When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
"Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
his is a glorious day! This is the day that Jesus is welcomed into our midst, bearing the promised salvation. With outstretched arms, with palm branches waved about with vigor, and with joyful song, we sing our welcome for all the world to hear. For on this day, we do not care who hears us. We do not care whose heads will turn to our shouts. We do not care what scandal we might cause. Because this day we beckon our messiah to us. This day, we cry out, “Give us the salvation for which we have waited.” This day, Christ answers our call.
So it is a bit disorienting when we move so quickly from the emotional high of Palm Sunday to the betrayal and abandonment of Maundy Thursday and the brutality and crucifixion of Good Friday. And thanks to the liturgical reforms in the second half of the last century, we now experience that transition even faster. We enter worship this day with palms and shouts of hosanna, and an hour later, we depart in silence with the last words of the crucifixion still ringing in our ears. It is enough to give us liturgical whiplash.
It begs the question; how did things escalate so quickly?
I mean, sure, there was a disconnect between the salvation people expected and the salvation that Jesus offered. They were an occupied people. The conquering armies changed from time to time throughout history, but they were always the conquered. They longed for salvation to come in the form of a conquering liberator, a messiah who would drive the powers and principalities from their sight.
That was not who Jesus was. The salvation he offered was of a decidedly different sort. But that alone does not account for the reversal in public opinion. The image of Christ riding on the back of a donkey rather than on the back of a war horse cannot fully explain the shouts of “hosanna” transformed into shouts of, “crucify him.”
We have all had the experience of being host and we have all had the experience of being a guest. Though it may never have been taught us explicitly, we all know at an instinctive level that the fastest way to wear out your welcome is to start asking things of your host. Sure, a few requests are okay. But if you ask too much or ask too frequently, you will quickly find that you are no longer a welcomed guest.
Jesus did not ask for just one thing. Jesus did not ask for a small thing. Jesus entered the city and called us by name. Jesus calls us and asks everything of us. And for that he must die.
The trouble is that we like the idea of Jesus. We like the idea of God becoming flesh; God becoming like us so that we might be good people. We gladly welcome the idea of Jesus into our midst with palm branches and song. We will happily proclaim the idea of Jesus with “Share if you like Jesus,” posts on Facebook, or quotes from scripture on our bumper stickers, or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets on our wrists.
The idea of Jesus is an easy one to like. It never overstays its welcome because it never asks anything of us. The idea of Jesus is Christ made empty so that we might fill him up with ourselves; God made in our own image. And the salvation offered by the idea of Jesus is the salvation we want. It is a salvation that demands noting of us, a salvation that leaves us unchanged. Because the salvation we choose would have the whole of creation changed around us, while we are left exactly as we are.
But the salvation we choose is never sufficient. For we always choose the salvation of the liberating victor. We always choose the salvation of the valiant warrior. We always choose the salvation of world peace through mutually assured destruction. We always choose the salvation of divine judgement delivered by fifty-nine missiles launched in the dark of night. It is never sufficient. It is always empty.
The shocking juxtaposition of Palm Sunday and the events of Holy week is the shocking juxtaposition of the idea of Jesus and the salvation we would choose with the actual Christ and the salvation he offers.
Unlike the idea of Jesus, Christ is not empty, waiting to be filled with our likeness. No, Christ is the one who calls us. Christ is the one who would have us become empty so that we might be filled with Christ. And the salvation we are offered is one we could never choose for ourselves. For if we were able to choose it, then we must be able to imagine it. But we are broken. We always fall short. And our imagination is as broken and foreshortened as we are. We cannot even choose Christ, much less the salvation he offers.
No, we cannot choose the salvation, or even the one who offers it. All we can do is be called into it by the one who calls each of us. All we can do is step out and follow the voice of Christ, trusting that when the allure of the idea of Jesus fades and the shouts of hosanna turn to cries for crucifixion, that we will look up and see the cross before us and Christ beside us.
Preached by Adam Yates