Palm Sunday's Joy
We have just read the passion. We walked through the unjust path of Jesus’ experience in his last days in Jerusalem. It is painful to hear and read aloud.
The story may feel premature for those of us immersed in Church. Today is Palm Sunday. We read from Luke: “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.”
I want to back up to the beginning of our day. I want to focus on today because it has so much to do with the hope we feel in Christ even entering into Holy Week:
Palm Sunday which is a joyful day. We reenact with our palms and procession a great day of joy for the disciples. The Gospel of Luke has an emphasis on Joy in the presence of Jesus beginning with the birth narratives. And today a multitude of disciples are praising God joyfully with a loud voice.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
Imagine a multitude of disciples. We often think of the twelve when we hear “disciples” rather than multitudes. Jesus has been gathering followers through his healing ministry all throughout the land. How many of the 5000 do you suppose showed up on Palm Sunday? How many Palm Sundays have there been over the centuries? …disciples showing up to wave palms…leading up to us today…
Many churches lead processions on this day. We are happy to be shouting that Jesus is King, but we are doing this with knowledge of the resurrection. What were the people on that day really feeling, seeing and praying about? What was this joy that had become so contagious that multitudes were showing up in Jerusalem to sing and lay down coats and palms in a procession for a man riding on a colt?
This short passage is a snap shot: a picture that speaks a thousand words. Jesus riding on a colt, as a huge gathering of disciples role out the "red carpet" (so to speak) for his "triumphant entry."
It is Jerusalem at Passover. The city is packed for the holiday with pilgrims. The city swelled to 5x its population with pilgrims traveling from all around. There are camps everywhere. What a sight.
At Passover, the crowds are accustomed to a procession, a grand Roman military parade: a presence that reinforces the region's occupation by Rome. The people paid taxes to the Romans, part of why the tax collectors were so hated: Taxation without representation.
Now: The appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, who does not actually live in Jerusalem is riding into the city at the head of an imperial calvary and parade of soldiers…While Jesus on the other side of town is arriving in a different kind of parade.
In tremendous contrast to the highly trained military horses, Jesus is riding on a colt: a colt that has never been ridden. He told a couple of his disciples: “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.”
In other Gospels Jesus is said to have ridden a young donkey. And we have seen pictures since we were children of Jesus riding the “humble” donkey. But over the past few years I’ve had experience with a colt who has never been ridden… and it got me to thinking about this story in a new light - and who Jesus is and what he is bringing.
About four years ago my parents got a horse who arrived pregnant (unbeknownst to them). And for the past four years they’ve been working with this little filly. Have you ever been with a colt that has never been ridden? They are wild and spirited. I can tell you she is wild and spirited. They are not easy to ride even when they are small.
Here is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on this lively colt, on this breath of new life, unbridled energy and Spirit!
From last week’s readings, remember:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Jesus is riding on the Holy Spirit who will not be tamed.
He has proven it again and again in the way that he navigates the world, heals people, invites people…that is why the multitudes gather with joyous singing!
As Jesus read from Isaiah earlier in the Gospel:
“The Spirit is upon me, ’because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The significance for the people is that the Messiah "King of Heaven" is here and the Kingdom of God is more powerful than these unjust Kingdoms of this World. Joy is in the air.
This joy is the gift of the Spirit. This gift of the Spirit is what Jesus gives to the disciples and to us as our advocate and guide. And in that, we should recognize that joy is part of wisdom. We are given this gift of the Spirit to help us grow and to help us walk through our own dark days as we look toward the resurrection - and our "joy complete.”
Joy is what sustains us through the dark days of Holy Week and our own dark days.
The Passion Story that we hear takes us through an archetypal trip of our own story too. We struggle as Jesus did. He (as the perfect human) shows us ourselves too. We are faced with unbearable obstacles, pains that we feel we may not be able to endure. We are tested by those who don’t understand us, we face injustice, sometimes oppression.
At some point in our life we experience the ultimate sense that we can’t find salvation on our own. We do not have all of the answers or strength to live out this human life with utter control - and we turn to a greater power: The power of the Spirit to help us make something new, to be reborn.
In spirited community we gather to work through this process - and to help one another move through it too. Just as Jesus ultimately humbled himself, we humble ourselves for the sake of others.
Ultimately there is a greater love that forgives: joy complete: Not happiness or control over the outcome we hope for. Instead we find wisdom: A saving joy…The type of joy that is serene at times and shouting praise at others because it is a path we walk now with the Spirit as companion. When we are struggling to love those around us - we know we are bound in a greater Love that completes the part of us that is still struggling to meet that cause.
The Spirit Gives strength and wisdom: the giver of life in an unending flow. Just being part of the flow in whatever way that you can muster in any given moment - gives to that greater flow of love which is renewing. New life springs. Remember: Earlier in this Gospel Jesus springs up, literally jumps for joy when his disciples return to him having healed others. That is what the multitudes were celebrating.
Even so, Jesus knows what he is facing as he turns to Jerusalem. And at the last supper he gives his disciples his Spirit … to give the gift of joy and healing to others… to us and for us…
That is why we continue to be here celebrating on Palm Sunday…Jesus ridding on a colt bringing new life and an unbridled Spirit to sustain us all even in the darkness of the crucifixion - and in our own dark days.
And when they took him away, the betrayal of humanity was so great…Jesus "the meek King” (as he is called) humbled himself for the sake of all: Our redeemer who delivers us from our distress. He is the one who sets us free from the captivity of others as well as the captivity of our private selves.He claims us for his kingdom; he awakens us (gives sight to the blind). He offers us a new vision for a Kingdom of Peace.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest!
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The Rev. Heather K. Sisk