The City in Turmoil – Palm Sunday: April 9, 2017
Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take our moments and our days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.
At least at first, it seems like a scene right out of a children’s picture book. A popular, charismatic young man proceeds through a busy crowd of cheering people with a cute little animal in tow. Members of the crowd eagerly place their cloaks on the ground to pave Jesus’ way and hold large branches to greet the figure of their adoration with enthusiasm. A loud chorus erupts in a familiar acclamation from Scripture, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” It’s fun and sweet and harmless—not unlike the yearly tradition we participated in at the beginning of this service.
But at the entrance to the gates of Jerusalem, something changes. What was previously an idyllic romance rapidly shifts into a terrifying tale of horror. “The whole city,” Matthew tells us, is “in turmoil.” More than any other element of Matthew’s account, this aside of Matthew’s makes the story he tells significant. If the Palm Sunday spectacle we commemorate today had been just another innocuous parade, it would have been no different than Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day or 4 o’clock at Disneyland. What’s most important about this procession is not the crowds that greet Jesus or the words they shout or the branches they hold or even the humble donkey that Jesus rides; what’s most important about this procession is where Jesus is going.
Notice what Jesus chooses to do when he reaches the gates of Jerusalem: he enters them. This seems obvious enough until you think about what you would do when you reached a place in turmoil. Would your first instinct be to enter it? Surely you would look for a way to travel around it or at least avoid the most horrible elements within it. Maybe you would turn towards the other direction and go back home or do what you could to diffuse the situation so that it would be calmer for everyone.
But this is not what Jesus does; Jesus enters the turmoil. He comes face-to-face with pain and despair and confusion and opposition without demonstrating any urge to dominate over or prevail against them. Instead, he empties himself into the city that does not know how to handle him, surrendering himself fully to all of the mess and destruction and knowing all along how so very risky it is. He watches as one of his twelve closest companions sells him for a few silver coins; he refuses to fight back as he is struck and pulled at and insulted and spit upon; he endures a joke of a trial and suffers at the hands of an ignorant, unwieldy mob; he feels nails pound into his flesh and sighs, exhausted, as he takes his final breath. This is no weak impostor who runs away from trouble; this is a Savior who takes on that trouble for himself.
Lord knows there is plenty of turmoil to go around these days: from the turmoil in our own homes and streets to the turmoil of the halls of Congress and the United Nations to the turmoil in the warzones of Syria and Iraq. I wonder what you do when you come across turmoil: do you try to conquer it or fix it? Do you attempt to avoid it or run away from it? Or do you make yourself vulnerable to it and enter into it? I wonder also about the turmoil inside of you: the anxiety, the grief, the illness, whatever may be happening within your life. When Jesus reaches the gates of your turmoil, do you let him in? Or do you lock the doors tightly, hoping he won’t test them?
My own conviction is that the only way to get out of turmoil or around turmoil is to go through it—and that the only way to calm the turmoil inside of us is to let Jesus in. It is also my belief that the days that are coming up in the church calendar—the days that make up the week that we call Holy—are designed to show us the value that turmoil can have, particularly when we are willing to enter it with the help of Jesus. I encourage you to come back often this week—to have your feet washed, to eat the food that Jesus provides as if for the first time, to experience stark abandonment when the altar is stripped and all is laid bare, and to witness the profound injustice and pain of an innocent man dying on a Cross. Easter Sunday doesn’t happen out of nowhere; it’s the climax of a long, complicated journey that can’t really be understood without the context and the wisdom of the events ahead of it. An Easter Sunday without a Maundy Thursday or a Good Friday is an artificially sweet one that is neither accurate nor complete.
So come and join us this Thursday and Friday and return for our celebration of Easter next Saturday or Sunday. If you can’t make it here, there are churches everywhere that will welcome you to join them, and there are places to watch and listen online, either live or after the fact. I suspect that you will learn a lot about yourself and about God by making a commitment to do the whole thing.
The city in turmoil awaits. It has much to teach you. Come, do not be afraid, and enter.