Preached at Laurel Presbyterian Church
March 16, 2008
Texts: Matthew 21:1-11; Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29
Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever." 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. 27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. 29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Matthew 21:1-11 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately. " 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
I have strong memories of Palm Sunday. When I was a little girl, living on the west coast of Florida, the children were given palm branches to wave as we marched down the center aisle of the sanctuary in worship. Now, think about this, is it really a great idea to give four year olds a large palm branch and ask them to wave it around? While I know it is a great way to get children involved in the worship service, and it does have the added factor of being rather adorable, seeing young children waving palms in the air, it may not be the best idea in the world. And on that particular Palm Sunday, instead of waving the palms up and down, I, along with many of my friends, waved them from side to side and basically whapped all the people in the pews all the way down the aisle. It was certainly a joyful expression of the triumphal entry of the Son of David.
The crowds gathered on that day in Jerusalem, lots of them, and I am sure there were many children in attendance. All of them were curious about this Jesus figure, who they have come to believe is the Son of David, this amazing prophet who came from Nazareth in Galilee, who they believed would be the one to bring change. As Matthew’s account tells us, the large crowd gathered with branches from the trees, waving them and laying them down on the ground for the donkey to walk across. They shouted out load- Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! It must have been an incredible scene to witness. I am sure you can sense the level of excitement growing in the crowd as Jesus approached on the donkey, the wonder in the eyes of the children, the awe they must have felt when he passed by. It was a moment of praise and honor for the prophet and the one they came to know as the Son of David.
We are in the midst of a highly contested political season- one where the central theme is change. Clinton, Obama, and McCain are all making these campaign promises that they are indeed the one who can bring lasting change to America, something most of the country is crying out for! We get so fired up when we think about change and this is no more evident than in the crowds each of these candidates are drawing to their rallies around the country. We are like the crowd gathered on the streets of Jerusalem – we are in awe of the one who promises the change we want to see in our lives.
Although we know that in just a few short days Jesus will be crucified, and he knew it too, he still manages to ride into the streets atop a donkey, surrounded by people shouting and lifting high their praises. For those who were in church last Sunday morning, you were blessed to hear the choir sing Faure’s Requiem. The third movement is one entitled Sanctus. It is a beautiful movement, with a quiet, melodious tone to it, which comes in between two pieces with a much more somber tone and words. The climax of the movement is when the words “Hosanna, Hosanna, in excelsis” are proclaimed with great exuberance, but then the moment quickly fades away. It reminds me of the scene in this passage- the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with the people shouting their praises, proclaiming the Son of David has indeed come, fulfilling the promises of the prophets from long ago. However, soon after the parade dies down, their loud praises will be turned into shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The brief moment of excitement has passed and the brokenness of the world once again takes over. Their recognition was a fleeting moment; maybe they never really recognized him at all.
One of the questions we are faced with is how is Christ made known to us in our lives today? It might be easy to see Jesus during the mountaintop experience, but what happens when it is not that easy? We all are forced to come face to face with the brokenness in our lives, especially during the times when we cry out loud, “where are you, Jesus?” I have been asking where Jesus is in the situation of my friend, who is dying of cancer at age 26. My cries often involve- I don’t understand why this is happening and I don’t know where you are. Aren’t you supposed to come and make everything better? She’s too young. What about her little girls? I know many of you have faced similar situations with your loved ones and friends.
I know the question came up during our recent mission trip to Mississippi. Many of us thought we were going down there to make a difference! We did some hard work, but walked away with mixed feelings about whether or not we made a tangible difference. The family situations at our work sites were not all ideal and at some points overwhelming. All we could do was paint a wall, but this does not seem to make a difference when there is so many other dynamics at work. So, it leaves us with a sense of uncertainty and brokenness. Where were you, Jesus?
The answer is not easy to come by. But, we want answers, because it is much easier than living in the uncertainty and brokenness. Most of the time, we don’t even want to acknowledge the brokenness – we thrive on avoidance. We tell the world and even tell ourselves that we are fine, we aren’t broken. But, the truth is, we are broken. It is a hard thing to admit sometimes- it is much easier to continue telling ourselves everything is fine. When someone asks us “How are you?”, we just simply give the standard answer of “I’m great, how are you?”. We avoid telling people what is really going on in our lives for many reasons, maybe because we are fearful that we will completely fall apart if we give into the brokenness in our lives.
However, it is Jesus, who rides into our lives, into the broken cities that exist within us and around us, to bring the good news of God’s love and mercy. Jesus recognizes our brokenness. People gathered in the streets that day, not even knowing they were broken inside, just like us. But, God meets us in our broken places, the places where we feel scared, desperate, and most in need of the grace only God can give us, through Christ. That is the power of the image of Jesus riding into the city atop a donkey. He came to us, he came for us. I am sure many of those gathered that day were in need of grace and healing, just as we are today. I am sure they heard rumors of this Jesus who was teaching a new way to live and healing those around him. They were curious and so they gathered on those streets that day. So, we gather today, as the body of Christ, seeking something as well. We live in a world, full of violence and so much need. We are living in a world that is suffocating from greed and poverty, abundance and hunger, McMansions and cardboard boxes, filled with broken people and avoidance. And, our individual lives are filled with broken places- our family relationships, illnesses, grief, hostility, and insecurity.
We want to be able to truly shout with great exuberance, Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest heaven! But, we need to be able to proclaim this from a real and authentic place inside of ourselves, not just going through the motions because it is what is expected of us as people of faith. During my first year of seminary, Walter Brueggemann, noted Old Testament scholar, guest lectured my Old Testament class. While I can’t recall all of the wonderful things he spoke so eloquently about that day on the book of Isaiah, I do remember this: he said to us, in a passing comment, “You cannot proclaim saving truth out of a life of pretend”. Living a life of pretend – that is what we do, because it is much easier and there is a real sense of comfort, because when we are living in this way, we do not have to face the brokenness. Our instinct is to focus on the joyful Hosanna in the passage, wave our palms in the air, and sing loud our praises – not dwell in the reality that lies behind the text. We want to continue living our lives of pretend, where we keep placing our hope in the fleeting promises of change. We clamor for the change we so desperately want for ourselves and for our world. We want the Savior to ride into our broken cities atop a white horse and bring change, but by our own standards. This is what the people gathered on the streets of Jerusalem wanted – for Jesus to take away the brokenness – to make things better in their eyes. Thus, they shouted Hosanna! While Jesus did come to bring change, the brokenness remained. And, this is where we live our lives, amidst the tension between Hosanna and brokenness, and words simply do not do justice to the difficulty of living in this liminal space.
Even though we struggle to find the words, we must trust that the saving truth lies in God’s love and mercy shown to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who rode into town on the back of a lowly donkey. God’s love and mercy will indeed shine through the brokenness inside of us and around us.
And so, as we enter into this Holy Week, with all its emotion, let us begin to acknowledge those hard, broken places that lie deep within us. Let us be open to Jesus’ entrance into that brokenness. The palms we have in our hands have been turned into crosses, symbols of what is to come at the end of the week. Take a good look at it- you will notice the cross is empty. It is a sign of hope and speaks of Jesus’ resurrection and the ultimate act of forgiveness for us as broken people. So, we continue to live this life as people of faith, people of hope- being willing to acknowledge our brokenness and willing to allow God to come into those broken places; all the while, keeping our eyes, ears, and hearts open to where Christ is being made known to us. May we keep moving forward towards the place where we can truly exclaim with our whole hearts, Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.