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A Triumphal Entry?

A Sermon by Matthew A. Rich
Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church
Palm Sunday
March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11

Our New Testament Text for today comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 11, verses 1-11. Jesus has been making his way toward Jerusalem for sometime now. Along the way he has continued to heal and teach the crowds, he has predicted his death three different times, and most recently he has healed the blind beggar Bartimaeus in Jericho. Bartimaeus identifies Jesus as “Son of David” a royal title that Jesus does not deny. After leaving Jericho by the Dead Sea, Jesus begins to climb the hills toward Jerusalem. As he approaches the holy city, he first comes to the Mount of Olives, near Bethphage and Bethany. The road from the Mount of Olives leads directly into the city and the temple. It is here that we join the story. Let us hear this word of God.

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It all seemed to be going so well! Jesus and the disciples are approaching Jerusalem. They will arrive in time for the Passover festival. A large crowd had joined them in Jericho. As they drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, Jesus sets the plan in motion. He sends two disciples into the village to find a colt. They find the colt exactly as Jesus said and they relay to the bystanders exactly what Jesus told them to say. No one gave them any trouble. They bring the colt to Jesus and he sits down on it. People put their coats on the ground. Some leafy branches that had been precut in the fields were spread on the ground as well. The crowd joined in a traditional psalm of ascent used when approaching Jerusalem, shouting out:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Yes, it all seemed to be going so well, everything according to plan - a perfect triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Presbyterian poet Ann Weems describes the scene this way, drawing some images from Luke’s account of this day we know as Palm Sunday.

We’re good at planning!
Give us a task force
and a project
and we’re off and running!
No trouble at all!
Going to the village and finding the colt,
even negotiating with the owners
is right down our alley.
And how we love a parade!
In a frenzy of celebration
we gladly focus on Jesus
and generously throw our coats
and palms in his path.
And we can shout praise
loudly enough
to make the Pharisees complain.
It’s all so good!

Yes, we love a parade and we love to see a good plan come together. It all seems to be going so well! Jesus and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But then the whole thing comes screeching to a halt. “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

What? He looked around at everything in the temple like a tourist with a guidebook and then headed back to Bethany? Bethany - the village outside Jerusalem where the celebratory parade began? In Matthew and Luke’s telling of this day, Jesus enters the city, goes to the temple, and starts turning over the moneychangers’ tables. In John’s Gospel the Pharisees declare that the whole cosmos, the whole world has gone after Jesus. But here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus takes a brief sight-seeing tour of the temple and goes back to Bethany. Talk about raining on the parade.

It reminds me of a time when I was just a child, probably five or six. While visiting my grandparents in Cincinnati, OH, we went to the King’s Island amusement park. It the first trip I remember to such a place and I was determined I was going to ride my first roller coaster. So we picked out one that had a single loop de loop. It started fairly high and there was a long winding staircase to reach the place where you loaded into the cars.

I was so excited. At the bottom of that staircase I talked a mile a minute. Everyone and everything was fair game. Non-stop. My father and grandfather could not get a word in. But as we climbed higher and higher, as I listened to the screams and shouts of those riding the coaster ahead of us, my tongue began to quiet. By the time I got to the top of the staircase, I was still determined, but I was terrified.

I climbed aboard the coaster, gripped by father’s hand so tightly, and we set off. Down the hill, around the loop, and up the other side. As we coasted to a halt, I smiled because I had made it. It had not been that bad. Actually it had been a great ride!

And then … the coaster … started … moving backwards! The fun came to a screeching halt! It had not occurred to my little brain that the ride was not just down the track, around the loop, and stop. No, you had to do the whole thing again, but this time backwards! Everything had been going so well, all according to plan. But backwards! Talk about raining on the parade!

In the same way, I think most of us have an idea in our minds about what Palm Sunday is supposed to be. As a church we do as well. It takes great planning to be sure that we have palm branches, and brass, and multiple choirs, and ushers and bulletins outside so we can begin on the lawn. Yes, this is a triumphant day, a day of celebration, a day well planned!

And then we actually read the text from Mark and it seems that all comes to a screeching halt. Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd fades away, he goes to the temple, looks around, checks his watch and sees that it is late, and he goes back to Bethany. Life went on without interruption. Jerusalem barely noticed that Jesus had arrived.

So what do we do with all of that? What do we do when life does not go the way we think it is supposed to go? What happens when we shout, “Hosanna!” which literally means, “Save us now!” and the response we hear is “not yet, not now, wait for a little longer.” Yes, what happens when the parade comes to a screeching halt?

Sometimes we have to go back to Bethany and come back again tomorrow. We have to follow Jesus down the unexpected twists and turns of this path of discipleship. And my friends, that is not always easy. I suspect for you, as it is for me, that the delay, the unexpected waiting, presents one of the chief challenges to faith. For we live in a world where we want to have it all now, exactly the way we desire. So to hear, “not yet, not now, wait for a little longer,” can be so hard. As the concluding lines of Ann Weems’ poem about Palm Sunday go:

It’s between parades that
we don’t do so well.
From Sunday to Sunday
we forget our hosannas.
Between parades
the stones will have to shout
because we don’t.

As part of the parade, we want to take the reins of that donkey and lead Jesus where we need him, where we want him, where we know he is supposed to be, but Jesus brings all that to a screeching halt. As Mark tells the story of Palm Sunday, we are reminded that this “Triumphal Entry” is triumphant only for those who do not know what is to come. Palm Sunday is not a little Easter of celebration, but the first in a series of steps that Jesus is taking toward death on the cross. This city that barely noticed his arrival is not a city of triumph for Jesus, but a place of hostility, controversy, and death. Tomorrow morning Jesus will return to the city and stir up its inhabitants by turning over the moneychangers’ tables and teaching against the leadership of the temple. Jesus’ looking around the temple today merely sets the stage for the controversies that are to come. Soon there will be no ignoring this prophet from Galilee, indeed the disruption will be so great that it will lead to death. The coming of Jesus to Jerusalem means trouble – this will not be a peaceful Passover.

And yet, Jesus has a plan, he is in control of both the parade and the delay. We want salvation now, the celebration to begin today. But sometimes the colt goes around in circles, the roller coaster starts moving backwards, and the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. There is no doubt that salvation, resurrection, and Easter morning will come. But they come in God’s time, not ours.

May God grant us the patience and the faith to walk, to wait, to turn over this Holy week to the one who knows the way from Bethany to Golgotha, from a Garden Tomb to Galilee, and from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. For you can be sure that somewhere along that way, our Lord will come to visit you. And all will be well. Yes, all will be well.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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