We have just read the entire Passion of our Lord. But I want us to take a step back to Palm Sunday, to find ourselves with Jesus and the disciples, outside of Jerusalem, awaiting the final chapter of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
We are reading through the Gospel of Luke this year, and the Palm Sunday reading is a little different from the readings in Mark and Matthew. There are no palms, actually. No hosannas, either. And the crowd that cheers Jesus on is not the crowd of locals that will soon shout “Crucify!”, but a large group of Jesus’ own disciples.
These disciples have been with Jesus along his journey, they have heard him speak of Jerusalem and of his own death over and over again, and yet they are still caught up in the moment, caught up in the memory of all the wonderful things they have seen Jesus do. Together, they praise God in one voice, shouting
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
The disciples love Jesus, and are glad that God sent Jesus to them, but you get the sense here that they are still wrapped up in the idea of Jesus as an earthly king who is going to rise up against the Romans and bring the Jewish people back to political power.
Jesus does not rebuke them, or try to finesse their expectations. He knows that even if they have the details wrong, their impulse to praise God is a good impulse.
The disciples are going to go through a huge emotional and spiritual journey. They are going to experience the death of their friend and king and have to reframe their entire experience with Jesus. They are going to have to grieve the loss of what they thought would be, and experience the wonder of the risen Jesus on their own terms.
And, to me, at least, there is something really beautiful about Jesus allowing them to have their joy and their hope, even if the joy and hope is misdirected. In fact, Jesus tells the Pharisees that if his followers did not praise him stones would cry out in their place.
Praising God, as Martha Stewart might say, is a good thing. Jesus trusts himself enough, and trusts his Father enough, to know that Jesus’ death and resurrection will speak for themselves. Jesus does not have to persuade or convince his disciples with words. The very act of his resurrection will be enough to make them understand that Jesus’ kingship was never about earthly power, but about changing spiritual reality. For now, it is enough that his followers praise him and his Father. Their praise does not have to express a perfectly formed and correct theological thought.
We, too, get wrapped up in hoping Jesus will do things for us in this world. I’ve known people who swore God provided them parking spaces. We all know sports teams, actors, and musicians who credit their award winning performances to God. (My husband swears some of those shots Butler made Thursday night in the NCAA tournament had to be helped by the Holy Spirit.) People certainly said their prayers one way or the other during the last election and during last week’s Health Care Reform vote. Those prayers may have been meaningful or superficial; they may reflect gratitude for something God has no interest in whatsoever! But the impulse to praise God, the impulse to give God credit for our successes is a good one.
When we praise God, we point to something true about God. We point to God as creator, provider, caretaker, redeemer, savior. And the more we praise God, the more we will come to realize that our praise of God can come independent of our personal circumstances. The reality of God’s faithfulness is the reality of the resurrection. God offers us new life whether we are getting parking spots or not, whether our sports team wins or not, whether our political party is in power or not. Jesus’ death and resurrection apply to our lives no matter how rich or how poor we are, no matter how happy or sad we are. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is so important to our souls that it transcends any other circumstances in our lives.
So, this Holy Week, we invite you to join us as we follow Jesus’ story in Jerusalem. We invite you to experience the last supper, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ glorious resurrection. And we trust that whatever is going on in your life, the good news of God’s resurrection will make you want to praise God, too.