Reality Check

I love a parade!  I consider myself now, something of an expert in parades.  With several years under my belt of having two sons in the Owatonna Marching Band; I’ve put in my time.  We’ve driven all over southern Minnesota, sitting in our folding chairs in strange towns, shaking hands with politicians I’ll never have the chance to vote for; watching floats go by for or dental offices where I’ll never have my teeth cleaned.  I’ve been hit in the head with my fair-share of tootsie rolls, thrown by people sitting on top of convertibles.

And this past summer I was a parent volunteer for our marching band.  In that role, I perfected the art of walking backward while squirting a band member in the mouth with a water sprayer.

So, when I read today’s Gospel lesson about a parade, I have to admit, it kind of captured my attention.  There was a buzz in the streets on the outer edge of Jerusalem.  The word got out: “A parade was forming.”  And everyone ran to see what was happening. The people stretched their necks to see over the person in front of them. The young children crawled between the legs of the adults to see if they could catch a glimpse.

Then everyone saw him! Jesus!  Riding upon a donkey!  There were people racing in front of him, throwing palm leaves and laying their cloaks to create a path for him. People started to shout “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowd that gathered along the way started to catch the excitement, and they began to shout and run alongside of this single-float parade.

As they were running, I can imagine one in the crowd turned to another and asked, “Who is the man? Why are we shouting Hosanna? Is he a king?” The other replied, “Yes, we think he is a king, the King of the Jews.   He’s riding on a donkey, just like the scriptures promised!”

And the two of them ran off with the crowd caught up in the excitement of the moment.

We know what that is like.  Things sometimes happen around us, excitement builds, and like the people in our Gospel story we can get all caught up in the moment.  Think of it this way:

A young man walked up the sidewalk toward his home late one Friday afternoon and was greeted by his two children. The kids were laughing and bouncing with more than the usual amount of excitement.

“Daddy, Daddy, ” the three-year-old started to say, “There’s a. . . ” Shhhhh! The five-year-old quickly covered the three-year-old’s mouth with his hand. The three-year-old wrenched free, eyes still sparkling. “Daddy, Mommy and Jason and me have got a. . . ” The hand closed across the mouth again, followed by these firm words from the five-year-old. “Sarah, if you don’t keep quiet, Daddy’s going to know there’s a surprise party inside for him!”

After a moment of awesome silence, the five-year-old’s face turned red. Dad strategically pretended not to have heard a word. He hugged both children and, laughing together, all three raced into the house.

The young kids could not contain themselves with the anticipation of the moment. They knew something exciting was going to happen and they just could not hold it inside.

When those who lived in Jerusalem saw Jesus riding into town that day, they knew that something important, and exciting was happening. They knew that he was riding as the Messiah would, and they thought they knew what that meant:

  • They thought it meant they would finally be free from the Romans
  • They thought it meant that Jesus was going to be their King

So, they got caught up in the excitement of the moment and celebrated, rejoiced at the picture which was forming in their mind’s eye. A picture of a king who would save them. A picture of a nation reborn. A picture of a people who would be free to be mighty Israel again. So, they celebrated, they danced down the street, they simply could not keep it in!  They shouted Hosanna!!

But that week, something happened.  Something changed.  Because just a few short days later, that same crowd…they were the ones who were crying out “crucify him, crucify him!”  The picture they had developed in their mind’s eye of the future?…Their hopes and expectations?  Well, this was not the picture that Jesus was painting for himself.  Their dreams met a different reality.

Even Jesus, as he rode into Jerusalem that day wept for his beloved city, as it says in Luke’s gospel, for he knew the dreams of this day would turn into the reality of pain, suffering and death.

The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday turned against Jesus on Friday because he didn’t fulfill their hopes, and their dreams.  They realized:

  • Jesus did not intend to become an earthly king, he was a heavenly king.
  • He was not a warrior who would come to destroy the Romans. But instead, a Savior, who came to destroy death.
  • He was less interested in a political transformation for the people of Israel and was ultimately intent on the transformation of their hearts.

Jesus was painting a picture of a suffering Messiah; a Messiah who would suffer for the sins of the all people.

And the people cried “crucify him” because they could not understand this.

  • They cried “crucify him” because Jesus did not fulfill their expectations.
  • They cried “crucify him” because Jesus had let them down.
  • They cried “crucify him” because they wanted a warrior king who would lead them into battle.

Yes, they wanted a Messiah, but they wanted him on their terms.

But that was not who Jesus was.  Jesus had a different mission.  And the people missed the point and they were angry.

So, what about us? Do we get the point?  Do we struggle still to understand who Jesus is?  Yes…sometimes.

A bunch of kids, one summer afternoon, we involved in a pee-wee baseball game. When one little guy came up to the plate, he looked over to the coach for a signal. The coach signaled to sacrifice bunt, so that the runner on 3rd could score.  The little kid stepped into the batter’s box, the pitch came, and he swung for the fences.  Strike.  The coach emphatically signaled again, sacrifice bunt.  Pitch two came…he swings!  And…strike 2.  Frantically, the coach repeated his instructions.  Bunt!  And…a swing and a miss.  Strike 3.  You’re out.

The coach ran up to him afterwards and said: “Didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice?”

“Yes,” the boy replied. “But I didn’t think you really meant it.”

I didn’t think you really meant it.

Sometimes I think that’s how we react to Jesus. We really don’t think he meant to be the suffering Messiah. And we are like the crowd way back then, still wanting Jesus to be a conquering, warrior!  We want Jesus to be the messiah that came to fix our problems…to care about the things we care about…to be the messiah created in our image of what a Messiah should be.  Democrats want Jesus to be a Democrat.  Republicans want Jesus to be a Republican.  Yankee fans want Jesus to be…well…never mind.  Sometimes I think we confuse Jesus with some kind of a Christian self-help program, focused on our agenda.

But in Jesus, we don’t get the Messiah we want…we get the Messiah that we need.

Jesus comes as a messiah who brings us something unexpected… something new.  Jesus brings the power of suffering love.

  • The power of suffering love is a power that looks you in the eye, and forgives your sin, your fear, your anger, your resentment, and your prejudice.
  • It’s a power that didn’t assert itself over and against you but rather, died for you.
  • It’s a power that sets you free from all that dehumanizes you, and others.
  • It’s a power that loosens your grip on all of your expectations and even allows you to see Christ’s face in the least and most lowly.
  • It’s a power that relates in love and invites you to join in Jesus’ mission and to become his follower, sharing that love with all those you encounter.
  • It’s a power that assures you that you don’t need to be afraid of suffering, self-giving love, because it’s the only way you will ever fulfill your humanity, and find your purpose, and experience true joy and peace.

Lutheran theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote that:  “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross….and that is the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us…. Only a suffering God can help.”

The crowds on that first Palm Sunday wanted a powerful, proud, warrior King, but Jesus came instead on a donkey, as a suffering Messiah. Jesus came as one who would die on a cross for the sake of human kind.  In our reading from Philippians, it says that Jesus came to empty himself, and to take on the form of a slave.  He did this…for you.

The crowd missed the point. The crowd thought they knew but they did not.

What about us? Do we get it? Is Jesus the suffering Messiah for us?

Palm Sunday is, among other things, a reality check.  Do we see Jesus as the suffering Messiah who did turn the world upside down for our sake and continues to shape the world with his love and grace?

Today, a parade gathers, and like those early residents of Jerusalem, we run to the parade route to see what is coming.  We hear it is the King.  Let’s put our expectations in order:  Jesus comes with a mission: to empty himself into us, and into the world, that all…that all…might have abundant life.  And together, we get to join that parade; we are a part of that mission.

Hosanna!  To the King!  Thanks be to God!


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