Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who is this?

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

It was just before the beginning of the festival of Passover. Travelers from all over were beginning to arrive in the city, preparing for celebrations and observances with friends and loved ones, acquaintances and strangers, all under the watchful eye of the Roman soldiers. They gathered to celebrate and remember the ancient miracle when their God, Yahweh, freed them from captivity, released them from slavery, led them out from under the smothering thumb of the oppressive Egyptians, and led them to freedom in the Promised Land. They gathered to worship their God, Yahweh, in the temple even as they lived under the threatening thumb of the oppressive Romans.

Needless to say the atmosphere was charged with excitement and even danger. More than anything it was laden with anticipation. Anticipation of the worship that would take place, anticipation of the sacrifices they would offer, anticipation of hearing the story read, chanted, sung, retold from the scrolls, from memory, from the heart with longing that this miracle of God that happened once before might one day happen again, here, now.

Jesus and the crowd that had been following him at least since Jericho, about 15 miles away, were finally just outside THIS Jerusalem. They each had their own hopes and expectations for the coming festival week and by their actions they showed what they were looking for. They showed what they wanted, what they hoped for, what they expected from this man, Jesus, who could heal the blind, who could teach with unexpected authority, who could cast out demons, sit with sinners, eat with tax collectors, and preach in ways they had never heard.

Like they were welcoming a king, they laid their cloaks on the road. Like they were heralding royalty they waved branches and put them down before his parade so that even the feet of his animals didn’t have to touch the dirty ground. They lined the streets with hope and anticipations shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Save us! Hosanna!” They knew exactly what they were looking for, a king, a warrior, one sent by God to free them from captivity, release them from slavery, lead them out from under the smothering thumb of the oppressive Romans, and let them live unencumbered and united in their land, the Promised Land. They knew who they were looking for. They knew who they wanted this Jesus to be, a strong and mighty king, one who would lead them in overthrowing the masters, the occupiers of their nation. “Who is this?” the crowds asked, but their hearts, their actions revealed their deepest desires. This is our king, our savior.

Who is this that we come looking for? Who is this whose story we tell and retell from memory and from Scripture as we gather at the start of a festival, the Christian Passover it is sometimes called? Who is this whose entry into Jerusalem we sing about with pomp and circumstance, waving branches and celebrating with triumph and strains of “Hosanna!” in the air? Are we looking for a King? Are we looking for someone to free us from captivity, to release us from slavery, to save us from oppressive armies and rulers?

Let’s be real, probably not. Soldiers don’t stand at every street corner all around Hudson. They weren’t watching our every move as we made our way to worship this morning, ready at a moment’s notice to squash our religious and political revolution. We don’t feel the squeeze of foreign occupation threatening our freedom, threatening our lives if we dare to hold allegiance to our own king, our own God.

No, if we get real, the one we come to sing about, the one we come looking for is very, very different. Sometimes the one we come looking for is what a friend of mine calls “deity as divine concierge.” Sometimes the one we come looking for, f we are honeest, is one who will fix the things around us, give us what we need to be comfortable, smooth out the rough spots on an otherwise bumpy road. Please, Creator of Heaven and Earth, make this winter go away. Please, Dear Savior, find me the up-front parking space so I don’t waste time walking. Please, Holy Jesus, just let the day go my way.

We come looking for Jesus who will make life easier. We come looking for Jesus who will relieve our worries. We come looking for Jesus who will conquer the things that seem to be in our way, who will show us that we are right, and more importantly show the rest of the world that we are right, too. We come looking on Palm Sunday for Jesus who will meet our expectations, who will fit our mold, who will calm things down, set our lives back in order, and bless us with the easy way forward. That’s a King we whose arrival we can celebrate. That’s the Jesus we like to worship and honor and praise!

But is this the Jesus who comes riding into Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel story? Who is this who comes riding into town not just on a donkey as we think we are used to hearing, but on a donkey AND a colt? Did you hear that when we read it this morning? The story as Matthew tells it begins almost comically. We’re used to the pictures of Jesus riding on a donkey, of course, but Matthew puts Jesus on both a donkey AND a colt.

He does it to be sure we get who he is talking about. Matthew wants to make sure his readers know exactly who this Jesus is, exactly who is coming into Jerusalem. His understanding comes from the prophet Zechariah, whose poetic prophesy said the king would come in mounted “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” What Zechariah meant as poetic parallelism, Matthew took literally so that no one would misunderstand that THIS Jesus, this man, is the one Zechariah was talking about. THIS Jesus, this man, is the Zechariah’s king who had arrived in Jerusalem.

But a king? Arriving on a donkey? What about the regal horses pulling gilded chariots? What about the legions of soldiers, the entourage of servants and advisors? Where were all the signs of a king, a REAL king, who can make a difference, who can deliver what we expect, who can make this life turn out the way want? If this is a king, he certainly doesn’t look like a very helpful king. Riding in on a humble donkey, or two, instead of a strong and powerful horse, accompanied by a bunch of fishermen and others he had picked up along the way from the countryside instead of a trained soldiers in armor with weapons, stirring up the on-lookers who came hoping for salvation, REAL salvation, from REAL oppressors. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “O save us, Son of David!” They shout the words of a psalm of their faith, a song of thanksgiving for victory and deliverance. They expect that the one who has come to the city is the one who can give them victory and deliverance from the suffering and separation they face.

All of this proclamation and acclamation causes fervor among the crowds. Matthew tells us that it isn’t just the crowds of pilgrims who are stirred up by this procession, but actually, the whole city was in turmoil over Jesus’ entry into the city. Turmoil - - a word reserved for earthquakes and tsunamis. A word that describes the aftermath of seismic destruction, but turmoil isn’t how we usually picture it. A city buzzing with excitement is what we want to be a part of. A city celebrating and cheering, worshiping the triumphant arrival of a king is where we want to go, where we want to imagine ourselves on Palm Sunday.

Yet turmoil is how it is described. Exuberance is what they expected; fanfare and festivities is what we hope for, but turmoil is what we get. Turmoil is what comes when the expectations of the people don’t quite match up with the reality of God. Turmoil is what comes when the divine concierge, the parking space saving, fast line moving, green light extending “savior” fails to show up and instead we are faced with Jesus in Holy Week – Jesus who turns over the tables of unjust money changers, Jesus who sits down at the holy table with those who will betray him and deny him, Jesus who refuses to argue the charges against him, Jesus who is mocked, stripped, and beaten unjustly, Jesus who is humbled and humiliated by death on a cross.

Turmoil is what we get when Jesus isn’t what we expected, but is exactly what we need. Tumoil is what we find when we intend to stand beside our God and King, but find that harder and harder when he doesn’t act like the King we want him to be. Turmoil is what we experience when we want to shout with joy and confidence “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” but instead we are silenced by the way our Lord chooses to come, humble, meek, and in peace. Turmoil is what we feel when reality sets in and our expectations don’t match up with the savior we receive.

What then? Who is this that comes in the name of the Lord? Who is this that is called Jesus, the prophet, Lord, and king? How will we receive him, the one who comes to us and for us even then, even in the midst of our turmoil, with grace and mercy, new life and salvation?

Hosanna to the Son of David! Save us! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

3 comments:

Common Household Mom said...

This is very good - gives me lots to think about. First I want to ask where you got that art work. It is fascinating!

This past Sunday we had the Palm Sunday text from Matthew. After all these years of hearing it, for the first time I caught the part about two donkeys. Our pastor didn't point it out, so I've been wondering ever since what that was all about. Thank you so much for this explanation.

Stephanie Anthony/She Rev said...

Thanks for reading!!!

I have to say I just did a google image search for the picture. I think my terms were "Who is Jesus." I should have tried to credit it, and now I will go do that.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Over here from CHM's blog--thanks for the interesting read.