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Political systems pitted against each other and even against themselves! Anger on the right and the left. A rise of extreme weather and epidemics of all sorts. Rising terrorism and rising seas. Disappearing polar caps and thawing relationships between countries. Our time is not unlike the disordered and troubled world that longed for a savior in today’s gospel story. The crowd greets Jesus as a messiah who will turn things around for them, who will make everything right. Bread on the table. A political system that is no longer rigged. A chance at a good job and a decent living. Peace on our streets. A future for our kids and grandkids.
This story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is one of the few told in all three of the synoptic gospels. John is always a bit different. It is easy for us to blend the three stories together, which isn’t the worst thing in the world to do. But sometimes we can get a better sense of what each gospel is trying to say by noting what’s different in them.
Maybe you’ve already noticed a few things missing in this story that we are accustomed to seeing and singing. Anybody want to hazard a guess?
One is pretty obvious on this Sunday that we call “Palm Sunday.” The other is a cry we sang a bunch in our opening hymn.
We scattered a few palms around today just the same, but you may have noticed Luke has no chanting crowds waving palms. In Luke they offer their coats. And even though we sang that the little children sang “Hosanna, loud hosanna” they didn’t in Luke. They do in other gospels, but not here.
One more question. Can anyone tell me what hosanna means? Save us! Save us!
Luke has no crowds crying save us. His crowd actually seems to be pretty happy. Perhaps they see that they’ve already found their savior. As he enters Jerusalem, they know they are going to be ok. They remember, as Luke tells us, his “deeds of power.” He’s going to come and fix everything. The potholes, the politics, the schools. It’ll all get worked out at the convention.
Except it doesn’t. And that’s the other thing, perhaps the most important thing that is different in Luke, although you are excused from knowing this since it isn’t in our reading for today. It comes in the very next verse.
The Pharisees tell Jesus to quiet his ecstatic disciples, and he responds that he couldn’t quiet that cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd, even if he wanted to: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” But in the very next verse, after he’s traveled just a little farther and Jerusalem fills his horizon, he weeps. In John, he weeps for Lazarus. In Luke he weeps for Jerusalem: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”[i]
One of my favorite comics, Calvin & Hobbes, has Calvin’s stuffed Tiger friend Hobbes asking “How come we play war and not peace?” Calving, wearing a green army helmet tells him, “Too few role models.”
“If you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” It is a strange statement given they have just given their savior a hero’s welcome. Surely what makes for peace had just passed in front of them on a donkey. And yet, could it be that they don’t have it quite right?
Given what happens in the story in the next week it would be hard for us to assume they did. And maybe us too.
You know, I used to really struggle with Easter Sunday services. Now, I know that may sound a little strange coming out of a pastor’s mouth. I hope you will forgive me for being candid. There’s this point on Easter morning—usually several—when the leader says “He is risen,” and the congregation shouts back “He is risen, indeed.” And then we say that other word that we don’t say in Lent. And sometimes it can be pretty exciting and hopeful. But sometimes I worry we are trying to manufacture an emotion around something we don’t really understand. It’s good news. We know it is. But we’re not really sure why. And that’s not ideal. We hope for honesty and genuineness at church, and we resist manipulation, or at least we should.
This troubled me for a long time. It’s gotten better for a couple of reasons. The main one is that we’ve taken time to pay attention to what happens between this Sunday and the next. We’ve been in the upper room as Jesus has washed his disciples feet and given them, by his actions, a sermon on love. We’ve been to the cross and understood how this gospel story of ours is about what really happens in the world, about justice and suffering, about the electric chair and unjust incarceration, and, ultimately, about what makes for peace. And we’ve rehearsed a whole bunch of stories told by some pretty remarkable people in this room, including our kids, whose lives teach us about being raised to new life. This is what happens during what we call the Three Days—during Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. And rehearsing the whole story helps me and you to say with greater understanding and gusto, “He is risen, indeed,” because we’ve had a glimpse of what it means. And probably because I’m sleep deprived and a little loopy by that point.
You see, peace is something we make. God is in the mix. This is always true, but how that becomes a part of our good news is the work we must do. Peace is about following the peacegiver. Peace is something we make by following the Way of this one who lays out the path over the next week. If we just yell and shout as he passes by, sending him on his merry way, we will know peace no more than the Germans who quietly lived their lives and averted their eyes, while a cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd swept Hitler into power in the 1930s.
Faith is an active thing. It is something we all do. And Jesus shows us the way we do it. Sometimes this is hard work. It is deep soul work. Sometimes it is really quite easy. One little action added to another and another has the power of tipping the scales.
REACH has come up with a pretty good example of that recently. They are in the midst of a campaign in which they are encouraging 6000 people to give one dollar a week toward their ministry. That’s $52 a year. Four dollars a month—about the cost of a single cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Now on one hand, this sounds like a stretch. Six thousand people is a lot of people. But really it isn’t. The city of Renton has about 92,000 residents. Less than one in ten would cover it. And it’s just not that much. Most kids could probably swing it. It would be more of a stretch for them, but I’ll bet they could do it. We adults, we certainly could. In fact, I am. If 50 people at St. Andrew did it, we would match the $2500 a year we give directly through our annual mission budget to support the work of REACH. We’d double it!
You see the ways of peace, are ways that are reached together, when we all do a little bit. The crowds sent Jesus on his way, and when he didn’t turn the whole thing around by himself they turned on him. That’s part of the story. But the other part is how few of us it actually takes to make a difference. And that is the hope of Palm Sunday, palms or not, hosannas or not. The ways of peace and salvation already live within us, in the Spirit of the risen Christ in us and in our midst.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Luke 19:41.