THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
One week to go. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are just around the corner, the most important events in the Christian year. In fact, the most important events in human history because they changed the very nature of who we are. We who were dead in sin are washed by the blood of the lamb and given eternal life through faith in the resurrected Jesus. That is what it is all about.
But today is Palm Sunday, a day of celebration when Jesus entered Jerusalem as a celebrity. For many of us, it is a familiar story. For some of you who are watching, it might be brand new. The context is that this is the beginning of the Passover festival, the most important festival for the Jewish people, the celebration of God’s rescue of the people of Israel from the bondage and suffering they experienced in Egypt. Remember too that it is the duty of every Jewish man to get to Jerusalem for the Passover if at all possible. So the city and its streets are crowded. Let’s hear Mark’s version of it found in Mark 11:1-11 (NIV):
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Here we have Jesus entering Jerusalem, one of many pilgrims who have travelled there from all over the countryside to take in the Passover celebrations. Jesus, forever the planner and organizer, has thought all of this out in detail. He has arranged for a donkey to be tied up in a village just outside the city. His plan is to ride the donkey into Jerusalem. Why a donkey? Let me explain.
During the week, he will be asked a number of times, “Are you the king of the Jews?” The answer, of course, is yes but not only for the Jews but for all creation. With the donkey, Jesus tells the people exactly what kind of a king he is. Traditionally, kings entered cities on one of two animals. A conquering king – one who planned to take over – came through the gates riding a war horse. It was the sign that he had come to rule by force if necessary. But a king who entered on a donkey was sending a different message. That’s because a donkey was seen as a sign of peace. Jesus the king, therefore, was not in Jerusalem to conquer but to reconcile and make peace. The donkey tells the people what kind of king Jesus intends to be.
Did you pick up what happens when he enters the gates? The people have lined the streets like a parade. Many of them have thrown their cloaks on the road. Others have scattered palm branches along the path. Others are shouting, “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” These are all things that people would do to welcome a very special person into their city. As we said last week, Jesus is the person everyone wants to see. He is the rock star of the day.
BEGINNINGS & ENDINGS
But there’s a catch. The people see Jesus as a king but they don’t get it and they don’t understand the signs. They know that they want a king but they have mistaken Jesus for someone else. They want a king who will lead them in rebellion against the powers of Roman rule. They want a military leader who will free the people just as the God freed the people from slavery in Egypt through the Passover. What they want is another modern day Moses who led the people during the first Passover. They want a new beginning of freedom and self-determination where Jews rule over Israel without paying taxes to Caesar.
For them, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday represents a whole new beginning. But for those of us who view these events with the advantage of historical hindsight know that Palm Sunday was not a new beginning, Rather, it was the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life. Five days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with people lining the streets waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna, Jesus would hang on the cross, his precious blood dripping from his battered body until he simply died. The people wanted a new beginning but on Palm Sunday, what they really got was the beginning of the end.
To be honest there are some things that need to come to an end. I’d like to offer you one example. Over the past couple of years we, as a society, have become increasingly aware of the need to be sensitive to the way we depict others especially when it involves cultural stereotypes. That awareness signaled the beginning of the end for a number of things. The latest one is that has hit the news was Dr. Seuss. When I first heard about this I confess that I just shook my head. “What next? This is getting ridiculous,” I thought. “You mean it’s not politically incorrect to read Cat in a Hat?” The truth is that it didn’t mean that at all because Cat in a Hat is not on the list of books that the Dr. Seuss Foundation decided to stop publishing. Just to be clear, of the sixty Dr. Seuss books he wrote over his lifetime, only six of them are going out of print.
Our daughter, Rebekah was home for a day this past week and we talked about this one evening as we were going for a walk. “Did you hear that some Dr. Seuss books have been cancelled?” I said. She had heard but didn’t really know what it was all about. As we were talking about it, she asked me a good question: “So why did the publisher decide to stop publishing? What images were causing the problem?” That stopped me short because, frankly, I had never taken the time to find out. Rebekah then said, “Maybe if we knew, we’d understand better.” Don’t you love it when your 21 year old daughter says something so simple that makes total sense? So I decided to look into it.
Here is part of what I discovered. One of the books on list is called If I Ran the Zoo. It’s not one of the books I remember. In fact, it’s one of the more obscure books but it’s not hard to find the pictures online. There is one illustration that depicts people from Africa. They are, of course, black but they are also naked except for grass skirt that covers their privates. I asked myself what I would think of this image if I were a black person.
On another page there is a picture of Asian people carrying in a cage a beast called a Flustard. The first two lines on that page read like this: “I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant With helpers who all wear their eyes in a slant…” Again, if I were Asian, would I appreciate that description?
It didn’t take all that long to come to my own conclusion. Please understand that I am not woke and never want to be. And I have serious issues about the whole cancel culture thing because think it’s negative impact on our society far outweigh any benefits. But I came to the conclusion, after actually looking at the material, that the Dr. Seuss Foundation was correct in its decision. While no books are being burned and while the last few copies of these six books are flying off the shelves, when we as a society decided to pay attention to the way we depict other cultures, it was the beginning of the end for some stereotypes. And I don’t think that’s not a bad thing because there are some things that need to come to an end.
Here are a few things to think about during Lenten. When you received Jesus as your Saviour it was the beginning of the end for some things in your life. It had to be because, as we have said multiple during Lent, you cannot accept Jesus into your heart and remain the same. Some things you will start doing and some things you will stop doing. What are they? What needs to get dropped from your life? Do you know? Maybe you’re still finding out. Maybe you know but you don’t want to admit it because you like those things.
Some of the things that we need to end apply to all of us and there are umpteen examples in the New Testament. Consider, for example, Ephesians 4:25-31 (NIV):
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
To paraphrase this: don’t lie, stop holding grudges, don’t steal, wash out of your potty mouth (preferably with soap), don’t ignore the Holy Spirit. And finally, get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. Is anyone going to argue that there is anything wrong with this list? I hope not. I’m not suggesting that we, as followers of Jesus, have managed to get rid of all of these things because that would be so false. I can point to a couple of these that pop up in my life from time to time which reminds me that I’m not perfect. But what this give us is the standard to achieve even if we have not yet made it. These are things that all of us need to consider.
But then there are things that are unique to each and every one of us. That includes you and me. What in your life still needs to go? It’s important to identify those things because those are thing things that prevent you from being all God created you to be. They can be different for all of us. Some people have addiction issues. Others drive dangerously. Family abuse is a real issue in some Christian households. Some of us do various things that have negative impacts on our health. Do you cheat on your income tax? That’s a good question this time of year. Do you disrespect your spouse whom you are suppose to love and honour? I don’t know what you need to let go but you know. And there is no better time to start that then right now during Lent.
It is not always easy giving up things because, if we are going to be honest, some of the things that we need to get rid of are the very things we enjoy the most – or at least we think we do. But just because we enjoy them does not mean that they are good for us. If you’re not sure about that just take a look at the opiate epidemic that is resulting in so much death and destruction. Take a look at the how gambling addictions can destroy families. Look at what happens when the marriage bed is not kept sacred. Coming to Christ and taking that faith seriously, is the beginning of the end of such things.
LABOUR & BIRTH
Is there pain in giving things up? Yes there is but sometimes that pain is justified in order to get to a better place. The Rev. Jim Sinclair was the supervisor when I was doing my internship in North Bay the very first year that Ruth and I were married. When I was struggling to move ahead in my training he’d often say, “You can’t have a birth without going through labour.” In other words new life doesn’t come without some sacrifice. And I remember Kelly, my running coach saying, “No pain, no gain.” Of course, you’ve probably heard that before. I suppose every athletic coach has said that at some point. But again, if you want to move forward you have to put in the work and pay the price if you want to get to the next level. That is just as true in spiritual growth as it is in family planning and athletic endeavours.
There is a cost to faithfulness. Jesus knew that. He knew it when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the people lined the streets, laid down the cloaks and palm branches and shouted hosanna. He knew his rock star status would not last because the parade on that day signaled the beginning of the end of his earthly ministry. Jesus knew what was coming. He had even talked about it to his disciples. He had predicted his death and resurrection even if they had refused to listen. And it all came to pass just as he said it would. Five days after his triumphal entry, he would hang dying on the cross of Calvary.
Jesus gave up everything for us. He died on the cross to pay the price of our sins and he rose again on the third day so that all who put their faith in him will have eternal life. He asks no more of us than he asked of himself.
The good news is that from the labour there comes a birth and new life. And because of the pain, it is possible to gain. Coming to Jesus may be the beginning of the end for some things in your life but it is also the beginning of the beginning of a whole new life filled with goodness, mercy, justice, peace and love. Don’t be afraid to give up that which you don’t need because Jesus is ready to give that which you really need.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Grace and Glory, we come to you on this Palm Sunday with heart-felt thanks and anticipation. On this day, we remember how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, greeted like a visiting king by people who rejoiced at his coming.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday, we remember, also, that in a few short days, he will be crucified on the Cross of Calvary. He, whose entrance was celebrated, will die in silence. We come to this critical time in our faith and realize that he died for us. He died in our place. YOU died in our place to pay the price of our sinfulness. How can we ever thank you enough? Give us the courage to look past Good Friday to the hope that is beyond.
We thank you for signs of spring. For robins and geese and other birds returning from their winter homes. For tulips pushing their heads above the cold earth. For melting snow and warmer days. Life is renewed with fresh hope and vision.
We are grateful that more and more people are getting the vaccinations that will protect us from Covid-19 and enable us to get back to some sort of normalcy in life. We ask that you calm people’s fears and strengthen their hearts for the days ahead.
We remember the sick and those recovering at home or in hospital, who need your healing touch in their lives. We remember Richard, Angela, Pattie, Mark, Rachel and Gary, Enable all of us, O God, to be open you your Healing Spirit even in the deepest recesses of our hearts.
Holy God, you are able to work for our good in any situation in life. Help us to trust you so completely that we will not fear any circumstance, but will confidently trust in you to turn every situation into good. Regardless of what we may feel at times, we need your help in setting our heart to reject fear and to trust and rely upon you alone, for your word and promises will never fail. Our prayers are lifted to you in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.