36 As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 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 for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Rabbi, order your disciples to stop.’ 40 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
41 As Jesus came near and saw Jerusalem, he wept over the city, 42 saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
45 Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
47 Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill Jesus; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Journey with us this Holy Week.
Even as we walk alongside you on your way to the cross,
Walk with us.
Uphold us and sustain us.
Remind us of your great love for us.
This past Monday, April 4, was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, broadly and nationally we remember King every year in January close to the date of his birth, but in the church, we remember saints on or near the date of the death. If you’ve listened to any number of my sermons over the years, you’ll know that I consider the Reverend Doctor King a theological mentor, and I certainly consider him a saint.
And I think, and I hope, that collectively we consider King an important teacher that still has much to teach us.
But as most of you know, it was not always this way. King was vilified in the last years of his life. His family was targeted, he was under ruthless surveillance by the FBI, he was beaten within inches of his life multiple times, imprisoned… Those that were in power at the time, those that benefited from the status quo, from the way things were, would do anything to keep Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement for civil rights from taking hold and succeeding. Power never gives up that power voluntarily.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t assassinated because he was a nice guy. It wasn’t because he talked too much about love. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated because his work threatened to upend the established order and the way things were.
As we begin the culmination of our Lenten pilgrimage and enter into this holiest of weeks, this is your yearly reminder that Jesus, too, wasn’t killed for being a nice guy. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he preached too much about loving your enemies and looking out for the oppressed and vulnerable. Jesus was killed because he threatened the status quo, the established order, and the way things were.
We can hear that pretty clearly in the move from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the driving of money changers out of the temple complex. “They kept looking for a way to kill Jesus; but they did not find anything they could do, because everyone was spellbound by what they heard.”
Are you spellbound by what you’ve heard, church? Are you moved deeply? Would you join the stones in shouting out?! When you hear our Gospel narrative this morning, from the parade on a colt and shouts of “Hosanna!” to the lament over Jerusalem and the driving out of commerce in the temple, where do you find yourself? Where do you identify?
Particularly during Holy Week, I think it’s one of the most interesting questions we could ask ourselves: “Where am I in this story? What’s my role in this narrative?” I also happen to think it’s a great spiritual practice, too, by the way; a great piece to add into your bible study or devotion or study of scripture, to ask this question of where you find yourself in the story. Your answer to that question will tell you a lot about yourself, about what’s currently going on in your life. It’s a great tool for self-examination.
So where do you find yourself in this story, church? Where do you participate?
For one, likely in one of the more joyous moments of Holy Week, in an otherwise mostly serious time, is our collective participation in the procession of palms at the beginning of worship. Waving our branches, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” the whole bit. So certainly we might imagine ourselves in this processional, in this parade. Perhaps you imagine yourself taking off your own jacket or cloak and laying on the road. Maybe you might climb a tree to get a better view. Waving your branches, shouting “Hosanna!”, hailing Jesus as Lord and king…that’s a fairly easy entry point, I think. But what about the temple complex later? Do you find yourself there, with Jesus and the disciples? Are you one of the ones being drive out by Jesus? Are you doing the chastising and chasing along with Jesus? Do you find yourself more in alignment with the religious leaders…”This kind of trouble-making just can’t continue… Something must be done about this Jesus…” Are you more of a bystander…waiting to see which way the winds of public opinion shift and change?
Where you find yourself in these stories will tell you a lot about what’s going on in your life and within yourself.
I think a lot about the shift from triumphal entry to the meat of Holy Week—the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. How many of those folks who cried out “Hosanna!” were echoing shouts of “Crucify him!” only a few days later? Was it the situation in the temple complex, the driving out of commerce that clued them in? “Whoa…I don’t know about all this, Jesus…”
Do you ever find yourself in a situation that you thought was going to go one way, but then takes a hard turn and now, all of a sudden, you’re not so sure if this is the same thing you showed up for in the first place?
The triumphal procession into Jerusalem is a fairly easy entry point because we literally walked a similar path at the beginning of worship. It’s joyous, it’s celebratory, it’s a little like Easter, and it’s everything we imagine following Jesus would be like. But this kind of parade wasn’t necessarily a joyous occasion for all that were present that day. Was it a parade? Or was it a protest march? The lines between those two can get rather fine.
The whole gospel narrative this morning, from procession to the actions in the temple courtyard, all of it is best understood as street theater—using very public displays as a way of conveying a message or making a statement to a large crowd. A parade? Or a protest?
I’ve been to and even participated in a fair number of parades. 4th of July parades, holiday parades, Pride parades… I’ve also been to and participated in a fair number of protests. Rallies for marriage equality, protests for affordable housing…just a few years ago, I joined some other New Hope folks and the Fort Bend Interfaith Council and some student leaders from Fort Bend ISD who had organized a March for Our Lives in response to gun violence at schools. Pride parades kind of walk this line, I think… Is it a parade? Or a protest? …yes… It’s kind of like all protests are parades but not all parades are protests, right?
See, when the emperor, the Caesar, won a military victory, there was a parade. The Caesar would ride into town on a white horse, with trumpets blaring, wearing a crown of olive branches or laurels. The people would throw down flowers at the Caesar’s feet and shout things like “Hail, glorious ruler! Praise be to the savior! Praise be to our messiah! Praise to the Caesar, the son of god!”
Sound familiar? The words should…
Jesus’ triumphal entry is a total inversion of this. Not a majestic white horse, but a colt. Not flowers and olive branches, but cloaks and garments spread at his feet. Not a wreath of laurels, but later a crown of thorns. Jesus’ parade walks this line of protest. It’s a mockery of Rome and the Caesar and the Roman imperial rule. Jesus completely cuts against the grain of what they thought a Messiah was. And honestly, Jesus completely cuts against the grain of what we think a Messiah is like, too. Not a mighty conqueror, but a humble servant. Not ruling through victory and oppression, but the Prince of Peace. Not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. Not a throne, but a cross.
And then later, in the temple courtyard, Jesus messes with the economics of things, the economics of the religious system and the economics of the empire. And once you start messing with the money of the people in power, the people in power don’t let you do that for much longer.
“They kept looking for a way to kill Jesus; but they did not find anything they could do, because everyone was spellbound by what they heard.”
Jesus was crucified because the message he was preaching threatened the established norms and systems of power.
How many of those who cried “Hosanna!” and lauded Jesus as Savior didn’t stick around once things started to get heated at the temple? I wonder if they found themselves in a situation that they thought was going to go one way, but then took a hard turn and now, all of a sudden, they’re not so sure if this is the same thing they showed up for in the first place. Is this a parade or a protest? “You know, I was with him through the love your enemies thing and making a mockery of the emperor, but I just don’t know if I can go along with the whole destruction of property…” Right…? Right…?
What does it mean, church, to follow Jesus?
What does it mean to go where Jesus calls his disciples to follow?
Where will you find yourself in this story? Where will you participate?
As we conclude our Lenten pilgrimage and begin our journey through Holy Week, I would remind you, as I do every year, that this is the most important week in the life of a Christian, and each part of the story, each piece of the narrative is important. Your participation is critically important.
Easter Sunday is incredibly joyous, but you don’t get to the resurrection without first going through the tomb. It’s really only because of the context of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday that the joy and celebration of Easter matter at all.
Don’t opt out. Commit.
Commit to being present for the full depth of these worship services.
Decide how you will participate.
Commit to your role in this story.
Commit to making time and space in your life for this story of your salvation.
You will confront some pretty deep truths about yourself… The need to have your feet washed…the need to adopt the humble posture of Christ…the ways in which we still sacrifice and seek to silence those that speak difficult truths to us that maybe we don’t want to hear, but by God, we need to…the ways in which we still try to bury love…and the ways we continue to dig graves for ourselves…
But here’s the thing, church…we don’t confront these ugly truths not knowing what’s coming on the other side of Good Friday…
But…you do have to go through Good Friday.
You don’t get resurrection without the cross.
But resurrection is coming, church.
Love dies, but Love is also resurrected.
Reborn anew in you, in us, in the world…
I promise you, you will find renewal in these stories and in these rituals…
This is the story of your salvation.