Everything belongs to Jesus in the first place. Jesus uses people’s work for his purposes. His authority has no limits. And purity is needed for holy purposes.
To me, it sounds like nothing has changed even to this day. I believe everything in creation belongs to the creator. I believe we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. I believe Jesus is Lord – which gives him absolute authority. I believe we are to approach our everyday living with a pureness of heart that glorifies God.
So looking at Zechariah’s prophecy today, we also understand why the people are told to rejoice greatly and shout. “See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.” And the people are responding with great rejoicing and certainly with shouting. They are preparing the way for the savior of their world. They are creating a pathway of honor buy laying down their very clothes. They are laying palm branches on the street and waving them in the air in celebration. This is the greatest parade ever! This is the One – the One who will lead God’s people to peace – the chatter includes speculation that this man will reclaim the nation for God and lead the revolt against the Romans.
The people are in a frenzy of emotion – you can feel it in the air – excitement and anticipation. The people are shouting and singing and clapping along. God is among God’s people!
And remember how Jesus has always been moving his ministry toward Jerusalem. And how he has always said he has more work to do so nobody is to talk about who he really is yet? That’s not happening here. Here, Jesus is arriving. He is making his entry into Jerusalem as the Savior of the world. Let’s go back to that last sentence in this morning’s scripture: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" And Jesus is letting them say it. Here he is, taking his place, fulfilling his role – he is allowing everyone to say who he is. The people have been expecting a messiah from the lineage of David. Jesus is this Messiah! He is the Champion, the Liberator, the Leader, the Defender, the High Priest and Anointed One!
The whole city is in chaos! If the children had been able to run in this morning and the youth had exploded on the scene and there had been music and drums and clapping and singing – it may have felt a little chaotic to you. But you would have been expected to join in.
Just as you are expected to join in the chaos of continuing Jesus’ work every day. God calls you not only to watch the parade, but to join in the parade! Not only to wave as the Messiah passes by, but to follow along and continue the work that has begun.
Oh, it’s risky. Jesus’ path led straight to the cross – we are going to explore that all week in things like our online Stations of the Cross and our Good Friday service. But just as Jesus’ path led straight to the cross, we are to take up our own cross and continue to go wherever God leads us. We are called to follow. We are called to stand for justice and against oppression. We are called to carry on the work and make changes in a world that (to this day) continues to need Jesus.
Will you join the parade? Will you wave your branch and throw down your coat and supply your donkey, your work force, to usher in the Love of Christ in a way that changes the world? You know, at this time in our lives, it’s going to take some creativity and some courage to do this work. This is risky. Maybe we can’t be together in person right now, but we can have a presence in the lives of others. Are you willing to claim Jesus on your Facebook page and delete every negative thing you have ever posted? Are you willing to call someone and show the Love of Christ – even if you’ve argued, even if you disagree? How are you going to usher in the Love of Christ? Because even though it’s risky – even though it challenges us to put ourselves out there – we know that the story doesn’t end at the cross.
After we travel through this difficult week toward the cross, we get to have Easter! We get to come out on the other side of the resurrection with the promise of eternal life. As the psalmist reminded us just this morning: Thanks be to God whose steadfast love endures forever!