Luke 19:28-40 and Philippians 2:5-11
Palm Sunday is a day filled with contrasts. It pulses with undercurrents yearning for something that we cannot quite name. There is a call and response in the crowds. We hear, “Blessed is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!” And “Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna – Save us! Please! One of the contrasts for us in this modern age is that we cannot celebrate the victory of Palm Sunday without picturing where this path would take Jesus. Maybe the crowds could celebrate boldly, hoping wildly for the future. We, however, cannot lift our branches or wave them without also picturing the Last Supper, the events of the crucifixion, and eventually the final victory of Easter morning. Once again, we are living in the in-between, rejoicing at the Lord’s arrival in Jerusalem yet filled with a somber kind of joy that knows not to fly too high this day because the road ahead is filled with violence and loneliness. And we find ourselves experiencing one thing right along with the crowd: the strong yearning for someone who will save us. Jesus himself voices this, “I tell you if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” We feel ourselves longing to shout out with those stones. At times, when we consider the actions, consequences, and meanings of Holy Week, the hairs on the back of our neck raise up and a lump forms in our chest as we suddenly understand that something incredible is happening. Cosmic forces are at work and we are suddenly witnesses to a divine drama that is being played out in our plane, in our world and domain … for our benefit!
William Carter notes that “Luke’s Palm Sunday account echoes his Christmas story. When Jesus was born, the Gospel writer tells that angels appeared to sing, ‘Peace on earth’ (Luke 2:14). Now as Jesus rides his colt toward Jerusalem, the people look to the sky and sing ‘Peace in heaven.’ Heaven sings of peace on earth. Earth echoes back, ‘Peace in heaven.’ As the church gathers this day, we are caught in the crossfire of blessings.” (Feasting on the Word, Luke 19:28-40) There are more than a few parallels between Palm Sunday and the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Both events have a methodical, well thought out tempo of events that say these events were not accidents. Both surprise us with their emphasis on humility and peace. Jesus is born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem; Jesus rides a farm animal into Jerusalem. Jesus’ birth is announced to shepherds in the field by angels, shining along with the stars in the sky; Jesus’ entrance into the city is heralded by a multitude of disciples laying down their robes and waving palms, feeding off the energy of the earth crying out for a savior. Jesus’ birth threatens a power-hungry King Herod; Jesus’ growing popularity threatens a different King Herod and any number of civil authorities’ power. The same kind of yearning and watching hopefulness that is present in Advent comes to us full force on Palm Sunday. This is the week, the moment, the event that we have been waiting for … isn’t it?
But what exactly is it that we’ve been waiting for? Within our joyful hosannas there rests a kind of ignorance, an inability to realize what it is we are asking of Jesus. But Jesus knows. As he looks down on Jerusalem, he weeps and we hear him say, “Jerusalem! If only today you knew the things that make for peace, but you do not know them. They are hidden from your eyes.” This is another one of those contrasts of today, “The greatest hopes for peace are hidden from those who wish for it” (Feasting on the Word). Just as we don’t understand just what we are yearning, reaching, longing for in Jesus’ entrance into the world and into Jerusalem, we are not exactly sure how to make things right in the world. This is where we come to marvel and rely upon the incarnation of Christ – who is both human and divine. Jesus perfectly understands our dilemma, but he also perfectly understands the plan that God has for us.
Our passage in Philippians (2:5-11) is most certainly a hymn. It is possible that it was a hymn sung by the early church. Hymns do a lot of the heavy-lifting in terms of figuring out and expressing our faith. So this passage is one that exemplifies early thoughts on the nature of Christ and his actions in the world. There are two sections: the first part describes Christ’s self-giving and the second is Jesus’ exaltation of God. There is a space between these two sections in the text as though they are two stanzas of the same song. This space also allows the mystery of Christ to remain a mystery. We do not need to know how Christ was able to know and do all the things he did those many years ago in order to benefit from his life-giving love and his death-denying resurrection. As part of our Lenten Supper Programs last week, I shared several stories about footprints, one of which is the well-known poem about walking in the sand with our Lord. Our foot banner has a white space at the top for a reason … there is a space that we cannot forge across by ourselves. This is the space in which the mystery of Christ and where the work of God takes place.
This is not to say that we cannot become like Christ, only that there is a mystery to Christ that we cannot know, either by understanding or experience. However, through Christ’s actions, we are able to embody that same kind of self-giving love that Christ had for others. This is what he taught his disciples every day, and it is the life to which he calls all of us. It is this faithful-living that enables to ask questions, and wrestle out meaning from the Bible and the world. Questions like, “What are the things that make for peace? What are the things ‘hidden from our eyes’?” Peace is not just the absence of conflict; it is a trustful hope for the future. Peace is a stability that is not affected by the circumstances that surround us. The thing that we find through Jesus’ use of power (or perhaps his refusal to use power like we expect) is that peace, like love, is not something that we create. It is something that we experience and live into. Peace, like love, is both a verb and a noun. Peace can be an action – like an action of forgiveness, of welcome, or simply of presence. And peace can be a state of mind, a place where we reside with God, comfortable in our direction and place in life.
Jesus surely knew what lay ahead of him in Jerusalem. Of course a part of him was nervous, but his actions are those of a person at peace with the road God set before him, willing to listen to our unspoken, even unthought requests and pleas to be saved. Maybe we don’t know what the road ahead of us has in store, still, we can trust in the Lord. Through Christ and because of Christ, we may live a more whole, more peace-filled life that proclaims the kingdom on earth so that there may be peace on earth and peace in heaven.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!