ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                          PALM SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2013


Isaiah 55: 12 & 13; Psalm 118: 19 – 29; Luke 19: 28 – 40

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

When my daughter was young I took her and her girlfriend to Toronto to see The Backstreet Boys at what’s now called the Air Canada Centre.  The place was full.  I entered a building with 30,000 hysterical “tweens”.  I’d been warned to bring ear plugs as the volume of the music would be extreme.  I did.  I wore them all evening.  I still heard every note and every last word.   I was sure my ear drums would be bleeding by the end of the night.  However not everyone shared my discomfort.  Lots of them added to the noise with shouting and screeching.  I wanted to stand up and yell, “Quiet” but my voice would have been lost like a speck of dust on a vast beach.  I guess there are just some things that can’t be stopped.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem was one of those things.  When Jesus was a couple miles from the city, he sent his disciples to fetch a young colt which had never been ridden.   This detail is important.  Unlike the other gospel writers who speak of Palm leaves and such, Luke carefully mentions only what presents Jesus as the Messiah.   Military victors rode into cities on horses; they returned home to parades of palms; riding a smaller beast announced Jesus was coming in peace.  The inexperience of the colt was significant because in their sacred rituals the Jews only used animals that were pure and had not been used for another purpose; again Luke is saying Jesus’ purpose was a sacred one. He was coming from God.  He was a spiritual liberator.  Jesus was confrontational, radical, even revolutionary but his zeal wasn’t political, it was Divine.   His goal wasn’t domination of nations, it was the transformation of hearts.

When the disciples returned, “they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it” (Luke 19: 36).   Notice how completely passive Jesus is.  This seems to be another indication that he wasn’t grabbing at power for himself, but was accepting the role of Messiah that God had called him too.  As they entered the city, “people kept spreading their cloaks on the ground” (vs. 36)  Although they weren’t wearing Gucci or Armani, the people were so honouring of Jesus that they gave the little clothing they owned to create for him the equivalent of a “red carpet”.  They held him in high esteem and wanted to show it.  He was greeted like a celebrity or a returning hero or royalty.  The message was clear, Jesus was the superstar of the day.    To add to this fuss “the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen.” (vs. 37).  That single sentence tells us a lot.   This is a massive gathering of people – a multitude.  And they were all disciples of Jesus.  We know they weren’t all part of his inner circle or even his regular entourage, but there was a huge number of people who had been touched by his message, or heard of his healings or changed by him in some way.   They believed in him.  They were his devotees. They had witnessed many deeds of power.  And they were enthused.  They were on fire!  They praised God joyfully with a loud voice.  They were creating quite a festive ruckus.  It was a flash street party; hundreds, maybe thousands of people ecstatic about the man on the colt.    He was their King, their saviour, sent by God.  Because of Jesus there was “peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven” (vs. 38).  It was a moment of mass clarity and communal worship; a loud, exciting, attention getting event.

But of course, when people are having a great time there’s often some party-pooper who tries to bring them down a notch.  In this case there were “some Pharisees in the crowd”.    Luke is the only gospel writer who makes mention of these men.  All my life I was taught and believed that they were enemies of Jesus who were jealous of his success and out to get him.  As the story unfolds it’s clear the majority of Pharisees did want Jesus dead.  Last week we looked at this passage in Bible study and I noticed something that shocked me.  Luke had just made a point of telling us the crowd was made up of Jesus’ disciples.   Was it possible that these few Pharisees were followers of Jesus?  They refer to him as “teacher” which is a title that indicates he is their spiritual master.  We know that Nicodemus was a Pharisee who had sought out Jesus to be “born again”.  Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, the man who provided the tomb for Jesus’ body, was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court similar to our Presbytery.    John wrote, “Nevertheless, many, even of the ranks of the leaders (i.e. the Sanhedrin) believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.”  (John 12: 42).   It seems that all Pharisees and religious leaders have been unfairly painted with the same brush.    So if we can open our minds to the idea that the Pharisees in the crowd on Palm Sunday were followers of Jesus, our understanding of the story shifts.  It would seem they weren’t out “to get” Jesus, they were trying to protect him.  Find that hard to believe?  Luke 13:31 tells us this wasn’t the first time.  We’re told, “At that very hour, some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  As faithful followers of Christ they had previously warned Jesus about this impending mortal danger.  Here again, as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messiah, they seem to be warning him.  All this hysteria from the masses was bound to attract the wrong kind of attention.  Both Herod and the majority of the Pharisees and the Council were already plotting to kill him.  They are fearful for Jesus.  And they’re probably fearful for themselves.  Being put out of the synagogue would be shame enough, but if this Jesus-mania got any more out of hand, they could land in prison – or worse.  So they suggest to Jesus that he tell the crowd to tone it down.  “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” (vs. 39)  Jesus responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (vs. 40).  In other words, there’s no stopping this.  This joyful praise of God was going to happen one way or the other.  If the people didn’t hail their Messiah, then creation would.    This praise was uncontrollable.  It was a cosmic moment of worship.

That’s such a new way of understanding this passage that it may take a lot to get your head around it and form a new paradigm.  Reading this scripture more carefully made me reflect on my many assumptions and biases.   It’s reminded me of how quickly we can put people into a group and fail to see them as individuals. So I’ve had to repent of the negative stereotypes I’ve had of all Pharisees and it’s got me reflecting on other ways I may dismiss people. But that isn’t my primary point.  This insight raises other questions.

If we had been there when Jesus took that historic ride into Jerusalem, would we have had the same excitement and enthusiasm as the crowd that day?  Would we be joyfully praising God with a loud voice for the great deeds of power he has done in our lives?   To do celebrate those deeds we need to recognize the presence of Christ’s Spirit when he comes to us.  Do we?   In our lives today they often come in small but sometimes amazing ways.  A woman in the congregation told a Bible Study group about being in a movie theatre by herself.  She had brought a book to fill the time before the film started and was in the lobby. A young woman commented and they had a brief encounter.  Then as she was coming out of the washroom the same young woman approached her and said, “I’m a Christian and God is telling me to pray for you.  Is there something you would like me to pray about?”  The woman responded, “Well, I am lonely.”  And the girl quietly said a prayer for her.  This meant so much to the woman that she was sure the girl was an Angel.  How differently things would have unfolded had either of them said “no” to God.  Are we open to Christ when he enters the gates of our lives?  When you come into church each week to worship are you bursting with joy and excitement because your Saviour has come to you?  Are you is awe because sometime in the last week God has touched your life showing his love to you?  What is the one sweeping deed that God has done in your life that fills you with gratitude?

Or perhaps we are grateful but we’ve been told not to express our joy too loudly.  When my step-daughter’s kids were small and they got rowdy in the house, she would say to them, “Use your inside the house voice.”  They are now pre-teens and while they don’t yell in the house, they do verbalize every thought that runs through their heads.  She now tells them to “Use your inside your head voice”.  Somewhere along the way Christians have gone from the wild joy and hope of Palm Sunday to expressing our faith within the walls of our buildings with our “inside voice”.  We’ve put a lid on our joy.   Many of us have stories from childhood of sitting in church in frozen positions.  The outside authority of parents or clergy burned deeply into our souls and left a scar. Church is meant to be the place where we feel most free, not most restricted.  When worshipping our hearts should overflow with joy leading us to sing at the top of our voices, to clap, to lift our hands if we want to, to laugh with joy and celebrate our Saviour.

Finally, the passage makes us ask how fearful are we?  In a world which is increasingly hostile to our faith we have started to use our “inside your head voice”.   What we think and believe is kept to ourselves.   We want Jesus to keep a low profile so we can feel safe.   When Jesus entered Jerusalem he knew he wasn’t safe; he knew the cheering crowd was endangering him further and yet he went and he didn’t stop the crowd.  He allowed things to unfold as they were intended by God.  Our calling is not to be safe or to be comfortable, but to go with the flow of God’s unfolding will, sharing and living the good news of Jesus, the Messiah.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem invites us to celebrate the one who “comes in the name of the Lord”. (vs. 38).  As much as I’d like to see the stones shouting Christ’s praise, I’d much rather it came from us.  One thing we know is that it will come.  The worship of Christ is unstoppable.