First Evangelical Lutheran Church
March 29, 2015 Palm Sunday
WHO IS THIS?
David Lose, professor of homiletics at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, tells the story of participating in a Palm Sunday service with a congregation in downtown Washington, D.C. a few years back.. He says, On Palm Sunday, the tradition of the congregation is to march with palms, not simply around the sanctuary, but around the neighborhood and then return to the sanctuary … My initial response to participating in this march around the community was one of excitement. Having just heard the story of Jesus’ entry into the capitol city of Israel accompanied by his faithful disciples and hopeful crowds, I felt a rush of exuberance to be doing the same, lauding Jesus’ name and witnessing to our hope of salvation in him in our own capitol.
…The people we passed greatly outnumbered us…Most folks glanced our way for a moment and then returned their attention to the conversation or cup of coffee they had been enjoying. While a few folks smiled their encouragement, most of those who watched our progress for any length of time looked a tad puzzled, perhaps wondering what we were doing. No one, however, joined our pilgrimage or shouted out Hosanna.
Dr. Lose’s account of two crowds on a Palm Sunday mirrors the original account of Palm Sunday, because it is also an account of two groups of people, the crowds witnessing to their faith in Jesus and the city folk who are confounded by this procession. They watch and they ask the inevitable question, Who is this?
Who is this one hailed by peasants and lepers and cripples and prostitutes and day laborers as messiah? Who is this wandering peasant who rides into the city like a king? Who is this who immediately begins teaching in the temple as one who has authority? Who is this whose devoted followers soon turn on him, as the disciples disperse, his friend denies and the crowds accuse? Who is this who is tried by both the religious and political elite and found, not just wanting, but also threatening, an enemy to the establishment? Who is this who is dragged through the streets of Jerusalem and hauled to the execution grounds?
Who is this who is hung on a cross abandoned and forsaken? Who is this?
Jerusalem’s normal population was about 50,000, but grew to around 500,000 during Passover. People were coming and going out of Jerusalem by the thousands. It is little wonder that the city folk are confused. There is little in this procession that would have invited the curious to join in. Jesus rode a donkey, not a war horse, and was surrounded by a small group of out-of-town Passover pilgrims. He came not in power but in weakness, not in might but in vulnerability, not in judgment but in mercy, not in vengeance but in love. Nothing about him conforms to the expectations of a world that has come to believe above all things that might makes right or, at the very least, that might wins.
Jesus entered Jerusalem in obedience to the will of the Father in heaven. He told his followers three times that he would be arrested, tried, mocked, made to suffer, killed and raised from the dead. But it seems that on that first Palm Sunday they forgot what he said. They were caught up in the small crowd surrounding him, proclaiming, Hosanna to the one who comes in the name of the lord. They did not see the weakness, vulnerability, mercy or self-emptying love that rode in on a donkey that day.
Who is this? This is Jesus, the One we confess who died not to make it possible for God to love us, but to demonstrate that God already loves us, and that God’s love is our only hope. This is Jesus, the one we proclaim each week as messiah and lord, source of hope and healing. This is Jesus, the paradigm of God’s action in the world, whose story comes to a climax this week in order that our story might begin anew and afresh with the hope and promise of a good ending.
Who is this? This is not just the question of the day, it is the question of the week we call Holy and the question of the ages. Who is this? Week after week we answer that question in trust and confidence, raising our voices above the din of the culture to speak his name and point to God’s redemption. But perhaps, on this day, it is better that we don’t answer the question, but only ask it. Let us raise the question then ponder, and wonder, and pray about the answer, with the flawed and fickle crowds then and now. Let us find a way to bridge that gap between two crowds of people, those who believe and those who watch and wonder what the heck is going on. And let us ponder, wonder and pray about that this is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, who is also Christ the Lord.
To God be the glory.