As we hear this story this morning, I think itâ€™s not too hard for us to be able to relate to these Jewish people. Here they are, lining the streets, some leading the way, and some bringing up the rear, everyone excited about this man, Jesus. The hopes and dreams and possibilities they are imagining are contagious: you can see it in the way they are waving the leafy branches and palms. You can hear it in the way they are shouting out: â€œHosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!â€ You can see the joy and optimism in their faces as they are beginning to think that perhaps, liberation has finally come – and come in the form of this rabbi from Nazareth.
Sure weâ€™re living about 2000 years after this event took place, but these scenes still occur today. Think back with me to January 20th of this year. Iâ€™m sure most of you can remember where you were and what you were doing when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. It was the highest attended inauguration ever, with estimates between 1.1 – 1.8 million people. Over a million people – lining the streets – waving their American flags and signs that read: CHANGE.
I know there were some from our church who were at the inauguration, and I also had some friends who were there. I followed their updates on Facebook and Twitter and it was clear there was an overwhelming sense of hope, optimism and a desire to see change happen…CHANGE that was the key theme in Obamaâ€™s campaign. Following the inauguration, Obama and his family took part in the inaugural parade, where they road in the Presidential limousine for awhile…but eventually got out and walked the parade route. And here they were again, lining the streets, some leading the way, and some bringing up the rear, everyone excited about this man, Barack Obama.
Now, I need to be careful here…Iâ€™m not saying that Barack Obama is Jesus – although we certainly saw many placing almost a Messianic hope and trust in him and what they thought his Administration would be able to do…but I think picturing this parallel helps us connect with the crowds that day – and helps us realize the sheer excitement they must have been feeling as they watched Jesus come into Jerusalem that day.
Todayâ€™s story is one which many of us are familiar with – the donkey, the palm branches…Jesus entering Jerusalem…the joyful celebration. When I used to hear the story before, I always thought about the donkey for some reason. There are a few stories in the Bible that talk about donkeys – probably the most famous was Balaamâ€™s talking donkey. If youâ€™re interested in learning more about the Bible and donkeys, I found a website yesterday called BibleDonkeys.com, and it looks like there is more information than you could ever have wanted about donkeys in the Bible. But – in our story today – I always imagine a couple of the disciples sneaking into a village, and trying to quietly steal, er…borrow, a donkey for Jesus to ride. When they do get caught, apparently the fact that Jesus is going to ride it is a good enough excuse…
I always thought Jesus chose a donkey so that he would appear peaceful, almost meek and mild, as he entered into Jerusalem. But if you read a few verses past where our story stops today, you will find that Mark placed the story of the clearing or cleansing of the temple on the very next day. If you recall in the story, Jesus drove people out of the temple, overturned the tables of the moneychangers and generally made a big mess of the place. So…while Jesus certainly is known for being a peacemaker, itâ€™s hard to think of him as very â€œmeek and mildâ€ in that story.
This week as I was reading the lesson for the Lenten Class Sarah and I lead, I read something that offered a different perspective on why a donkey was chosen. Michael Lindvall, a New York City pastor, writes about this story and says that the donkey, palm branches and the whole entrance into the city was Jesusâ€™ way of engaging in a form of political street theater.
All around the world, people use street theater as a way to subvert the status quo. You may have seen demonstrations or some other types of creative street performances that had a political message they were trying to get across. These types of performances are not all subversive simply for the sake of rousing up trouble…but they can be done to be prophetic, to present an alternative reality to the way things are.
On that day as Jesus was preparing to enter the city, throngs of people were waiting. They heard word of this amazing teacher, this powerful man coming to the city, and itâ€™s easy to understand why they might have been so filled with hopes and desires. Itâ€™s easy to understand why they wanted liberation from the oppression of their Roman rulers. Itâ€™s easy to understand why they were hoping for the coming of the Messiah, a military King who would ride into town on a stallion prepared for battle. A true…mighty King who would bring soldiers with him, someone who would be prepared and able to defeat the despised Romans. A powerful king who would finally take his rightful thrown as the King of the Jews.
And yet, instead of satisfying those desires, Jesus engages in his own act of subversion. He participates in this form of street theater as he enters the city. Michael Lindvall writes:
â€œThe Palm Sunday reality was a living parody on that dream. There was no stallion for this Messiah, just a donkey on loan. There was no army for this Messiah, just a rag-tag assortment of unemployed fisherman, an errant tax-collector, and some vaguely disreputable women. And this Messiah was no vanquisher of Romans; he was just a Galilean rabbi.â€
Through this act of subversion, this humble entrance into the city, Jesus alerts the Jewish people that he is not going to be the type of Messiah they are looking for. While he is bringing liberation, itâ€™s not the political liberation they are hoping for. As they were laying down their palms and their cloaks before Jesus, they would also have to lay down their ideas of who Jesus was…and what his purpose was in their lives…
And…we are still called to do that today. Itâ€™s no secret that Christians disagree…we all have different ideas of who this person Jesus was and is…and what it is that he cares about. It is extremely easy for us to become sidetracked by our own ideas of God. It is scary how easy it is for us to allow our vision of God to become so narrow that we donâ€™t allow ourselves to realize that God is so much bigger and more grander than we could ever imagine.
Some of us may find ourselves in the crowd today – yelling and cheering and waving our palm branches as Jesus the Christ enters into Jerusalem. We may be so excited that the moment of liberation has finally come! And yet, when the donkey approaches, our grasp tightens around our cloaks, and we donâ€™t want to let go. We donâ€™t want to lay our cloaks down before Jesus.
Yet that is what we are called to do. Just like the Jewish people in our story today, we must lay down our cloaks before Jesus, lay down our ideas, and thoughts, and understandings of Jesus…we need to lay down OUR perceptions of how Jesus is going to bring about liberation, and simply be open to the movements of the Spirit…
Palm Sunday, and certainly the rest of the events we will remember this week, point to liberation. Probably not liberation as we have perceived it – probably not as we have planned it all out in our minds. But that is why we must lay our perceptions down before Jesus – and allow him to subvert them to his purpose. We must set aside our assumptions, our hopes, our plans for change, and give ourselves space…space to see the Messiah in our midst.
Hopefully when we do that – when we lay down our cloaks – we will be able to see a glimpse of that promised liberation that Christ brings. I donâ€™t know exactly what that liberation looks like – and Iâ€™m not sure it looks the same for every person…
….But I think it has to have something to do with the freedom to truly…live. Jesus says in the Gospel of John, â€œI came that they may have life and have it abundantly.â€ We have a long journey ahead of us before we arrive at the joy of Easter morning – but when we get there, it will be a celebration about life. Now, I donâ€™t want to spoil the ending for you – but let me just say, you wonâ€™t be disappointed.
Jesus came that we may have life – and have it abundantly. We are able to be restored to both God and others in our lives when we are freed to be who we truly are, when we are freed to live the lives that God has called us to live.
I think the questions for us this morning are…whatâ€™s stopping us from laying down our cloaks before Jesus? Why are we holding on so tight? Would it really be so bad if we let go? Would it really be so bad if we trusted God more than we trusted ourselves? I think if weâ€™re able to do that – weâ€™ll be one step closer to experiencing the liberation that will bring us restoration.