Our Christ Walk Continues
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 14, 2019
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
The Season of Lent is drawing to an end. So is our Christ Walk challenge. You will recall that our goal was to cover 3000 miles—a rough estimate of the distance Jesus walked during his 3 years of ministry. Through exercise, service to others, and prayer and meditation, we are well on our way to surpassing that goal! I continue to be amazed at the good things that have happened on our journey together—not only in the accumulation of miles but in increased energy and enthusiasm for life and ministry—as well as meaningful conversations about good health practices that have occurred in our closed Facebook group as well as in face to face encounters. Indeed, this has been a fruitful Lenten Season.
Now it is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. From here, if we glimpse toward the horizon, we will see Jesus washing the feet of his beloved disciples, and offering them bread and wine saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And if we listen carefully, we may hear the cries of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it’s possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done.” Finally, the cries of Jesus will be replaced by the cries of the crowd on Good Friday: “Crucify him!”
Holy Week is upon us. Are we ready?
Through the eyes of Luke, we see Jesus entering the city riding on a donkey. It seems such a paradox, doesn’t it? The King of all kings riding on a humble donkey instead of a mighty steed. Is this a simple act or is it, in fact, spectacular? Does this day mark the beginning or the end? Will it lead to death through a crucifixion or life through a resurrection?
With such paradoxes in play, contextualizing the message becomes all the more important. In Biblical studies, contextualizing the message refers to understanding what is being said in Scripture in light of what’s going on at the time. After 2000 years, things can become a bit muddled. Sometimes, particularly with familiar passages like today’s Gospel reading, we are tempted to rush through the story and paint the canvas of 1st Century Jews with our 21st Century brush. If we do, it is our loss.
Allow me to demonstrate: Imagine with me for a moment…Eve Renfroe and I go for a little walk in her beautiful back yard. Then, in a moment of hushed surprise, we trade in the blossoms and greenery for another time, another place, another garden. We find ourselves walking in the Garden of Gethsemane in the days of Jesus. Eve turns to me and says, “Glenda, I really like the prophet Jesus. He tells stories of God’s love that speak to my heart and soul. Don’t you agree?” And I answer, “Well, yes, and I am dying to learn more about him and his movement. In fact, I’ve thrown out my Hebrew Scriptures and traded them in for a pocket-sized New Testament I just got from Amazon. Let’s sit here for a while and read it together.” Somehow, I don’t think 1st Century Jews had pocket testaments—of any sort. In fact, they probably didn’t even have pockets!
From time to time we need to be reminded that while we, as a New Testament church are quite familiar with the Gospels and the writings of Paul, things are different for the people in 1st Century Palestine. The stories that the Jewish people, including Jesus and his disciples, hold dear come from the Law, the Psalms, and the prophets. What they hear during worship and in their homes become the stories that help them interpret life around them. Like them, we are informed, comforted, and called back to God’s grace through biblical faith stories, but we mustn’t assume that we experience these stories in the same way as the people who were there. It would behoove us to stop long enough to remove our “enlightened” glasses to take a closer look.
Returning to our gospel reading, when Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, what is the experience of the crowd? Living under the power of Rome, the stories of their ancestors in Egyptian captivity are very real to them. So, Jesus’ simple procession into Jerusalem lights a patriotic spark in their souls. No doubt they hear echoes of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice, greatly O daughter, Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter, Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; humble and riding on a donkey…” Memories stir of other kings—like Solomon who rides his father’s mule into the city after being anointed king. Then the crowds shout, trumpets sound, and the ground shakes as the people cry: “Long live King Solomon!”
The people who catch the royal symbolism of Jesus’ act, spread their cloaks on the road and they worship Jesus, the Suffering Servant, as he rides into Jerusalem—not on a beast of war, but on a beast of the people—a donkey. And just as the donkey is known for its stubborn nature, Jesus, too, is determined. He will not turn back. Jesus has a message of God’s Kingdom to deliver, and he will deliver it. Recall the words of Isaiah: “I did not turn backwards, I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out [my] beard…I have set my face like flint….” Jesus, who could have turned back, who could have called down legions of angels, instead sets his face to enter Jerusalem.
Yet, the Messiah will fail to fulfill the expectations of the crowds. They want a warrior king to rescue them from their physical state. But Jesus has bigger plans in mind—holy plans—unbelievable plans.
On this day, this portal into Holy Week, we reenact Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem. We process into the church waving palm branches and we remember with joy, Jesus. We, too, lift our voices in praise. Still, even though we know Jesus will not be held in the grave forever, we wrestle with the mysterious paradox of Christ’s nature—both human and divine; both a humble king who does not overpower his followers and a king who is able to empower his followers for the work of his Abba Father; both obedient and victorious; both crucified and resurrected.
Hear again the praise of the people: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” For Jesus, this day of joy carries a hint of sorrow because he knows that the joyous crowd will soon be replaced with an angry mob. The cloaks and palms will become a crown of thorns and the donkey which bears Jesus into the city will become a cross, which he himself must bear. And words of praise will be replaced with shouts of “Crucify him!” Jesus knows that anyone can sing a word or two of praise. The eager crowd may use the right words, but they miss the point. After all, simply knowing the truth is not the same as doing the truth.
Our words must match our actions. As modern-day Christians, we are challenged to tell the story of Jesus and to show his love to a world that is free even though they live like they are still in captivity. Our task is to tell the old, old story in new and inviting ways. As a church, how are we doing?
How is our Christ Walk influencing others for love of Christ? Might we meet the challenge through lively worship that recognizes God is the audience of our praise? It’s not about you! It’s not about me! Might we meet the challenge by showing welcome and hospitality to everyone who enters our doors? Might we meet the challenge by finding new ways to engage with people who are unchurched? Might we meet the challenge by continuing our Christ Walk experience through service, prayer and meditation, and through taking care of ourselves so we may better care for others?
As a community and as individuals, our Christ Walk journey compels us to put feet to our faith; to find new ways to share our love for Christ—in our church, in our homes, in our community, and in the world.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven. Sing Hosanna, dear Christians! Shout Hosanna!
Holy Week is upon us. Are we ready?
*Cover Art “Palm Sunday” by Stushie Art; Used by subscription