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A question of identity

Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Philippians 2:2-11, Luke 19:28-40

From the west came Pilate draped in the gaudy glory of imperial power: horses, chariots, and gleaming armour.  He moved in with the Roman army at the beginning of Passover week to make sure that nothing got out of hand, insurrection was in the air with the memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.

From the east came another procession, a commoner’s procession: Jesus in ordinary robe riding on a young donkey.  The careful preparations suggest that Jesus had planned a highly ritualised symbolic prophetic act.  Luke has in mind the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10, the coming of a new kind of king, a prince of peace, who will dismantle the weaponry of war.

K. Stephen Shoemaker, Feasting on the Word, year C vol. 2  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 153

The more you think about it, from the very beginning of Luke’s account, we are meant to see Jesus as the prince of peace.  The angels sang to the shepherds: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ (Luke 2:14)  

So, now the crowds respond with: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ And how we long for this divine peace in our world at present: we pray blessings of peace in Ukraine, in Russia, in all the countries afflicted by war and destruction.

But this blessing is more than an absence of war, it is the blessing of what God is making possible through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: a deep, lasting, satisfying peace, which changes hearts and minds.

When some of the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples (19:39), Jesus quotes Habakkuk 2:11 in response, the very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.  There is nothing that can silence the praise of the people of God, in response to the blessing which are ours. 

Seeing the Word

This highly ritualised symbolic prophetic act, fulfilling earlier prophecies concerns the significant offices of priest and king, and is picked up in both Hebrews 5:9-10 and 1 Timothy 6:15.  However, as a prophet, he doesn’t just invite people to ‘hear the word of the Lord’, but to see, to believe that Jesus is the Word. When we close our eyes and imagine that first Palm Sunday, we can hear the joyful crowds going to the festival, singing, laughing, talking together.  And just like modern crowds there would be people holding diverse viewpoints on that day

  • Miracles remembered

Among the crowds would be people Jesus had healed. Some had been among the thousands he had fed. Many more had seen some of His miracles, & listened as ‘he spoke with authority.’   They had listened, and their lives had been changed.

  • Joy

Many would greet him with joy, welcoming him as an earthly King, come to re-establish the throne of David, & overthrow the Roman Empire. They were ready & eager to place a crown upon His head. Jesus knew all of this. He knew that just over the horizon was the cross, but Luke tells us that in spite of it all, Jesus still ‘…set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem’

  • Laughter 

Maybe some were amused by what Jesus was doing. After all, it was a rather ridiculous picture. Here is a carpenter declaring Himself to be a King! 
And perhaps others thought, ‘He is a lunatic, living in a world of fantasy – imagining himself to be a King!’ And they would laugh at him.

  • Anger

Others would greet him with anger – upset because they knew the scripture and would interpret his riding into the city, together with the exaltation of Jesus as arrogance & blasphemy against God.  How would the people respond to that? Would they recognize that His Kingdom was not of this world – that it was a spiritual kingdom, and he was to be a spiritual King? 

Many of these emotions are experienced by people grieving; remembering the past with laughter and tears, sometimes with anger, and contemplation of what might have been. How do we respond?

The Royal arrival

We stand on the threshold peering at the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom.  It is a piece of pure political theatre, where Luke emphasises royal motif – the Son of David is entering the capital city. The whole of Luke 19:38 recalls the opening of Luke, with the annunciation to Mary concerning the kingship of her son (1:32) and with the heavenly chorus declaring glory in heaven and peace on earth (2:14).  

With Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the disciples acknowledge that he is indeed the king whose coming has been awaited.

Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching year C. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox (1994), 246

When Royalty visits, the smell of fresh paint and the sight of people in their best clothes is still the order of the day. No less so when high-ranking dignitary, visited in ancient times: streets were cleaned and decorated, and the citizens – all dressed in white – went to greet the visitor at the city gates.  But the real power in this story rests with the knowledge that this is transitory; in a brief while comes the passion and death of Jesus.  So I conclude with some words by Nancy Rockwell, which I find very helpful, particularly during the present days:

This is a heart-breakingly lonely story. And in it, Jesus is never alone. The story assures us, heart-break is essential for resurrection. A trail of tears – our tears – is the way to Easter.

In this story all hearts get broken. Herod’s heart, twisted to evil as he places the crown of thorns. Pilate’s heart, shamed as he sighs and washes his hands and remains unclean. The soldier’s heart as he cries out, Certainly this man was innocent. Even Jesus’ heart, when he prays My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Tears and sorrow are necessary for the journey to Easter.  Grief, not faith, will get us there.

Nancy Rockwell, The Trail of Tears That Leads to Easter,  (13,03.16) [accessed 08.04.22]

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