Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem had been going on for quite some time. Back in chapter nine of Luke’s gospel, Jesus turned his face towards the city and had not looked back. Since the moment Jesus turned toward Jerusalem he along with his growing following have been coming closer and closer to Palm Sunday. Since the transfiguration of Jesus, this is the most triumphant and revealing moment in his ministry.
As Jesus moved into the city his procession would draw the attention of religious and political influencers. Coming from Bethphage and Bethany, Jesus would have entered the city through the Eastern gates. With shouts of “Blessed is the King,” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem revealed the victorious nature of the kingdom he had been proclaiming throughout his ministry. He entered the religious and political hub of the region as a triumphant ruler prepared to take up residence in the capital city. As the Son of G-d, taking up residence in Jerusalem is the only logical place for Jesus to do so. It was believed the Lord G-d dwelled in the Temple in the capital city.
Victorious and triumphant, Jesus retained his humility. He entered the city riding a colt, a small donkey, and not a mighty warhorse. Instead of being surrounded by a mighty army, Jesus is ushered into the city by fishermen, tax collectors, disciples, and those he had healed along his journey.
Palm Sunday was not a spontaneous event. From the moment he stood on the Mount of Olives and sent two disciples - “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.” - to the timing of his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus has been in full control of the procession so that the Kingdom of G-d would continue to be revealed.
Around the same time as Jesus and his followers entered the city on Palm Sunday, the Roman Governor of the region was also entering the city. Pilate had been dispatched to Jerusalem to ensure peace was kept during the upcoming Passover Festival. Jerusalem had been under Roman occupation since 63 BC. That is 90 years of Pax Roma - the peace of Rome - and as Pilate entered the city the victorious governor would have demonstrated to all in the city the full control he held by flexing the military might of his army.
Pilate’s entry was a reminder of what would happen should anyone or any group step out of line during Passover.
What we miss in our scripture reading is that these two processions would collide.
A collision is coming.
Jesus timed his entry into the city. He knew the Roman Governor would be entering the city to keep the peace ahead of the religious holiday. Jesus knew this collision was coming. His disciples may have missed it but the Pharisees, Jesus’ opponents, did not. They even warned Jesus - “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” They, the Pharisees, knew the impending collision would disturb the peace of the city. They knew the declaration of Christ as King, Christ is Lord, would not sit well with Rome because according to Rome Caesar was Lord. To say otherwise was a deadly offense.
We miss this collision because we often skip over Holy Week entirely. We know Holy Week begins today and that Easter is just seven days away but the offensiveness of what will happen this week as this collision occurs causes us to skip ahead from the jubilance of Palm Sunday to the victory of Easter. We look past the sadness and betrayal of Maundy Thursday and the great price paid on Good Friday.
The disciples tried to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter.
The victory of Easter costs us nothing, but the price paid by G-d in Christ causes us to turn away as we discover it is a price we can ourselves pay or stomach.
As much as we wish we could, Pastor David Zahl points out we “cannot pole-vault over Good Friday to get to Easter.” We cannot celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and then turn a blind eye to the collision between the Kingdom of G-d and the earthly realms threatened by G-d’s justice, mercy, and peace.
When the Kingdom of G-d and earthly realms collide, it may not be immediately apparent, but the Kingdom of G-d is always victorious.
We have seen these collisions throughout Christ’s ministry but now on Palm Sunday as the shadow of the cross begins to appear on the horizon we may not be so sure of what is to come.
The prophets foretold what would happen - “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Jesus told his disciples exactly what was going to happen - “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
“Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
The crowd's proclamation, an echo of the angel’s announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, points to the promised peace of G-d through Christ. The coming collision between the Kingdom of G-d in Christ and the religious and political powers of Jerusalem will become a point of contact between heaven and earth.
The shadow of the cross blinds us to the peace of heaven spilling over into creation. Domination through ruthlessness - Pax Roma - is no match for the justice and mercy - Pax Christi - of the Kingdom of G-d.
So enjoy the celebration of Palm Sunday because if you think this is something, remember, even though the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is ahead of us after the collision. Easter is coming.