a sermon on Luke 19:29-40; Luke 23:26-27, 32-38, 44-49 for Palm and Passion Sunday
preached on March 24, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
It all seemed very impromptu—a borrowed colt, some cloaks tossed along the road, disciples from the countryside converging on the big city as the main cheering section—but it was all quite a welcome for Jesus on his first recorded trip to Jerusalem as an adult. Whether it had been planned for months or organized on the spur of the moment, the signals were still clear on that Sunday just outside Jerusalem’s gate. Someone important was coming to town. Something big was happening here, and everyone needed to pay attention!
Organized or unorganized, planned or unplanned, it was quite a parade—while the balloons of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day certainly are far more spectacular, the fancy apparel of next Sunday’s Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue is far more fashionable, and the “popemobile” is the preferred mode of transit for religious figures these days, this parade that started out Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem was one of the most notable in all history, so much so that it gets acted out in churches large and small once a year! But even the simple trappings that marked this parade had deep and great meaning. When the people cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they welcomed a ruler not on a great white stallion but on a young colt. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he brought with him not a mighty army but a ragtag band of disciples who could barely make up their mind about how to organize themselves, let alone scheme to topple the great power of Rome. And the cloaks that covered the road to mark a pathway for the new king belonged not to the privileged and powerful but to the poor.
Just a few days later came a very different parade. That joyful crowd that had greeted Jesus upon his arrival in the city was transformed into an angry mob, crying out for his execution. The simple colt that carried him on the journey was replaced with an innocent bystander, a visitor from out of town, who was forced to carry the cross. And the cloaks that had once been tossed on the road to pave a highway for a king became Jesus’ own clothes, divided by lot among his executioners.
Things surely can change in just five days! It was no surprise, really. Over the course of this week, Jesus had managed to get under nearly everyone’s skin. This country boy came to the city and started calling out all the things that he thought weren’t right. This Jesus didn’t properly respect the religious leaders and civil authorities, and his strong words condemning all of them needed to be spoken behind closed doors, not out in public. He threatened the livelihood of a lot of people who made their living on a particular way of thinking about and living out Judaism that had taken hold in that day and age. Even his most trusted disciples seemed to have had enough of his teachings and denied having anything to do with him.
While that first parade had embodied the people’s great hopes of a Messiah who would transform the relationship between God and the people, this second parade made it clear that the people didn’t have a clue what this would really look like. They couldn’t imagine how a nonviolent revolt would actually change things. They couldn’t even dream about how a profound teacher and healer would show power in new and different and transformative ways. They couldn’t embrace the challenge of repentance and new life that Jesus had offered them because it would require them to clean house and make room for something new. Someone like Jesus just didn’t fit in their world—someone who gave up a simple life as a carpenter to take up a new and more hopeful way, someone who was willing to endure the criticism of his family and be shamed in his hometown to teach some fishermen, a tax collector or two, and some other nobodies about what God was doing in the world, someone who kept faithfully pushing and challenging and longing and praying and working for a new way.
Amazingly, though, even amidst all this opposition and confusion, Jesus didn’t give up on all that he had fought for. Even if his first parade showed how much people just didn’t understand what he was up to, even if the second became a gruesome procession to his execution and burial, these two parades embodied everything that Jesus stood for in his life and ministry. In them he made it clear that his way of life was not about holding tight to the old ways but about setting something aside to gain something new. In these two parades he made it clear that his brand of power was not about exploiting anyone or anything but about seeking the fullness of life for everyone. And in these parades he made it clear that he intended to die exactly like he had lived, keeping the focus not on himself but on God’s presence in his life and even in his death.
And so in these two parades, Jesus lived out this new understanding of power for everyone to see. Even after his faithfulness had been honored and celebrated as he entered Jerusalem, he gave up his power and chose the cross. Even after he had received everything that he had longed for, his life for others became so clear and deep and real that he gave up everything. And even after God had given him honor and glory in his life among us, Jesus let go of it all so that he could experience the full depth of our humanity—even death—and transform it into new life.
And so as we mark this week of two parades—a parade of simple celebration upon the arrival of a humble teacher into the holy city and a procession unto death and execution at the hands of the powers of the world and people like us, even us—may God give us the strength to give up our power as Jesus did, to let go of the life we have known in hopes of finding something new, and to make room for the great transformation that awaits us by nothing less than this great power revealed in weakness and shown in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.