A Fleeting Moment

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Luke 19:29-40


19:29 “When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:29-40, NRSV)


Let us pray: Holy One, you are our strength in suffering and our hope for salvation, we pray that you will lift up your Word of life and pour out your Spirit of grace so that we may follow faithfully on the way to the cross; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Today is Palm Sunday—the day when HOPE paraded into Jerusalem riding on a colt.  World-shattering Hope rides into Jerusalem and the world will never be the same.  Jesus is that hope and we just read about how he arrived in a parade, on that first Palm Sunday.   Remember parades.   Everybody loves a parade.  People gather on the sides of the street to watch the bands march by, to welcome heroes’ home from war, to celebrate champions and often they are an excuse to have a good time.  While other parades are to mourn, like last summer’s huge motorcade of law enforcement from all over the region, who came to follow the hearse as it processed up Montgomery Road mourning the death of Cincinnati Police Officer Sunny Kim.


Remember the last parade you went to. Was it the Opening Day Parade last year? Or was it St. Patrick’s Day Parade? Or Bokfest? Or maybe it was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City or the Village Fourth of July Parade. Remember all the people, all the excitement, the pomp and circumstance?


Now, the story of Palm Sunday is a parade of sorts for Jesus.  It is a story we know all too well.  The story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem and huge crowds joyfully welcoming him into the city as the long awaited king, as their Messiah.  This parade was more the celebratory type, people shouting, singing, welcoming Jesus. They sang from Psalm 118 about the one coming in the name of their beloved King David. They sang praises to God for giving them this promised king, the one who would lead them.


Because it is a familiar story to us it is hard to realize how unlikely this procession into Jerusalem really is.   It was a strange event.  Strange because the crowd gets it right as they hail Jesus as the Messiah.   Strange because even as the crowd is correct in celebrating the entrance of the Messiah, they also miss the point — the crowds want him to be a Messiah who leads them to victory without pain or sacrifice.  But the strangest aspect of this story is that Jesus seems to have deliberately orchestrated this procession himself.


It is strange because it seems so out of character for him.  Why would Jesus draw all the attention to himself?  When so much of his ministry he commands people to tell no one about what they have witnessed or seen.  So why does Jesus encourage the crowd to worship him when they really have no understanding why they were doing it?  Why would he set the stage to be hailed as the Messiah, when he knows what is ahead of him in the days to come.  Jesus surely knew what was in their hearts.  He surely knew their lack of understanding.   He certainly knew what lay ahead of him in the week ahead.


It strikes me that we are not so different from that first Palm Sunday crowd. We focus on the parade, Jesus triumphal entry and the palm branches …because it spares us the agony of what lies ahead for Jesus.  The sorrow of knowing that Judas will betray him for money.  The disappointment that Peter, the rock, the beloved disciple, will deny that he even knows Jesus three times.  We focus on the parade because it spares us the sight of his closest followers, the disciples fleeing when he is arrested.  We focus on the parade because it feels much better than the horror of the week ahead.  We focus on the parade so we can stay happy and skip to the glory of Easter.  It would be so nice and tidy if Jesus just stopped here at the parade and basked in the glory of this day!


So, Jesus, the great teacher, is helping them and by extension us to learn something important.  Even though they did not understand the full significance of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day, maybe by participating they may come to understand.  W. H. Auden once wrote: “Human beings are by nature actors, who cannot become something until first they have pretended to be it. They are therefore to be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane, who know they are acting, and the mad who do not.”[1]  As he entered Jerusalem that fateful day Jesus may not have been so concerned with rooting out hypocrisy or with rewarding sincerity, but instead with showing the truth.  Jesus may have been providing this crowd of people the opportunity to be part of something so that they could in return become it.  Perhaps they were pretending to be his disciples, his followers, his worshipers, all celebrating his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and into their hearts.


You know that we are no different.   Every Sunday we stage a little drama here in worship.   We begin, as this Holy Week begins, with praise and worship of God.  We call each other to worship, and we sing the praises of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Then we also speak words of confession.   We act out our penitence and we affirm our forgiveness.  We share with one another the peace of Christ in a ritualized, dramatic way — extending the hand of fellowship and even speaking the words, “the peace of Christ, be with you and also with you.”  Then we sit quietly and listen — or at least act as if we’re listening — to the reading of scripture and sermon (the teaching) of the Word of God.  We show our thankfulness as we place offerings in the offering plate.   We sing of our commitment and of our changed lives.   We gather around the Lord’s Table and break bread and share one cup.   Every Sunday is full of drama.


Some weeks you may not exactly understand what you are saying or singing.  Some weeks your heart may not be in some parts of the service.   But, just as Auden wrote, “human beings are by nature actors, who cannot become something until first they have pretended to be it.”  Pretend.  Act the part.  Play at praising, at repenting, at committing.   Keep on pretending or acting because we learn to worship God by worshiping[2].


But Just like Palm Sunday is not the end of the story for Jesus we too must complete the drama.   It’s easy to move through the praise section and drop out when it comes to the costly acts of confession, making peace, hearing the Word, giving money, making promises.   If you want to become Jesus’ faithful disciples, you have to stay in the drama until the end.  You have to play your part all the way through.  You have to keep pretending until someday it’s not pretend anymore.  That day when we become what we were pretending to be.


Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Laura Smit, A Sermon on Luke 19:28-40 for Palm/Passion Sunday preached at First Presbyterian Church of Clayton, New Jersey on April 9, 1995.

[2] Reverend Laura Smit, A Sermon on Luke 19:28-40 for Palm/Passion Sunday preached at First Presbyterian Church of Clayton, New Jersey on April 9, 1995.

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