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Refections on the Gospels, Week before March 24, 2013

Luke 19:28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As 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 for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

What I am Learning:

This is the text for Palm Sunday. In liturgical traditions it is read before the congregation enters into the sanctuary waving palm branches. These traditions try to mirror Jesus entry in Jerusalem.

Jesus' entry was modeled after another entry into Jerusalem. A Greek king named Antiochus Epiphanes defeated the armies of Jerusalem and took charge. Antiochus was not a nice man. He tortured priests when they would not worship a statue of him in the Temple. He burned people alive. When the Maccabean revolt took place and they recaptured Jerusalem, they marched in the palm branches to cleanse the temple. They were once again free from occupation.

It is passover week in Jerusalem. A time of high stress for the Romans. It is difficult to maintain occupation of nation whose primary festival is the remembrance of release from slavery! As the people finished their passover, they would recite a psalm 118:

Blessed is the King
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!

This psalm was spoken in hope that this this year, this year in Jerusalem the people would see the Jerusalem restored to freedom and faithfulness to God's covenant that all the world would be blessed. This is a psalm of yearning, and yearning hope.

As Jesus enters into Jerusalem he sits on a donkey colt. In the ancient middle east, when a king enters into a captured city he sent a signal. If he rode on a war horse it meant that many would die that day. If he rode in on a donkey or colt it meant that he would not oppress the people but would rule with some measure of justice.

On the other side of Jerusalem Pontius Pilate is entering the city on a war horse with extra troops to keep things quiet. Usually Pontius lives in Cesarea Maritima (by the sea). But on the great feasts he comes in with reinforcements to keep restive Israel quiet.

Jesus does not enter into Jerusalem this way just because he likes parades. He is very consciously weaving these traditions and memories, these symbolic actions, to say something. He is the messiah who has come to free his people. But he is going to do it by nonviolent leadership.

In doing so he will free others to do the same, until the leaven has reached all parts of the bread, until the whole dish is salted, until the seed of peace is spread to every hillside, until the way of God's mutuality is written on our hearts.

How does he face this? In TCC we talk about "baptismal awareness." Essentially baptismal awareness is the practice of embracing life as it is: a life which includes

  • Death and life
  • Health and sickness
  • Power and vulnerability
  • Limit and possibility

When Jesus told his disciples in joining him in "taking up their cross daily" I think he is inviting them to embrace life which includes these seeming contradictions because this life-as-it-is is embraced by God.

Jesus didn't just come to Jerusalem on a donkey and face his own humanity for the first time. Every day he embraced life-as-it-is, every day he felt a little grief for his own mortality so that when he takes on the Roman Empire and their collaborators he knows how fear feels - and he knows that fear does not win.

In our baptism we die and rise with Christ every day. Paul writes about this in Romans 6. Every day we are invited to embrace life-as-it-is, experience some of our anxiety about it, and to find that we are embraced by a God who joins us in that life.

In this is freedom to be who we are, to be human, to live life fully, and to risk our lives when it is necessary — like when Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem to free his people from fear and live their lives in courageous love.