Every year we Start outside with a procession of palms… Every year we tell the story of the passion… Every year we celebrate the Eucharist and break bread together… And every year, on Palm Sunday, we begin Holy week… We join Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday for the washing of feet… for prayers and sorrow in the garden of Gethsemane… We will still experience the stations of the cross and the crucifixion on Good Friday and we will feel the gravity of Christ crucified… We will then wait with anticipation on Holy Saturday… All the while keeping a hope filled heart for glorious, glorious Easter Sunday… Easter Sunday where we celebrate the resurrection and the gift of new and unending life in Christ Jesus… This… This is the foundation of Christianity… Everything has led us to this point…And today… today in the midst of a worldwide pandemic… In the midst of social distancing and sheltering at home… We still… remember. The parade of Palms… The parade where Jesus king of kings and Lord of lords Enters Jerusalem to shouts of joy and praise! All while riding on a donkey… So just a brief aside… During our bible study on Tuesdays, I think it’s likely safe to say that folks are beginning to learn that I am fascinated with an area of study called biblical criticism… This includes things like, interesting or controversial translation choices, scribal errors, omissions and additions, historical context, and some other things that are likely boring to almost anyone except for priests… In fact my wife is part of a clergy spouses group on Facebook where she recently posted something to the effect of “Tell me you’re a priest’s wife without saying you’re a priest’s wife…” Under which she wrote, “The mail came and I heard my husband shout, ‘Yes!’ so I ran over and Excitedly asked ‘What is it???’ to which he answered, ‘My crown of thorns came a week early!’ When you do eventually see my wife, please take pity on her.
Anyway, back to exciting happenings in textual criticism…
Recently, while listening to the By the Well podcast, I learned that when the disciples went into town to go get the donkey for Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, there may have been a play on words here… So Jesus says, If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” Now, here’s the fun part, the word that we translate to “Lord” here can also be translated as “owner” So there is a possibility that Jesus came riding into town on a let’s call in a recently liberated or borrowed without permission donkey.”
Another fun translation issue to point out is found when we read about the people who were waving palm branches and shouting hosanna!!! For the longest time, I always though Hosanna was just a way of praising someone… One day, I was shocked to learn that hosanna literally should be translated as “save us…” It kind of changes the mood of what the people were shouting if you ask me. “Save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor, David. Save us in the highest heaven!” Interesting right?! I also think it no mistake that Kind David is mentioned here… You see a small detail that I think doesn’t often get noticed is that our gospel writer reports that Jesus began his triumphant entry at the mount of olives… The reason I think this is important is that the mount of olives is exactly where David would go, after his kingship is rejected… In other words, it is the place of rejected kings… And while, Jesus doesn’t appear to be getting rejected at this point in our gospel, we do know the events that take place just days later when people were shaking their fists instead of waving palms and yelling crucify him… Not a hosanna to be heard…
This just goes to show how quickly humanity can go from celebrating a person to murdering them… We rob one another… We lie… We cheat… We steal… We oppress and exploit the disenfranchised and the marginalized. We don’t turn the other cheek when we are attacked, and we cross the street and hurry on our way when someone needs our help… Now… This of course isn’t all of us, all of the time… There is good in this world… There is a lot of good… There are people every day who are living into Jesus command to selflessly love God and love our neighbors… Some of who are sitting in this very room… Some aren’t, and some don’t even know that they are beacons of the gospel…
In a word… This world needs Jesus… We need Jesus… We need saving and one minute we realize this, and the next we forget… And I think… I think this is why once a year, we join the crowd from some two thousand years ago shouting Hosanna joyfully… and then, just minutes later we yell Crucify him… And this is just in case… Just in case there was ever a doubt in our minds that we are not capable of doing, the same… exact… thing… Yet… I think… I think this is something that also grounds us… Jesus grounds us… It’s that knowledge that we are better people because we have Jesus in our lives… It’s the knowledge that we are better people because of our experience of God’s grace, and mercy, and forgiveness and love…
I’d like to end today with a favorite palm Sunday poem of mine…
The Conquerors by Harry Kemp
I SAW the Conquerors riding by
— With trampling feet of horse and men:
Empire on empire like the tide
— Flooded the world and ebbed again;
A thousand banners caught the sun,
— And cities smoked along the plain,
And laden down with silk and gold
— And heaped-up pillage groaned the wain.
I saw the Conquerors riding by,
— Splashing through loathsome floods of war —
The Crescent leaning o’er its hosts,
— And the barbaric scimitar, —
And continents of moving spears,
— And storms of arrows in the sky,
And all the instruments sought out
— By cunning men that men may die!
I saw the Conquerors riding by
— With cruel lips and faces wan:
Musing on kingdoms sacked and burned
— There rode the Mongol Genghis Khan;
And Alexander, like a god,
— Who sought to weld the world in one;
And Caesar with his laurel wreath;
— And like a thing from Hell the Hun;
And, leading like a star the van,
— Heedless of upstretched arm and groan,
Inscrutable Napoleon went
— Dreaming of empire, and alone. . . .
Then all they perished from the earth
— As fleeting shadows from a glass,
And, conquering down the centuries,
— Came Christ, the Swordless, on an ass!