Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015
There is something very wrong with this picture.
Kings are not supposed to be riding on donkeys. Queen Elizabeth rides in an open black carriage pulled by black horses and she waves a couple of fingers as she passes by her adoring subjects. Or she rides inside in long black limousine. President Obama rode to his inauguration in a whole motorcade of shiny black limos. Exactly two years ago now, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander became the new king of the Netherlands. I take note of things like this. He’s worth well over ten billion dollars and he’s one of the richest monarchs in the world, after Queen Elizabeth. I promise you he did not ride to his coronation on a borrowed donkey. And on his coronation day tens of thousands of people cheered and celebrated and the whole city of Amsterdam was all decked out for a grand celebration. All the royal families of Europe were there dressed in their finest, and many from other countries as well. (And had their pictures taken.) And I don’t even know the words to describe the fine clothing and the long fur cape and medallions that the new king wore.
Not like Jesus. The witnesses to his impromptu coronation were children and widows and homeless people and the poorest of the poor.
President Obama lives in the White House. Queen Elizabeth has no less than eight royal palaces and official residences. King Willem Alexander owns three palaces. Jesus was homeless. He wandered up and down the country wherever he was needed and he said himself that he didn’t have a place to lay his head at night.
So there’s something very wrong with this picture. That a king should ride on a borrowed donkey into his capital city. And that he should be surrounded by homeless people and that raggedy looking children with snotty noses and poor men and women should be the ones to cheer him.
But if we think about it for a moment, we understand. We’ve been camping out in the book of Luke for the past several weeks, and each Sunday we’ve been listening as Luke tells us a little more about who Jesus was. He was born in a barn and the first people who saw him were common, rough shepherds. He talked about God constantly and the Kingdom God but he was hated and feared by the religious leaders. The people who loved him were sick and homeless. They had been harassed for too long by Roman soldiers and thrown into poverty by the Roman government. They were desperate for some relief. He healed them and fed them and ate with the poorest of them. He cuddled children. He had long conversations with prostitutes and women were the heroes of many of his stories in a day when woman had no value at all. All of that we have learned from Luke in the past several weeks.
So we should not be surprised when they are the ones who are shouting and waving their tree branches on the day of his coronation. They shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna, Save us Save us,” which is what Hosanna means. Who else would there have been waving and shouting like that? Certainly not the religious leaders. Certainly not the rich Romans. Certainly not the tax collectors. Certainly not any of the Roman kings who were threatened by the thought of another, Jewish king trying to overthrow them. It was the people who loved him and owed their lives to his care who cheered him on his coronation day. They were the ones who had pinned their hopes on him and believed in the impossible.
But there’s more. We know how the story ends. We know that in five short days this king was dead. Betrayed by one of his inner circle. A combination of the religious leaders and the Romans staged a mock trial in the middle of the night. They had accused him of being the king of the Jews and of trying to overthrow the Roman government – a very serious charge. They stripped him naked and they beat him bloody. Somebody had found an old purple cloth and they draped it over his shoulders like kingly robe, in mockery. They made a crown of thorns and pressed it into his forehead until he bled. They forced him to walk to his own death, amid crowds of people and they executed him on a hill in public sight. Passersby stood and watched and gawked all day long for hours as he struggled to die. As though it were some kind of media event.
But we also know this about Jesus: that he was the Son of God. Luke has also told us that these last few weeks. The voice of God spoke twice in his life powerfully: “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” He was the very son of God. There he was, sitting with God wherever heaven is, in the eons and eons before anybody started counting time, hovering over the nothingness and watching and participating while God created everything there is from all that nothingness. Watching God fling the galaxies upon galaxies into their places, and the universes we have yet to discover and count and name. Watching while God flung the sun and the moon into their places. Watching the oceans appear, watching the dry land come into sight. There and participating as God put into the place the natural order that governs the tiniest of us. Mighty. Powerful. Sharing in the magnificent mystery of it all, beside his father. That is Jesus also. That’s the Son of God who is riding into the capital city on a borrowed donkey amid the cheers of outcasts. He’s the son of God. That’s the man who was betrayed and beaten bloody and accused of being a king and executed.
And that’s the Jesus we read about in our first lesson for today.
In the years just after his death his earliest followers sat in their homes together worshipping on the first day of the week. They sat, maybe twenty of so of them in their homes all over Greece and Turkey and beyond in little family groups. They sang and prayed and read scripture together and they ate bread and drank juice and remembered his death as he taught them to.
And they recited a creed together – the creed we have read this morning. They recited that Jesus was the Son of God, fully entitled to all the glory of God and the grandeur of God and the power of God and all the perks of being God. But that he willingly relinquished that power, and came to this earth, as slave of the poorest and lowliest and sickest. And died doing that. But that God exalted him from the humility of his life and the shame of his death. And in their homes in Greece and Turkey those early Christians recited the rest of the story - that they and we and millions with us in every time and place would bow down to the risen Jesus, and confess that he is Lord of our lives.
And that’s how the story really ends. That’s how the story continues. Three days after his death, on the first day of the week, he came back to life again, in the power of God. And now he lives with God at his rightful place in heaven, wherever heaven is, for the eons and eons of time to come. Hovering over the world he created in love and pity and power. And all over the world people of every race and every language and every country – rich and poor, men, women and children, offer their lives in obedience to their king. They offer what is best and strongest and brightest and most creative about themselves. They offer every minute of every day of every week to be slaves in his service. That’s the end of the story. That’s how the story really ends. That’s how the story continues. That’s what those early Christians recited a few years after his death. That’s what we are a grand and glorious part of today in Rockford, Michigan.
And we are beginning to ask ourselves in Rockford, Michigan: How can this church be a part of that upside down, unpredictable, grand and glorious kingdom? What almost impossible thing will this church do next for this Savior we claim as our king?