The End of the Journey – Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009
Zechariah 9:9-10, Luke 19:28-44
April 5, 2009
When I was student pastor right down the road at the Macalestor-Torresdale Church, Al Bauer was the pastor there. Maybe some of you remember him. What a great guy! He used to ride a motorcycle all over the Northeast! Well, Al, had a favorite saying which was on a poster on his wall. It said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” (I know he loved his “two wheel” journey!)
A journey is a well used metaphor for this life. And I think it’s a great one! I think all of us can look back on our lives and see ourselves as moving forward along a time line. We talk about our lives in that way, too. We ask “where have you come from in your life?” And “Where are you going?” Those are journey-oriented kinds of expressions. So a “walk with God,” is a great metaphor for the Christian experience. Maybe you’ve heard someone refer to the life of faith as the “Christian walk.”
There’s a great painting that hangs in the parlor at my home Church. It’s a large picture. And in it, Jesus is with of his disciples and they’re walking along a road. And you can tell they’re talking and sharing stories together. It might even be about the Road to Emmaus. I’d have to look closer. But I often remember that picture – that’s what’s in my head – when I think about the journey of faith. I have that image of walking along the road with Jesus.
I hope you have a similar image. I hope that you can imagine Jesus in some form walking beside you – just as you might be walking with a friend along a road somewhere. And as you think of the path your life has taken, perhaps you can think of places where your path has split, where you’ve left Jesus along that road and walked a different way. And then maybe you can think of times when those paths have converged and when you have walked closer with him.
That’s what we’re thinking about this Lenten season. “A Closer Walk.” That’s what we’re seeking. I’ve been challenging us to live our lives of faith every day with Jesus beside us, walking together as friends, and being intentional about that walk, avoiding as much as we can those times we might be prone to wandering off that path. If you want a good mental image, go back and read again that story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. (That’s the last chapter.) Imagine that journey with Jesus as your own.
As we think of that journey of faith today, we can also think of Jesus’ life and ministry as a journey. And it all leads up to this story we have for today. And as these events unfolded in Jerusalem, it looked like there would soon be an end to that journey. Because we cannot think of Palm Sunday without thinking of Holy Week. And as that week came to a close, there was an end, wasn’t there? But of course, there would also be a brand new beginning! I hope to see all of you here next week when we celebrate that new beginning!
I thought about calling this message “The end of the road.” But that really has a different meaning doesn’t it. That old expression implies a kind of finality that this story doesn’t have. When the sheriff in the old Western movie said to the bad guy, “It’s the end of the road for you!” we know what that meant! But that’s not the same as Holy Week. Yes, a lot ended here. There were dreams dashed to pieces. Hopes were crushed. There was a huge sense of loss and defeat and fear. It seemed like the end of the journey. But it wasn’t “the end of the road.”
As we remember this story of Palm Sunday, I want us to try to see how it reached the climax that it did. Jesus’ long journey of the last three years had now led him back to Jerusalem. The disciples recognized the danger of such a move. Jerusalem was the central city of Judaism, and it was the center of the opposition to his ministry. They feared the worst. When Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem, Peter said, “Ok, let us go to that we may die with him!” But as he approached, Jesus’ incredible popularity ruled the day. This last journey became a procession, then soon a parade. Many considered it to be a royal procession! The people wanted their revolution. They hailed Jesus as “King of the Jews.” And it was quite a scene!
Last year we witnessed a similar kind of procession. Whether it was in person, or on TV, we watched the parade down Broad Street, and we hailed our conquering heroes of baseball! And I’d like to think that this procession on Palm Sunday had some of those same feelings! Now certainly the central figures were different, and maybe it wasn’t quite the mob scene. But there was great excitement over this Jesus! And maybe those peoples actions and their shouts proclaiming Jesus as king were just as audacious as some of the more rowdy people on Broad Street! Especially in the presence of the Romans – who were certainly there! There were no cars to “turn over,” but maybe those people were ready to flip over some chariots! (or at least a few camels!)
There was great excitement over Jesus to be sure! And remember, Jesus set this whole thing up. Each of Gospel writers gives the story of how Jesus obtained his “ride” that day. There is no doubt that Jesus set this up as a procession. He didn’t just say to his disciples, “Ok boys let’s just slip into the city unnoticed.” “Let’s keep a low profile!” “There could be trouble!” And I love this next little part of the story that’s recorded by Luke. This emphasizes that Jesus wanted it all to happen this way.
There is great excitement. The people are shouting. They’re waving the palms. And the Pharisees are there, ever watching over Jesus, trying in vain to “keep him in line.” But this is all too much for them. This is the worst they’ve ever had to deal with. So they don’t try to undermine him. They don’t contradict what’s happening or issue any challenge. They simply say, “Stop.” They say, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” (And Isn’t it interesting that they are actually acknowledging Jesus to be a teacher – a rabbi, though maybe in a sarcastic way?) And Jesus answers them with this wonderful little line, “I tell you, if these people were silent, the very stones would cry out!” In other words, “What your seeing here is right.” “It’s supposed to happen this way.” “It’s ordained by God!” “And you couldn’t stop the celebration even if you did stop the shouting!”
What an incredible moment. I often wonder what those Pharisees did at that point. Did they stay and watch? Did they turn leave right away? Did they go immediately and plot Jesus’ murder? We don’t know. But there was no doubt now that the end was coming. There was no turning back. The stage was set for the final scene.
We often point out the irony of this story. You’ve heard it said that Jesus was riding a donkey which was the symbol of a king coming to make peace. While at the same time, the people hailed him as a conquering hero, as though that donkey were a war horse. You’ve heard me say that they were doing and saying the same things the people did several hundred years earlier when Judas Maccabees came riding into the city in triumph. You’ve heard me say how the people were really missing the point. And that’s true! But still, I don’t want us to miss the excitement of this scene. Just because Jesus was giving them a different message that did not diminish the importance of that triumphant ride! This is real! There was no mistake! This was planned! Jesus saw to all the details. He meant it to happen this way. Luke emphasizes that by recording his words, “If these people were silent, the very stones would cry out!”
That’s amazing! And that makes even more dramatic his final words here. As he approached the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that even now you knew the things that make for peace!” Though all this was intentional, Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus knew that the people didn’t get it. He knew that it wasn’t a worldly revolution the people needed. It was a spiritual one. Throwing off the Roman occupation was nothing in comparison! And to emphasize that, Jesus ended this procession by going, not to the seat of government to receive the crown, but to the Temple. And he went, not to receive a crown there, either, but instead to take up a whip, and drive out the worldly elements from that holy place. And if you think about it, wasn’t the cleansing of the Temple symbolic of the cleansing of the people’s lives – and ours as well? What are those elements of worldly power and wealth in our lives that get in the way of our faith?
We hail Jesus king. But the question is, King of what? Has he simply won the battle for us? Or has he called us into the holiness he wanted from the people that day in the temple? And in that struggle, in our lives of faith, in that striving for a closer walk with him, do we know his very presence with us and beside us? Or are we “ok with” the revolution as long as it doesn’t demand too much of us?
We should rejoice on Palm Sunday. We should wave the palms. We should shout the Hosannas. But we should also take this time to be sure what it is we are celebrating. Because, like that first Palm Sunday, whatever it is we think of this scene, to be sure it is so much more.
Eternal God, we look back at the life and ministry of Jesus and we are amazed at the things that happened. Help us to know and to understand and to picture vividly these events. Help us to know Jesus is walking beside us in this life, and to be willing to follow where he leads us. For we pray in his name, Amen.