Texts: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-17; Matthew 27:24-31
Sermon: "The King Is at the Gates"
The first Palm Sunday was a day of contrasts, a day when emotions ran high and in many different directions. That is very much like our day today. We want to be surprised by joy and wonder, seeing Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem and hearing the crowd shouting in adoration. But we are in a time that makes joy sometimes hard to hold on to, a time when we have more than the usual pain of daily life, more than the usual sickness and death, and more than the usual loneliness.
So tell me -- how do we approach this day?
Some of you have sent pictures to me of the lovely ways you have decorated doors or gates with palm or other branches. That is what we want the day to be in our hearts -- one of beauty and delight.
Others have sent messages about family or friends who are caught up in the sickness that holds the entire world hostage, a virus that finds us separated and wondering when we can be a part of a crowd standing at the side of the road, a crowd sitting in our pews in church.
In the story told in Matthew, we can feel the excitement and hear the crowds shouting "Hosanna!" These are the crowds who followed Jesus all over Galilee and then accompanied him to Jerusalem and this Passover Festival that has brought people from all over the region to Jerusalem. The ones not from Galilee are the ones we hear wondering about this person coming into the city on a donkey. We sense the confusion as crowds wonder together, "Who is this?"
His followers answer, saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." Even many of his followers in that crowd do not know the truth. Yes, many do not know what kind of king he truly is, what power he has, and what transformation he brings.
Do we know who he is? Does the world know today who this is riding into Jerusalem looking nothing like a king -- his followers looking nothing like the royal troops that always accompany the king on a triumphal march into Jerusalem?
Today, we have a chance to walk alongside Jesus, who is the gates of our city, too, waiting to enter and hoping we will walk with him on the way to the cross. He comes to us inviting us to hand over our own pain and suffering to mingle with his, offering our own hearts that are breaking for the world around where a virus has sickened and killed so many.
We can go all the way to the cross with him and there lay our broken spirits, our fears and our worries, asking that our world and the world all around us be redeemed in the agony of the cross we experience with him again today and in the holy days ahead.
The people shout, "Hosanna!" "Save us, we pray!" Little did they know, really, about how he came to save them. But we know. We pray again and again in our lifetime that he save us from evil and death, from injustice and chaos and devastation.
Some in the crowd that day knew Jesus. Some had seen the healing and had heard the teaching. They had looked into the eyes of this man and had seen God. Those who knew him and accompanied him that day might have included the two blind men Jesus had just healed in Jericho soon before heading up the hill into the city of Jerusalem; the little children who had been invited to come to him to be blessed by him; the man whose crippled hand had been made whole so that he, too, could wave branches and shout greetings to this one he knew had come to save him. In the crowd were the little girl brought back to life and her father, the ones cleansed of demons, the ones who had never walked before now leaping and joyfully welcoming Jesus into the city.
As we look back into this time, this Passover time in Jerusalem -- knowing, as we do, what is about to happen, we remember the people who are not there with adoring words to welcome him. They are the ones who hope to trap him, to find a way to arrest him, to kill him, and to rid themselves of his prickly interference in the way of life they had long controlled as the religious and political leaders.
Jesus does not respond to the shouts as he rides into the city on the donkey. He does not acknowledge that some in the crowd believe him to be the Messiah. He knows that they expect a different kind of messiah. He rides ahead. Ahead is where he is going. That is where we, too, must go. He knows what lies there. He had warned his followers three times earlier that he would be arrested, beaten, and nailed to a cross to die.
Now the time has come. He is preparing for flogging, beating with a cane, and mocking that will be perpetrated upon him. He is prepared. Now we must prepare. Jesus is prepared to bear on behalf of all who came before him and all who would come after him, the evils and sins of the world, the sicknesses and the pains, the despair and the loneliness.
And yes, today he is here to take on the incomprehensible pain and grief and isolation caused by the infirmity of our own immediate time, the sickness that is dreaded and potent, that can change and take away lives so quickly. He takes on even that, with us, right now. Today.
The joyful shouts would die out by the end of the week. Instead, other crowds of people would shout at him, "Crucify him!"
We cannot skip the days ahead -- never have they been more important for us to experience, the week we have come to call Holy Week; especially at this time, we need those dark days of betrayal, arrest, torture, and death of the Christ to remind us of the light that is coming.
We need this story. We need this love revealed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, pure and deeply moving love. We struggle to comprehend this love, this wondrous love, to take it into our hearts and let it settle there. We, too, cry "Hosanna!" And we know God in Jesus Christ already has heard our cries. This year we remember his pain in our trembling efforts to follow in the way with him.
As we join in the walk to the cross with him, we place upon his strong but bruised shoulders, the new pain, new fears, new sickness and death in our life, new fear that it will not end well. And we know that he will take it, all of it. He will bear all of this in the events that unfold in the days ahead leading us to Easter. He will reveal to us God's perfect love that can bear all the pain of the world for our sake.
Who is this walking our way this morning?
He is at the gates of the city. He rides into the city and once again promises that the way will not be easy but that we can count on him to accomplish what he has come to do.
He is the one who invites you into a different kind of life, into the powerful love of God that will transform and save you. He is the one who shows the way to a life that promotes reconciliation and peace, a life that is lived in humility and faithfulness, a life that is given to God in service to others. That is the life that he calls us to live in his name.
Beloved children of God, love in your heart those whom the rest of the world ignores, be companions of the outsiders, the fallen, and the downtrodden. Work every day to turn strangers into friends, and do the work of the Lord in reconciling with enemies.
And yes, you can do it even in the world that finds us physically separated from one another. You can do it, reaching out in the name of the one who comes riding on a donkey today. Yes, our King is at the gates not just of Jerusalem today, but of our very own community, ready to ride through the streets, looking for life and love and ways to enter your hearts.
Hosanna! Save us! Hosanna! He comes to wash us in the blood of the Lamb -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.