The Way of Life and Peace

The readings for Palm Sunday:

I find Palm Sunday to be a day of emotional whiplash. We begin the service with a joyous parade to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and as we settle into our seats we transition so quickly to betrayal and death that I think we miss out on details of the entry that can teach us so much.

I get it – we do the whole week in one hour because we don’t expect everyone to attend all of the Holy Week services. So, please indulge me as I situate us in the moment and don’t rush ahead to what’s next. We’ll get to the final meal, arrest, and death soon enough.

Jesus’ itinerant ministry has reached far and wide in three years. His name is recognized and people travel from all over to hear him preach. People seek him out to heal their loved ones and friends. The religious leaders don’t know which is the greater threat to their power – stopping him or letting him continue. People who have been marginalized and told they aren’t worthy to be a part of a community have found belonging with Jesus while people in societal privilege are uncomfortable with his teachings.

Jesus’ closest followers have struggled to understand that the power of God’s kingdom isn’t the same as political power or societal privilege. They, too, even after living with him for three years, still expect the success of this ministry they’ve given up everything for to be measured by worldly standards instead of the ways of God’s Kingdom.

The story of Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem is told to us by all four of the good news writers: Faithful people from all over are gathering in the city of their faith for The Feast, Passover, the meal which God has instructed them to do every year in remembrance of God freeing them from the oppressive power of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Throughout his preaching and teaching, Jesus has told them that if they follow him, they will be free.
Free from those who think power and control are more important than relationship and love.
Free from our own egos that tempt us to seek retaliation rather than reconciliation.
Free from having to prove ourselves worthy to be loved because God loves us unconditionally.
Free from the competitive nature of this world that says we have to fight for all we can get because God has already given us the gift of everlasting life, the good life we are created for, here and now.
Free from the impossible task of measuring up to the world’s ever changing standards because in God’s Kingdom we are all heirs to all that God has.

They’ve been promised freedom. They’ve been promised life and peace. And yet, this man they want to believe in has no army, no weapons, no wealth. He must have something up his sleeve, right? He’ll save them. He says he can.

Jesus enters Jerusalem not with a pre-organized parade of religious leaders and government officials riding with him in the fanciest of carriages through the main gate, but on a simple donkey, unannounced, and through a side entrance. The so-called parade was a grassroots event of the people who recognized him and wanted to elevate him by the standards of the world’s view of leadership. With their coats and palm branches they attempted to create the pomp and circumstance the world would expect of a great leader.

These well-meaning folks chanted and sang, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Even seeing his less than spectacular entrance into Jerusalem, they still expected this man to operate in the same way as the current people in power over them.

And the anti-climatic ending to this final entry as the good news writer Mark tells it is almost comical, if it wasn’t so very tragic. “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Jesus knows this isn’t the climax of the story, that his entry and the days to come will be considered an utter failure by the world’s standards. Seen from a Kingdom view, however, it is triumphant because it upends every single world standard they knew then and that we know now … because that’s the whole point!

Following Jesus to the cross and beyond isn’t about the world’s standards. It isn’t about fitting Jesus into our way of doing things. We follow Jesus to learn to live as Kingdom People here and now, living the good life God created us to live.

When we rush past the story of this final entry, this Kingdom Triumph, we lose the opportunity to ask ourselves about where and how we set our own standards and expectations on God; to consider when do we try to make God into our own image instead of living into the image of God in all of us.

When we smash the week to come into an hour, we miss the lesson that enables us to see the Way of the Cross as the Way of Life and Peace. We stay bound by our own expectations and standards instead of letting Jesus set us free as Kingdom People.

Beloved children of God, don’t rush past the events of this coming week. Spend time walking with Jesus in the days before his death. Let Jesus shape your ideas of power and privilege. Participate in all of the Holy Week services, either in person if you are safe to do so or online. Don’t go straight to Easter because there can’t be a Resurrection without first being death. We can’t live in the freedom of the new life of Easter without allowing what comes before to transform our worldview to a Kingdom view on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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