W23_CRW_9436Martha M. Shiverick
Palm Sunday – March 24, 2013

Scripture: Luke 19: 28-40
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Luke 19: 28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying “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. If anyone asks you ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of 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!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Since Pope Benedict XVI announced on February 11th of this year that he was planning on retiring and stepping down as Pope, the Catholic Church has been in the news and our minds! After he retired on February 28th the world listened to commentators and Vatican insiders ponder who would be the next Pope and head of the Catholic Church. One commentator would say that ‘Certainly it would be an Italian as the past two Popes have not been Italian’. Others would discuss the characteristics needed of the next leader and how strength and a lack of fear of the insider politics and power base would be crucial. Never once did anyone suggest a Jesuit. Never once did anyone suggest a person from the Americas. Never once did anyone suggest someone from the Southern hemisphere.

And to every commentator’s surprise the new pope was all these things and he even shocked the world greater when he took on the name of St Francis, a man whose humble nature and grassroots ministry was nothing like life in Vatican City. There is no coincidence that the pope chose the name Francis. St. Francis as a young man wanted to be a warrior. And even though he wanted a career in the military, he did not prove to have the skills for it. He was wounded in his first battle and sent home to heal. While home, he went to pray at his home church which was in disrepair and ruin. Walls were cracked and not cared for. And while there, he heard God’s voice. It told him that he was to rebuild God’s church. My guess is that Pope Francis is called to the same ministry. He too is called to build up his church which is in need of repair. And Pope Francis has continued to shock, surprise, and electrify people this past week and a half since he was elected on March 13th. He is not what anyone anticipated but people are feeling that in spite of and because of that fact; God’s work was indeed in the selection process. Perhaps Pope Francis is indeed just what the Catholic Church needs.

And he is different. He won’t dress like the other Popes. The Papal ring he chose was simplistic. He wants to be with the people on the streets instead of sequestered in Vatican City or protected in the Pope-mobile. He jumps out of his car to bless a handicapped person. He shakes hands, he talks to common people, and he approached his new role and title role with a humility and honor that has not been seen. His theology is different. He believes in an evolving church and people have pondered that this pope might be open to ideas other popes would not ponder such as gay marriage, priests getting married, and ordination of women. And people applaud and are so grateful for his absolute condemnation of pedophilia.

And the crowds…. Well they have been going wild! He is on the news every night. My catholic friends are talking with hope about their church. And perhaps a new day has arrived for our Catholic brothers and sisters who have been so disappointed by their church governance these past decades. I don’t know about you, but I feel their spiritual energy growing. I feel their hope and their belief. I definitely feel that a new life has entered the Roman Catholic Church. God’s Holy Spirit is at work!

I look at the pictures of the new pope riding in his pope-mobile which the crowds going wild and I can’t help but draw a comparison between this pope and Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A change has been needed. People have recognized God’s messenger in an unlikely source. The crowds are wild with expectation…. Something is going to happen!

The account of Palm Sunday that we heard this morning from the Gospel of Luke is told in all four Gospels. The stories are quite similar with the exception of the omission of palms or leafy branches being waved and placed on the ground before Jesus in this Gospel. But the message is clear. Jesus was in control of this entry into Jerusalem and was doing this last journey on the terms he has set. One commentator I read said that through this story we learn that Jesus does not only proclaim God’s word; Jesus IS God’s word.

Jesus tells a couple of his followers to go into the next town where they will find a colt that has never been ridden and bring it to him. And, just as he told them, they found this donkey or colt tied up and brought it to him. The fact that it had never been ridden was important. If you think about all the stories where animals take on sacred tasks in the Bible, they are always young and have never been employed in other services. Could the fact that Jesus wants this colt instead of a horse signify that he sees the colt as a sacrificial object? Is it meant to be another foretelling of what lies ahead? All we know for sure is that Jesus knew what was going to happen and was indeed in charge.

So, his disciples placed some cloaks on the colt and then helped Jesus up on top of the animal. This procession into Jerusalem is about to take place. If there had been news commentators and reporters at hand, they most likely would have commented on the difference of this procession than the one that people had envisioned for their Messiah. Where were the warriors? Where were the beautiful horses dressed in finery? Shouldn’t the Messiah come in with an entourage like Herod did when he came that same time to visit Jerusalem? But Jesus knew what he was doing. He had divine knowledge about what was happening and had a message to us even in his arrival on that day. His parade was going to be a lesson from God.

So, Jesus started on his final trek into Jerusalem on a colt. And the unexpected happened. The people took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground for the colt to walk over. And what started as a small group became a multitude of disciples singing songs of peace. They praise him as the King of Peace. Where at His birth angels welcomed the Prince of Peace, here as he entered Jerusalem his followers do as well. And they welcome the King of Peace as they sing the words from Psalm 118 as we did this morning.

The crowd must have gotten pretty wild and loud with all that ecstatic praise and singing when the Pharisees came forward to rebuke Jesus and to tell him to calm down the crowds. We are not exactly sure why they did this. Were they embarrassed by people’s demonstrations of love and faith? Did they perceive the parade to be in bad taste like David dancing wildly wearing nothing but his loin cloth as the Ark of the Lord was brought into Jerusalem so many years before? Was it their own disbelief in Jesus as the Messiah that made them request that the parade quiet down? Or was it that they perceived the danger ahead that would come with a crowd singing allegiance to another power besides those of the civil authorities?

We don’t know why they complained but we do know the answer that Jesus gave. He said that even if the disciples quieted down, the stones along the path would shout out! What a beautiful statement of the fact that the whole earth is God’s creation. Fred Craddock, professor emeritus at Emory University, wrote a commentary on the passage. His understanding of this response by Jesus is a call for Christians to become earth-keepers, to feel the connection we have with all of God’s creation.

Craddock feels that throughout the Bible there is an innate understanding which modern society has lost that we are a part of God’s universe and not over and above it. The lion lies down with the lamb as a sign of peace in Isaiah. Matthew talks about a special star in the sky which witnessed to the birth of our Messiah. Even at Jesus’s death the earth responded to his being crucified with an eclipse of the sun that lasted three hours. All of creation is from God and everything shares in the final reign of God. With that understanding, why wouldn’t the stones cry out Hosanna if the people were to stop?

Of course the parade is also a day of contrasts as well. Today we celebrate Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph with the knowledge of the inevitable crucifixion. We celebrate Christ, the Ruler of the Universe who rides into town on a borrowed colt. Clearly the city comes out to welcome him, but we know that in just a few days they will cry out for his punishment by death.

But the crowds got it right for this day. Jesus’s disciples and followers might really mess up later on in the week but for now they understood. They recognize that even though Jesus was not what they had envisioned or what they thought they needed, Jesus was God’s chosen One and that God’s vision was far greater than theirs. So, for now they recognize that Jesus is their Messiah and are not frightened to scream the news out to the world. This is the point in Christ’s ministry where we can say the people got it right.

Sometimes we get it right too. Sometimes we recognize when God is working in our world and sending us people to do the will of God. Sometimes we recognize this even when they do not look, act, or even sound like the people we envisioned that we need and that God would send. Although sometimes we get it right, there are many other times when we fail to see God at work in our lives or we fail to recognize why God has sent that person. But the good news is that even when we get it wrong, God rules. Even when we mess everything up like we know happens later in this Holy Week, God is always in charge.

Look again at our stained glass window depicting the entry into Jerusalem. The crowds are there waving their palm branches. They are singing and shouting for joy. As they cry out that he is the King of peace, he offers the sign of God’s peace to them. He is in control. He knows where this road will lead even though the crowds do not. He knows what the price is for their salvation and grace.

So let us too rejoice today, knowing that we are entering a rollercoaster of emotions throughout this week. We join together during this Holy Week, knowing that soon we will despair but that on the other side of this is the promise of Easter. And through it all, God is there and as it is with everything; God’s will be done. Amen.