Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
“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, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” ~ Luke 19:37-38
Have you ever received bad news amid other people’s celebrations and excitement? In those situations, you try to go along with the occasion not trying to put a damper on things, you might even put on a brave face so no one knows the difference. I have sat with many a family over my years here who have tried to grin and bear the bad news they were dealing with, even as the church or the world around them was celebrating, or going on as if nothing was wrong.
I wonder if you were in the crowd that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and if you had looked deeply into his eyes if you would have seen the same thing – the same deep sadness in his eyes as the world around him erupted in joy and celebration.
After all, if you pay attention to what the crowd shouted that day you will hear echoes of what the angels shouted back at Jesus’ birth. Back then, there were no crowds shouting in expectation of Jesus’ arrival, only the heavenly chorus, back then the peace and glory were only future promises to the lowly shepherds who heard the angels sing. But here as Jesus entered Jerusalem, he had fulfilled those promises for the gathered crowd. He had brought peace to the sick and suffering, he had glorified God with his words and deeds. The crowds feted him as King because he looked and spoke like God’s Messiah, the one who would bring God’s reign to fruition, the one who would restore Israel to its former glory.
But in reality, the triumphal ride was no joyous occasion for Jesus, this wasn’t his victory parade or his moment of glory. Jesus had on numerous occasions foretold his death highlighting Jerusalem as the place it would happen
Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday, traditionally we wave palms, we sing Hosanna and it is seemingly a day full of joy amid the penitence and sombreness of Lent. Palm Sunday is almost like a reprieve before the heavy lifting of Holy Week and Good Friday begin. But Palm Sunday isn’t a break before Holy Week it is the beginning, it is the beginning of the road to the cross.
Jesus knew full well what awaited him as he set his face and made his way to Jerusalem – he knew full well what his moment of glory would be.
Even as his disciples feted him like a king, honouring him with a prize colt, with their cloaks for a seat and to pave the way into the city, with loud shouts and praises – Jesus knew that he wasn’t the kind of King his disciples were expecting, his throne wasn’t destined to be polished marble of Herod’s Palace, or the Emperor’s seat in Rome but rather the gnarled, knotty wood of a Roman cross.
Jesus knew that his moment of glory was yet to come, he knew that his glory wasn’t one of a conquering hero overthrowing by the strength of his arm but rather his moment of glory was destined to be that of a suffering servant, bearing all the pain, all the sin and all the death the world could throw at him in his very body.
Jesus knew that only his suffering and death would bring about the blessing and peace his disciples sang about as he rode into Jerusalem that day. Rather than a coronation parade, this was the beginning of Jesus’ funeral procession but only he, and perhaps the Pharisees looking on who were plotting his death, really knew the significance.
And so I can imagine Jesus’s enjoyment of the celebration would have been a little muted, yes it was part of the grand plan, he was in total control, but his face was set towards Jerusalem, it was resolved to see through God’s plan for the reconciliation and restoration of the world even though it meant intense suffering, pain and abandonment for him.
Palm Sunday with all the joy and celebration, the waving of Palms and the shouts of Hosanna is the beginning of Holy Week, it is the beginning of our understanding of the great Gospel paradox – that ultimately the love, joy and goodness that God intended for the world from the very beginning could only come through the misery, suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross.
If we were tasked with saving the world, never in a million years would we choose to save it through suffering and death, especially our own? Scott Hoezee writes “In one sense it is awfully surprising that when the Son of God came to this earth, he died so hideous a death to save us. At the same time, however, given the bloody state of affairs we so routinely encounter in this world, it seems also inevitable that God would save us in precisely the way he did.”
To deal with our betrayals, Jesus needed to be betrayed by those closest to him.
To deal with the ways we abandon God and one another, Jesus needed to be completely abandoned by his friends when he needed them most.
To deal with all the brokenness and sin in the world, Jesus, his very bones, needed to be broken by the sin of the world.
To defeat the power that death has over our lives, Jesus the very Prince of Life needed to experience the brutal truth of death.
To restore our humanity in the image of God, Jesus needed to experience the utter dehumanization and degradation of the cross.
To ensure that we would never be separated from the love and presence of God, Jesus had to endure the god-forsakenness of the Cross, separated from the life of the Father.
To bring us eternal and abundant joy, Jesus needed to experience the sorrow and pain of the week ahead.
Today, with Jesus, let our Palm Sunday celebrations be muted because we know what is to come this week, we know what suffering awaits our Lord even as we celebrate him as King today with the crowds in our Gospel reading who laid their coats and shouted songs of praise to welcome his “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem.
Today we remember that Jesus is King, he is the king that reigns not from the corridors of power and privilege like every other leader in the world but a King who reigns from the gnarled, knotty wood of the Cross.
Today we remember that Jesus is a king who identifies completely with our humanity – even our deep sorrow and grief that is masked by the celebration of those around us.
Today our joy is muted, but next week it will be unfettered by the chains of sin and death. Today, our eyes share Jesus’ tears and bear the grief that awaits him and us at the hands of this broken world, but next Sunday those same tears will be turned into shouts and tears of joy by the one who promises to wipe every tear from every eye and fill our hearts with abounding joy even amid sorrows of this world.
May we all meditate upon and get to know this king more deeply this week as we ride with him to the cross and join him in this funeral procession today. And may God’s joy burst forth in us next week as we celebrate his resurrection.
Let us pray.