Palm Sunday—March 29, 2015
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 18:-12, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:12-16
Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
Everyone knew what was happening that day in Jerusalem. All the people who watched Jesus riding into town—making an entry on this donkey—a little donkey—knew exactly what was happening. They knew what the prophet Zechariah had said—that the king would come riding on a colt of a donkey. So when they saw him—when they saw him living into that prophecy, they knew exactly what was happening.
That day was in the festival time around the Passover. We don’t know exactly when it was—there’s some discussion about that—but one of the things that we do know is that at the same time—more or less—that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem on this little donkey, the governor—Pilate—was coming in—probably on the other side of town—coming from Caesarea where he lived. He didn’t live in Jerusalem. He lived out in the suburbs, but it had always been the custom of the governors to come into town—to come into Jerusalem during the time of the Passover, because all kinds of things happened at Passover. At Passover, the people remembered—they remembered when they were freed from Egypt. It’s the Jewish custom not to say “when they—our ancestors—the ones who came before us—were delivered from Egypt.” They say “we were delivered from Egypt.” So, at Passover time, this spirit of deliverance is with the people, and they get stirred up. All kinds of things happen. Prophets come to town. The people get stirred up. People claiming to be Messiah come to town, and the people get stirred up. So Pilate came in—maybe on an elephant—you know, something big and powerful. Something to let the people know that no matter what was happening, the power and the control were still in place. He came with soldiers and probably with drums and cymbals and other things to make noise—a lot of noise—to let people know that Rome was still in charge. And there’s Jesus—on his donkey. And the people saw him, and they knew what was happening. They saw him and saw the Prince of Peace—the one who was bringing God’s creation—the peace of God’s love—not the Roman peace—the peace of oppression.
There are all kinds of indications that this event was not just a casual happenstance. Jesus was a politician in the best sense of the word. That is to say, he knew how to move people. He knew how to be in relationship with people in a way that helped them move toward the desired end, and his way—to move toward the love of God. So this was not an accident that he came into town riding on this donkey at the same time that Pilate was displaying all his power. He came in, and we have no idea—no way of knowing—what he expected to happen that day. He probably knew some of the alternatives—some of the consequences that might arise—or some of the results of his action. Perhaps the leaders would see what they had doing. Perhaps they would see their collusion with the Romans that they had been living with for all those years. Perhaps the people would be so overcome with joy that they would take steps to move away from that collusion. Perhaps the Roman authorities would be so angered that they would kill him. He had no way of knowing what was going to happen that day, but he came because he knew it was the right thing to do. And this event is so important in our history that it’s one of the two things that we commemorate—that we try to replicate throughout Christianity. In churches all over the world, people are doing a procession—doing a parade like we did this morning. And some of them are magnificent—with elephants and all kinds of things. The other event that we act out—that we put our own voices to—happens on Good Friday when we revisit Jesus’ passion and his death. In a lot of churches, they’re doing that today as well, but we’re not going to do that here today, because I don’t think we need to. On Friday, we’ll have two opportunities: first to hear what happened that day, in the afternoon—to hear the stories spoken by voices that are familiar to us—voices telling the story of people’s experience on that day when Jesus was crucified. And then that night—Friday night—some of us will gather here again to take the Christ from the cross and bury him in the icon tomb. Some people won’t be able to be here on Friday. In the long-ago days, everybody was here on Friday, but life’s changed, and that’s why we started moving the reading of the Passion to Sunday—because people might not get to hear it. But you know what? Even if you can’t be here on Friday, I invite you to join in this journey in this sacred week. You can do that simply by picking the gospel that you like the best and reading the account and holding that in your heart through this week. Maybe read a bit of it a day—maybe read the whole thing. It’s in all four gospels. You can’t miss it. It’s toward the end.
As you read—as you travel through this week—I’d like you to think about times when you’ve felt deep emotion. When you’ve felt great joy—maybe at something you thought could never happen. Maybe at seeing someone whom you love dearly for the first time in a long time and by surprise. Maybe it was when the Niners won for the first time. Think of that time when you felt deep, deep joy. Think also of a time when you were filled with rage—when you’ve been so angry that that it seemed that all your vision was down to right what was in front of you, and all you could see was the red of your anger. Maybe it was when someone you loved did something that hurt you deeply. Maybe it was when someone whom you consider an enemy did something that took you by surprise. Maybe it was road rage—when someone cut you off and almost hurt you and the people in your car. Think about that red, blinding fury in those times. And thank about the sorrow. Think about the time when you have felt the deepest sorrow. Maybe at the loss of a loved one. Maybe at some other kind of loss that left you just shaken and unable to tell what to do next. As you move through this week, consider those emotions that you’ve felt. Notice how close they are to the surface—they’re always there—they’re always right there. Pay attention to what goes on in you as you think about those times and feel yet again those emotions. As you do—as you experience these things, know how very close we are to those people who walked in the street that day—shouting their hosannas—waving their branches—and then screamed “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”