“The Cross and the Crown”
(From Luke 19: 28-40)
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Growing up in my household, every Saturday evening the same voice was heard coming from the TV set. The commentator for the series “The Wide World of Sports” spoke of the human drama of athletic competition as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Although I cannot recall the scene of “victory” that was shown, I will never forget the video clip of a ski jumper losing his footing a crashing onto the snow-covered hill below him as the sports-based illustration of the agony of human defeat. Highs and lows occur in all aspects and phases of our lives. Many of them, although they may be emotionally wrenching and physically painful in the moment, like event the clip from the “Wide World of Sports” TV show revealed, do not have major life-long consequences. Then, there are those, like the Passion-week experiences of Christ Jesus, whose ramifications are far reaching and absolutely life changing. On this Holy Palm Sunday, let us explore this difficult truth for Christians, as we re-imagine and remember just how of God’s plan for the salvation of the world was accomplished through the life, and death, of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus.
The scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem, with loud and joyous shouts of “Hosanna!” resounding from the crowd that had gathered there to welcome him, is one of my favorites from scripture. As a young and spiritually forming Christian, I reenacted many Palm Sundays, with my palms held high as I shouted my own “Hosanna!” to the donkey-seated Jesus I imagined was passing by my way. I was high on the music from the church service I had attended earlier that day. Oh, how I loved to be a part of the welcoming crowd in Jerusalem-a privilege afforded to an imaginative, and yet naïve, young child of faith. What my youthful imaginings of that first Palm Sunday were missing was an equal understanding of the impending doom that awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. His reputation among the religious leaders there, who had followed the course of his compassionate and yet unconventional healing ministry, was tenuous at best. My young mind and heart were inexperienced in their grasp of the world’s sinful condition, and of just how far powerful people will go to protect the comfortable status quo.
Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, a day filled for us with as many contradictions as were experienced by Jesus and his followers during the course of that first Holy Week. The cheering crowd of Jesus’ disciples and followers as he entered Jerusalem that day were expecting Jesus to, quite literally, use his power to assume ruling authority once he had arrived. Then, the promised and long anticipated kingdom of God would finally come for the oppressed people, right in the here and now, under Jesus’ merciful rule and reign. But, as the week played out in fact, Jesus spent his time teaching and healing the infirmed, just as he had been doing all along. He did not use his power to defeat the prevailing Roman rule, nor did he assume any religious authority over the priests and elders of the Temple. The people began to become both impatient and disappointed with Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem. We have all experienced the emotional merry-go-round that results from having our hopes and expectations left unmet. Alone, we may quietly brood over them, but placed together with others who are equally disillusioned and disappointed, we can become a far more brash and vocal crowd.
In Jerusalem, on that first Holy Week, that is exactly what came to pass. The disillusioned and emotionally simmering crowd was being egged-on to a state of boiling over by the plotting ploys of the religious leaders. Watching Jesus’ every move, the leaders were angered by his unconventional beliefs & teachings, and they felt threatened by his charismatic popularity. They sought to put an end to this troublemaker, Jesus, once and for all; yet, little did they know the powerful ramifications that would result from their plotting. They paid Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus Disciples, to betray him into their hands. Then, some trumped up charges were levied against Jesus, and he was brought before Pilot, the governor of Judea, for judgement. Pilot would have released Jesus, as it was customary to release a prisoner during Passover. Pilot found no substance to the charges against Jesus. But the disillusioned crowd that had gathered was persuaded to ask instead for a man named Barabbas to be released. He was a local thief who had been caught while inciting a rebellion within the city. Although Jesus could have called upon ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free, he chose, instead, to give his own life to atone for the brokenness and sin of our world. Ultimately, that first Holy Week, it would not be a king’s royal crown, but a thief’s dishonoring cross that lay ahead for Jesus in Jerusalem in the days ahead.
And so, brothers and sisters in faith, this Palm Sunday our joys are mixed with the sad truth that Jesus bought our crowns with the power of his cross. But, our God is an awesome God, full of love, mercy and grace. God’s plan for our salvation does not end in death, but as the “Hymn of Promise” reminds us “at the last, a victory.” Ours is an empty cross… and the tomb of Jesus… is an empty tomb. So, let us patiently await the marvelous new thing that God will do to show us the depth of God’s grace and love. Beyond the cross, there awaits a crown—if we believe, if we believe. Amen.