March 29, 2015 | Palm Sunday

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday Year B

Riding down the Hosanna road, astride a colt draped with people’s garments, Jesus of Nazareth enters Jerusalem, city of God’s peace, to fulfill the crowd’s expectation for a Messiah. Since the prophecy of Zechariah the people of Israel have been "prisoners of hope," awaiting a king who would be a royal son of David, one who would enter the city, not on a war horse surrounded by military might or power, but on a colt, a king of prosperity, a king of peace. For as the true son of David he would have no need of military power. The authentic king would already be victorious, saved by God’s might and power. He would but speak and peace would come.

Those who have followed Jesus from Galilee have seen God’s might and power exercised again and again as he has healed the sick and cast out demons. Now that he comes to Jerusalem, city of God’s peace, they have high hopes. Waving branches in the air, placing their cloaks and other garments on the ground ahead of the colt, they give Jesus a royal welcome and cry out for him to save them. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of David." That kingdom which they have so long awaited is about to arrive.

They have high hopes but low expectations. They seek a military leader to overthrow Rome. Jesus has come to build a greater and more eternal peace. The procession makes its way across the Kedron’s Brook and up the other side of the valley to the gate in the city wall. There it ends. This is the Golden Gate, the one through which the Messiah is to enter Jerusalem, but also the gate that opens into the temple precincts. Mark tells us that Jesus "entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve." The crowd disappears. But it will be back to witness the next few days as Jesus returns to the Temple to teach. He will begin by disrupting the Temple, driving out the moneychangers and indicting all associated with the Temple and its worship practices. He will teach the people that the Temple and its custodians no longer have the power to mediate the presence, forgiveness or healing power of God.

As he engages the religious authorities he will challenge not only their teachings but even their authority to do so, telling them they are ignorant not only of God’s word but also God’s power. Before it is over he will predict destruction of both Jerusalem and the temple itself. A new and more universal means for encountering God is about to unfold, and Jesus will be at the center of it. Everyone but Jesus seems confused.

Jesus is anything but who they hoped for. Where are his words of comfort about the kingdom of David? That is not what they expected. They are looking for the restoration of rule and a charismatic religious leader who will restore their glory. He comes to establish a reign greater than any could expect — not temporal, but eternal. He has come to replace the temple. Before the week is out there will be a new way for encountering, worshiping and serving God, and he will be at the center of it.

By mid-week the people’s unfulfilled expectations will turn to rejection. One day later the crowd that welcomed him with "Hosanna" will call for his life. Friday afternoon, the king of peace will reign from a Roman cross. The power of God which the crowd had awaited with high hopes is revealed to them, but in a way none could expect. High hopes but low expectations.

I think we find ourselves in a similar frame of mind today. We look for the presence of God in our lives, but we try to define how that should appear, what it should look like, and miss it because it doesn’t fit our expectations. We hope for God, but on terms we expect, which are, of course always too low. Our world still seeks sovereignty in power, while God reveals himself in weakness and suffering. We still seek security in things when the only source of security is God’s love and presence.

As we take up palms today and shout "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!," may we seek real transformation, real triumph, real victory, in the way Jesus has called us to follow, the way of the cross.