“When they brought [the colt] 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!’ …As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it…”
It’s an occasion for believers put on by believers!
Jesus stands on the Mt of Olives gazing on Jerusalem. He’s waiting for two of his disciples to return with a colt. It’s not a warhorse, but it’s never been ridden: it’s a sacred animal worthy of our Lord. The rest of his disciples wait patiently and watch. Crowds of Jesus’ followers are beginning to line the roadway that leads down from the Mt of Olives into the Kidron valley and back up to Jerusalem.
Jesus is unusually quiet today. He stares thoughtfully across the valley to Jerusalem. His disciples wonder what he’s thinking.
Finally, the disciples return with the colt. “Any problems?” someone asks. No. It happened just as Jesus said it would.” They place a few cloaks on the colt and Jesus takes his seat.
On one hand it’s a bit comical: Jesus feet must be all but dragging on the ground. But it’s also a parable. When the people see it, they’ll remember what Zechariah wrote:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9 NRSV)
The crowds cheer him on, remembering what he told them; his promises to them; his parables. Luke’s version of this entry into Jerusalem depicts a throng of believers. Perhaps there aren’t as many along the parade route as the other Gospel writers depict. But, they aren’t the ones who will stand outside Pilate’s headquarters yelling, “Crucify him!” The crowd may be smaller than we imagine, but it’s certainly very joyful.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Jerusalem, Pilate’s procession ensues: a great warhorse, military regalia; his legion escorts him. No one cheers. Rather, they slip into the shadows and alleyways, hoping not to be noticed. The population of Jerusalem will likely double during this Passover celebration. There will be trouble and Pilate will stop at nothing to maintain control and Pax Romana.
Jesus lets the colt step down into the valley at its own pace. He smiles and waves. People lay their cloaks down on the road as a sign of respect. And they call out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the Lord’s name!” and “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”
Jesus permits the celebrations, even knowing what he faces this week. “Let the people celebrate; let them enjoy the moment.” And he, too, enjoys the moment; at least for a little while. But, as the young colt begins the climb out of the Kidron valley and up the steep hill to Jerusalem, you can see a change in his demeanor. It’s in his eyes. They grow more serious; distant; sad; even haunted. As the colt brings him near to the city he begins to weep: For Jerusalem and the deep loss that will occur to the Jews all too soon. For those who weren’t able to listen and hear his words. For himself and what is about to happen to him this week.
I used to think of Holy Week as if it were a bookshelf with book-ends: The joy of Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. Finally, to land in Easter, once more returning to joy. Holy Week, as I saw it, was deep sadness book ended with joy.
But, this year I see it differently. Yes, we love the palms and the children singing. But, we can’t stop in the Kidron Valley and go home. We must make the trek up to Jerusalem. This journey is uphill in more ways than one.
Palm Sunday is our entrance into Holy Week. Holy Week takes us to Maundy Thursday where we hear again Jesus’ mandate to his disciples to “love one another just as I have loved you.” We hear also the Words of Institution that remind us of Jesus’ Last Supper. Holy Week takes us to Good Friday where we’ll read scripture and sing hymns that remind us of betrayal and fear; politics and empire; torture and death.
Than spend some time alone during the Easter Vigil, once again reading scripture, but this time with an attempt to understand and hear God’s voice in our hearts and our lives.
Finally, we end up at Easter, standing at the empty tomb with the women.
Dare we go with Jesus, through those mighty gates of Jerusalem and Holy Week?
Dare we permit ourselves to see our own place in the liturgy? Peter who denied. Disciples who ran. Judas who betrayed. Women who wept and discovered.
Dare we allow God into our hearts to convict?
Dare we shed our own tears?
This week will seem like a week of Friday’s but remember this: Today may feel like Friday, but Sunday’s coming: With resurrection, new life and great joy.
But there’s only one way to Easter Sunday and that’s through Holy Week.
I’ll see you there.
All glory and honor be to God. Amen.