Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What can we say March 28? Palm Sunday

   We’ve made Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday cute, admirable, joyous – missing how laughable and even ridiculous it had to have been. A king on a little donkey, not a war stallion like Bucephalus (Alexander the Great’s mount) – a borrowed donkey at that. Those following weren’t armed or rich or influential. Dreamers. William Placher mused that recently healed Bartimaeus was probably in the crowd. Martin Luther noticed Jesus road on “an animal of peace fit only for burden and labor. He indicates by this that he comes not to frighten anyone, nor to drive or crush anyone, but to help him and carry his burdens.”

  Pretty courageous, especially since Pilate had just marched his legions from Caesarea on the coast to Jerusalem to intimidate, to secure the city overcrowded at Passover. His stomping regiments, with arms clattering and banners waving high, heading east into the city could not have found a greater contrast that Jesus, donkey hooves clomping on the stone, children holding leafy branches in the air, heading west into the city. The perpetual clash of good and evil coming to its climax.

   They shout “Hosanna!” which isn’t cheering in church, but a prayer, a cry for help meaning “Save us now!” Mark alludes to the obscure Zechariah – who had given up on human rulers and prophesied that “On that day the Lord God will save them… Lo your king comes humble and riding on a donkey.” What foolish person would draw attention in such a meek, easily-mocked way? There is some mystery afoot here. And we begin to understand that Jesus never protects his own dignity, but is ready to fling it aside to love anybody.

  Imitating Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi strode directly into the jaws of danger. Joining the Crusaders in the battle of Damietta in 1219, he walked across No Man’s Land between the heavily armed Christians and the saber-rattling Muslims – unarmed, barefooted. He was so pitiful that, instead of butchering him, the soldiers hauled him to the sultan, Malik al-Kamil. Francis spent three days with him, befriending him, and bought peace in that region. Well, for a brief time.

   What is the homiletical takeaway? Go thou and so likewise? Hardly. We simply find ourselves in the crowd, excited yet with the hunch that a week of agony for this holy one is beginning. Just before Lent we observed the Transfiguration. No takeaway there. The disciples fell on their faces in awe. I dream of the sermon that has no moral, no lesson, but simply causes all of us to say Wow, Jesus is amazing, so courageous, so humble, so loving, so bold, so holy, so divine. That’s really enough, isn’t it?

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