“What an Entrance!”
Matthew 21:1-11, 26:1-5
Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
The palace of the high priest
was more than a mere parsonage, manse, or rectory.
The palace where Caiaphas called home
Was a compound,
A collection of houses and assorted buildings
Cascading down the side of the mountain
With its back to Jerusalem’s city wall.
The largest house,
Where Caiaphas called home,
Was at the top,
With progressively smaller houses
For lesser temple priests, family, and staff
Beneath Caiaphas’s house
Was a hole in the basement floor
Where prisoners could be lowered by rope
Into an underground, dark dungeon cell.
But, less I digress …
In the palace compound,
Between houses and
Vaulting from rooftops
Were beautiful verandas, porches, overlooks, and courtyards.
There was running water and there were lush gardens.
Standing on one of these verandas,
It was possible to look out across the valley
To the opposite hillside
and trace the road coming from beyond the horizon,
up from Jericho,
Then snaking down the other side of the valley.
The opposite hill was
Called the Mount of Olives
(Because the hillside was covered with an olive grove).
The road crossed the bottom of the valley
and came straight up the hill.
As it passed to the left of Caiaphas’s compound,
Well worn stones served as pavers
For the ascending staircase.
The road entered the city walls behind
Through the Fountain Gate.
What a beautiful visa for the high priest
And his temple staff
The palatial estate and expansive view came at a price.
The Temple High Priest, Caiaphas,
Was appointed by the Roman prefect,
who immediately preceded Pontius Pilate.
Caiaphas was chosen to lead the Temple
And all of organized Judaism
By a representative of the government.
(Let that sink in for a moment)
He was chosen during these turbulent times
Precisely for his ability to keep the peace
And to keep the Temple’s cash flow uninterrupted.
Hence the dungeon cell beneath his house.
On this particular Sunday
The road would be filled with Jewish families
Making their Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem
To offer gifts and make sacrifice in the Temple above.
Everything was flowing normally,
As events surrounding Passover
had unfolded in prior years.
Of course there was scuttlebutt,
There always was,
About possible insurrection;
Any number of zealots, stump speakers, self-proclaimed prophets, snake charmers, and would be healers
Could show up.
That would upset the crowds,
Pour oil on the flames
And amplify the voices calling for revolution.
The Passover crowds could easily become volatile,
Break the peace,
And disrupt the economic conveyor belt that printed money
For the temple and all its associated cartels.
And then …
The unexpected happened.
What Caiaphas would have seen
From his beautiful vista
Would have caused his forehead to perspire,
His fists to clench,
And his anger to well up from inside.
His worse fear,
His greatest threat,
Jesus made his way from Jericho
Over the hill, through the valley, and up to the city of Jerusalem,
Riding a donkey,
In a flourish of royal fanfare,
Complete with hand waving, branch laying, cloak laying, revolution itching, adoring crowds.
It was as if Jesus had stepped out of Hebrew Biblical history.
Caiaphas would have caught the intentional association
Straight from Zechariah 9:9
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.
His vast knowledge of scripture would have made him think
Of our opening Psalm this morning, 118:26, 28
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord… Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
It was a coronation procession of the grandest kind.
For the King is coming!
Now that’s how you make an entrance!
Everything Caiaphas had,
And everything he had ever worked for,
Were placed in mortal jeopardy when Jesus approached.
And he knew it.
Matthew 26:3-5 reports
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
This royal entrance
Most certainly set up Jesus
To be murdered in the very near future.
When Jesus approaches,
When Jesus makes an entrance,
It brings out the best and the worst in people.
He upsets the status quo.
He challenges generally agreed upon assumptions.
He is even willing to break the law
Or resurrect the dead
To make His point.
Few want confrontation.
Fewer still want to change or grow.
Almost no one wants to be cornered,
With the only option remaining: risking it all.
When Jesus approached Caiaphas,
Caiaphas had no choice but to gamble,
To risk it all.
It caused Caiaphas and his elders to become homicidal.
Our Palm Sunday Gospel lesson today begs the question:
When Jesus approaches
What does he bring out in you?
As we step into Holy Week
It is as if Jesus is approaching,
Into each of our lives.
Will we ignore
The fact that Jesus stops to wash his disciple’s feet at the Last Supper,
To become the servant and slave of all?
Will we avoid the Passion narrative?
(We will experience it in its entirety
From the Gospel of John this year
On Good Friday)
Will we avoid it
Because it is too upsetting, or too violent, or, possibly,
It is so seemingly irrelevant to our world?
When we find ourselves in a crowd this week,
Will our cries change from glorious “Hosannas”
To homicidal “Crucify Him”?
Will you stand willing to cut off an ear of anyone who threatens our Savior one minute
While the next minute
Will you be found standing with Peter
Warming yourself next to a fire
Denying that you ever met Christ?
When Jesus approaches this coming week,
Will you betray him like Judas
Because the market is ripe,
An opportunity strikes,
And I can make a quick buck?
I pray for you, my beloved members and friends,
Even as I pray for myself,
As we conclude our Lenten journey
With our first steps into Holy Week.
I pray that when Jesus approaches you and me this week,
That we will choose
To suppress the worst in us,
And allow his presence to bring out the best in us.
Let us drink and eat around this table
And abide in Him,
That He may abide in us.
Let us share the weight of his cross,
Pick up our own cross
And boldly follow him.
Let us comfort those who mourn,
The Mary’s, Martha’s and Mothers of this world,
And the rest of our Lord’s grieving loved ones.
Let us comfort all those with broken hearts
Right there at the foot of the cross.
Let us gift away our graves,
That He might be laid to rest in our place
With dignity and in peace.
Let us return early in the morning
With oil and spices
That we might prepare His body.
Jesus is making quite the royal entrance this morning.
What will his approach
Bring out in you?