A sermon for Palm Sunday, Luke 19:38-40
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
Jesus enters into the great city of Jerusalem today in the same way he has engaged in all of his ministry leading up to this point, by turning expectations on their ear, by challenging the narrative that will be told about him, by absorbing a moment that even if the people were silenced, the stones themselves would shout out. This is our Lord. This is our king. The people cannot contain themselves in shouting praise, in glorifying the presence of the Lord in their midst. The people cannot contain themselves because triumph and victory are in their grasp, even if they are unaware that this triumph and victory are not what they are expecting.
It’s the theme really of this holy week: changing narrative, challenging expectation. It’s a theme that tasks us with paying attention to what is really happening in any given moment. It’s a theme that asks us to see the work of Christ anew. It’s a theme that will become for us a foundational aspect of our faith, and it is found in this ending and beginning of our faith. And, to understand the lasting impact of this week, it helps to look beyond this week to those early days following Christ’s life and ministry as the church began to find its footing and form the understandings of our faith that we still adhere to today.
Paul writes to us today, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This is a mind that “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” This is a mind that “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” I want to reiterate this point here, it wasn’t just that Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, but that he became obedient to even death on a cross. A death that was humiliating. A death that was filled with pain and torture. A death that would mock his very personhood, that would literally place a label above his head of the expectations that the world put upon him, even as those expectations were the furthest from reality. This is an act of humbling that goes far deeper than simply giving ourselves over to God. This is an act of total trust, of total faith and belief that what was to be accomplished in this moment was something greater than even he could comprehend.
And in this humbling, this personal restraint from exercising his equality with God, we are told that now at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, every tongue confess, not just those knees and tongues who greet him riding into Jerusalem this morning.
But, it’s not like we arrive at this point from Paul easily. It’s not like the experiences of this week turned as quickly as we will from rejoicing to mourning to rejoicing once more. For those shouting out to Christ today, “Blessed and Peace!,” there is a hunger, an expectation, a hope to be fulfilled, that will be fulfilled, but not in any manner that they or we could have ever expected. And, this is again because Christ has come to change the narrative, to challenge our expectations.
The language of Lord, the reception of Christ as king as he rides into Jerusalem, was understood then as we understand them now in our common secular vernacular to signify earthly power and authority. But, that was never Christ’s intention. This is not why Christ rides into Jerusalem today. This is why we borrows someone’s donkey. This is why he tells the authorities that even the stones would shout out, because he isn’t there to take over earthly authority and power, his life and purpose and authority is deeper, is connected deeper to the very fabric of our creation.
It is important to dwell on this point for a moment, because I think that it speaks to the fact that the very reality of the world is shifting in this moment. As Christ enters triumphantly on the back of a borrowed donkey, with cloaks laid before him by all of those who only have those cloaks to offer, there is something shifting in the creation. Even if he could quite the crowds (which is probably a big if, for something special is happening in this moment), that wouldn’t stop the very earth from crying out in praise to what is happening in this moment, through Christ’s existence, through what Christ is preparing to accomplish in this place. Creation itself is recognizing that there is something different happening, that the narrative of the life of a prophet will forever be altered, that our expectations for what it means for Christ to be with us will fundamentally shift, and in so doing, fundamentally shift the reality that creation has known up to this point.
And understanding all of this, that Christ is different, that Christ will not be what they expect, the people cry out in praise and joy. The people cry out because he is different. He is not like all the others who have come before. They just haven’t yet fully grasped what that will mean. In many ways, we still struggle with what this means.
That’s what happens when the narrative is changed and our expectations are challenged.
We are a creation that very much likes understanding what is happening, what is going to happen, what should happen. We don’t like to be surprised, at least not too much. And yet, here we are called to live into a life like Christ that shakes us to our very core and asks us to look at the world through a different lens. To change the inherited narrative of our society and culture. To challenge the expectations of what it means to live in community as one beloved creation of God. To challenge us to be one beloved creation of God.
As we follow Christ into this week, we must ask ourselves: how do we change the inherited narrative of our world? How do we challenge the expectations, both high and lofty and low and dismissive, that are put upon us?
How are our hearts challenged in this path as we go from shouting “Hosanna!” at the beginning of this service to “Crucify! Crucify him!” as we leave this place?
How are our own expectations challenged as we practice the remembrance of these final days with Christ?
How do we allow ourselves to be formed and transformed in these moments when the narrative of Christ changes before our eyes, when the expectations for what Christ will accomplish in this world are seemingly lost before an even greater triumph is realized?
This is the task set before us this week. It is a task that challenges us to connect to the deeper experiences of our faith, to be in the moment with Christ, to acknowledge that this death, even death on a cross, is done for us for one reason and for many, many reasons. We start this week with a celebration. A triumph. We start this week with a reception fit for a king, even if he is a king unlike any king before or after. We end this week in death, in fear, in despair. And, out of that place, we experience new life, a new light shining forth through the dark, a changing of the narrative, a challenge of our expectations, even in the supposedly most final state of our very being.
I invite you to enter into this week knowing that we are to be challenged. I invite you to enter into this week knowing that nothing will go the way we expect it to. And yet, I invite you to enter into this week shouting “Hosanna! God is with us! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” for it is in this lens that we enter into a week that shatters us, shakes us to our very core, only to build us back up again, forever altering our expectations, forever changing the narrative of what it means to be in relationship with God, to follow Christ.