The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Rome was a ruthless force. Some historical reports suggest Roman taxes were often as high as 90%. There are stories of Jewish landowners having to sell their land to Rome in order to pay off their debt only to turn around and become day laborers on that very land. Can you image the shame?!
Let’s be clear, the scene above is apocalyptic. This section of John’s gospel is called the “triumphal entry” because the assumption among the palm branchers is that Jesus is marching in to take back Jerusalem from the Roman occupiers. The Jewish people have been shamed and conquered and now their king has come to justify them and put Rome in it’s place. This scene is not a “spiritual” one as we’ve come to celebrate it. It is political and militaristic. The palm branchers are waving their branches because they have nothing and Rome has everything and they feel within their bones that their Messiah is coming to give back what is rightfully theirs.
Most of us equate power with blessing. We wave palm branches and we call Jesus king because deep down we believe this is what he is, but maybe a king is what we want him to be because that’s what we feel we need. We want to live, we want to be justified and we want to be blessed, and as much as we preach the peaceful compassionate love of God we raise our hands and sing songs loudest when the chorus echoes of our eternal triumph.
This morning Liz saw a church sign that read, “Christ the Lord has risen today! Alleluia!” You see, we so want Jesus to be alive because that means that we will be alive. We want him to be a king because we know we will rule with him, but this is not the path he’s on. Today we do not need to keep shouting hosanna! We don’t need to keep cheering Jesus on like he’s in the 10th round of a heavy weight title fight. We don’t need to keep picking ourselves off the ground or choking back the floodgates of tears. The point is not to rule, it’s to die, because in the Genesis 3 world we live in this is the only way to heal.
The great crowd and the Pharisees followed Jesus both because he raised Lazarus from the dead – the crowd wanted that sort of life and the Pharisees didn’t want to lose the life they had. So today we hold these competing desires in tension within ourselves, wanting to be raise to life and not wanting to die, and this tension may be closer to what our Lord may be feeling this Monday.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.