The Long and Dusty Road, April 10th, 2022
The Long and Dusty Road
Gospel Reading: Luke 19:28-40
The seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter changed the world. They are the subject of a million publications, countless debates, and thousands of films and have inspired the greatest painters, the most skilled architects, and the most gifted musicians.
To try and calculate the cultural impact of these seven days is impossible. But harder still would be an attempt to account for the lives of men and women who have been transformed by them. And yet these seven days as they played out in Jerusalem were of little significance to anyone except a few people involved.
What happened on those seven days? Well, let’s have a look.
- On Sunday the first of the seven days, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna, fulfilling an old prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
- On Monday, he walked into the Jerusalem Temple overturning tables where money exchange occurred, Roman drachmas were being exchanged for Jewish shekels because Roman coins were not allowed as legal tender in the temple. So the Temple authorities were using the Commandment as means to cheat the people and make the Temple a place of profit rather than a place of prayer.
- On Tuesday, Jesus taught in parables, warned the people against the Pharisees and predicted the destruction of the Temple.
- On Wednesday, the fourth day, we know nothing. The Gospel writers are silent.
- On Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. But he gave it a new meaning. No longer would his followers remember the Exodus from Egypt in the breaking of bread. Instead, they would remember his broken body and shed blood. Later that evening in the Garden of Gethsemane he agonized in prayer over what lay ahead for him.
- On Friday, the fifth day, following betrayal, arrest, imprisonment, desertion, false trials, denial, condemnation, beatings and sentencing, Jesus carried his own cross to “The Place of the Skull,” where he was crucified with two other prisoners.
- On Saturday, Jesus lay dead in a tomb belonging to a rich man named Joseph.
- On Sunday, his Passion was over, the stone had been rolled away. Jesus was alive. He appeared to Mary, to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the 11 disciples gathered in a locked room. His resurrection was established as a fact.
Back then these seven days were called Passover, as it is still called today by the Jews. Christians around the world know these seven days as Holy Week, the Passion of the Christ. But in our culture the emotion, pain, and passion of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been lost.
Let me tell you what I mean. The next time you go into a Christian bookstore to find some artwork that depicts the death of Jesus, you will not find anything. If you do find a piece of art that reflects the piercing of his side it will probably be a trickle of blood. The pieces offered for sale will not reflect the true horror of the crucifixion... not at all the reality that John records, “One of the soldiers stabbed him in the side with his spear. Blood and water gushed out. (John 19:34)." And, "…around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? which means, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Matthew 27:46).
Folks, we have sanitized the crucifixion – we have brought the full terror of death on the cross down to a level where we can feel more comfortable - so we can hang pictures on our walls and show it to our children. The death of Jesus was a horribly violent event, and was only recently depicted in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ.
We might want to talk more about the film in the coming weeks. But for now, let’s turn to how it begins. It was Sunday, the first day in Passover as Jesus prepared to make his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was a strange kind of a day, a day of contrasts: of climax and anti-climax, of fulfillment and frustration; of hosannas and tears, of tragedy and triumph.
First let’s look at why Palm Sunday was tragedy. Excitement was running high in the city as it always did at the time of such festivals as the Passover. But the natural excitement was heightened by this procession, this strange entourage that wound its way toward the city gates. There at the head rode a quiet figure of a man on a donkey. All about him the crowds gathered, curious at first, but soon they were shouting and singing and turning the place upside down for him.
As he entered the ancient city the crowds went wild with cheering. There were shouts of, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. People grabbed anything they could get their hands on. They tore palm branches from trees. They tore the clothes off their back. They threw them in his path as they would to welcome a king on a regal carpet. The shouts of hosanna, which meant “save now,” grew louder. The green palms waved more and more frantically.
They were convinced that something tremendous was about to happen. They were going to be saved from the Romans! They were going to be rich and free and powerful! Jesus was here to become their new King! Halleluiah! Hosanna! Save us! Save us NOW!
Singing and shouting confidently, the crowd swept through the city gates and finally stopped on the plaza in front of the Temple, the most sacred of shrines. There, Jesus dismounted as Jesus looked like he was about to make his big move. The crowd, tense with anticipation, watched him closely. Some of them glanced toward heaven, looking for the sign that was sure to come. After all, was this not the Messiah, the Chosen One, for whom legends of angels would descend from heaven and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel..?
Friends, I wonder if any one of us could imagine the sensation that these people were feeling. We might compare it to the allied armies marching victoriously into Paris and throwing off the cruel yoke of Nazi oppression, or compare it to the hoped-for victory of Ukraine over its invader from the east.
Jesus was a one-man liberation army that marched right into the heart of Jerusalem in the midst of the citizens of Jerusalem who groaned under the heavy hand of pagan Rome. This was the moment they had been waiting for throughout the centuries. This was the moment! And Jesus was the right man for the right time.
Then the moment that everyone had been waiting for came. Jesus entered the temple. The crowd grew faint. Only a low murmur could be heard as all eyes focused upon the Nazarene.
Time passed… More time passed… An uneasy restlessness came over the crowd. What was Jesus doing?
Mark tells us, “Jesus went into the temple, and when he looked around at everything, since the hour was already late, he went out again,” And as they say, that’s it, that’s all. He went into the Temple, looked around, turned, and walked back out. He did absolutely nothing.
The crowd was stunned. Perhaps no event in history has built up to a greater anti-climax than Palm Sunday. Then, slowly, one by one, the crowd began to melt away. All that was left was a kind of eerie silence and a deep, gnawing, empty feeling in their hearts. That was the end of their singing and shouting, the hosannas, the waving of palms. Something quite obviously had failed to come off here. It was a tremendous buildup to an equally tremendous let down.
What just happened..? The crowd was suddenly silenced. In their eyes Jesus failed to exploit this one great moment in history. Some of them must have felt betrayed. Others were mystified. Still others began to wonder whether they were even in the right place and felt embarrassed to have been shouting along with everyone else over something they did not fully understand. One by one they began to leave the scene – disillusioned and angry with the one who they thought would be their exalted leader.
The crowds wanted a winner, but Jesus had other plans. And this my friends is the tragedy of Palm Sunday. It is this very moment in the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that sets the tone for what we now call his Passion.
But Palm Sunday was a triumph too!
Here’s why: it marked the triumph of love over hate. What was expected was war against the Romans, but what happened was sacrifice - the victory of God in human affairs. God’s affairs – God’s plan for the salvation of the world triumphed over human expectations.
Friends, none of us can see or direct what God will do in any circumstance. So in grace, God comes down to where we are. He is not above it, all but in the midst of it all. And because of his presence among us, there is forever a triumph of love over hate, of life over death.
Folks, we too have a turning point from tragedy to triumph. It is today - Palm Sunday. It is our moment of triumph because God in Jesus decided to ignore our miserable state and act on our behalf. He chose to ignore the crowd’s version of what was going to happen on Palm Sunday and go with His.
And so it is for us. No matter what we have done; compromised our principles, sold out to the expediency of the moment, given in to sin, God comes into our world and welcomes us home. To us, Jesus still says today: God’s truth cannot be silenced. God’s power cannot be squelched. God’s will cannot be deterred. God’s victory cannot be denied. For the more you try to silence God’s beauty and God’s grace, the more determined God becomes to save all of creation. The more the very rocks on the dry and dusty road will cry out God’s grace, mercy and salvation for humankind.
To those who feel silenced, be encouraged. The stones are already shouting. We may not deserve to be here, but he welcomes us just the same. If there ever was a turning point of our long ordeal in the wilderness, it is now.
Folks, be still and know that Resurrection is coming..! May God be praised.