After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
I have always enjoyed Palm Sunday. For one thing, depending on the year, it coincides with the start of spring—the grass is starting to get green again and flowers are appearing as bulbs push up through the ground. Palm Sunday is also often close to my birthday and ever since I was young, it has been associated in my mind with the general excitement of the birthday season. But if I am being really honest, what excited me the most about Palm Sunday when I was growing up were the palms themselves.
I don’t know who first came up with the idea of handing out long and pointy palm strips in church, but they were genius! My brothers and I discovered, as has every child in the history of the church, that palms are immensely useful for poking each other, waving about in the air to the consternation of parents, and serving as a wonderful distraction during sermons.
Palm Sunday is still a special day for me, although perhaps for different reasons now, though don’t get me wrong, I still get a kick out of the palms. There is something immense about this day, a sense that something great and unstoppable has been set into motion. You can feel this largeness, this weight, in the Gospel story this morning. esus sends some of his disciples into town to take the young colt of a random person with only the words, “The Lord needs it” by way of explanation.
Can you imagine being the person who stands there as two strangers come and take your colt from right in front of you saying only, “The Lord needs it?” Can you imagine being the two disciples who have been asked by Jesus to go and commit what amounts to grand theft equine, how uncomfortable that would have been? Can you imagine their shock when this complete stranger accepted their vague words, “the Lord needs it?”
It is the first indication that we are entering a surreal realm, entering into a period of time, a piece of the story, where something much larger is at work. The two disciples bring back the young horse and Jesus rides it into the town. As he enters, people spontaneously appear to throw their cloaks on the ground before him. We don’t know who they are or where they came from, or even how they knew Jesus was coming into town. Events are happening now as though they are inevitable, as if there was no other way that they could happen.
The only people in this story who seem to question what is going on around them are the Pharisees who appear, concerned about all the commotion Jesus is causing and the attention that he is drawing to himself. They may have disliked what Jesus was about, but remember many of the Pharisees were sympathetic to his cause and work, so they could have just as easily been concerned about his safety if the wrong people were to take notice of what he was stirring up.
But Jesus only confirms our sense that these are immense, unstoppable, and inevitable events unfolding before us, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” It is as though he is reassuring them, “don’t worry, this is how it is supposed to happen, this is the only way that it can happen.”
God is moving and God is working God’s salvation, and creation is being pulled along in it. Jesus has been walking on the way throughout Luke’s gospel, walking on the way to the cross, and now the way has grown short and the cross has grown close. The story is picking up pace, events are slipping by, and we, the disciples, and the whole world are being drawn into it all.
My friends, something immense is happening, something beyond our ability to understand is taking place before us. Even now the cross is looming large before us and Christ is calling us in, pulling us in, ever closer. Come, let us see this thing together.
Preached by Adam Yates