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Where Are You Headed?

“Where Are You Headed?”

April 2, 2023-Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Matthew 2:1-11

Palm Sunday

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

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 fulfil 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.

Today is Palm Sunday, the one Sunday a year when we get enough green leafy branches for every hand to wave and the children lead us in singing and we say Hosanna as we celebrate that day when the people welcomed Jesus as he triumphally entered Jerusalem.

We call this entrance triumphant because Jesus was celebrated and welcomed by many who had heard about what he had been doing… healing people, preaching sermons from mountainsides about the poor being blessed, helping those on the margins feel seen and respected, like the Samaritan woman at the well, and most recently, the most amazing of all, raising what had been dead, back to life. People had heard these stories and they were waiting at the gates of Jerusalem as they saw Jesus coming into the city for Passover. And the word they cried out when they saw him coming, men, women and children, alike, was Hosanna. Hosanna. A Hebrew word that literally means, “save us!”

Why were the people and children gathering at the gates to say to Jesus, Hosanna, Save us?

They needed help and all the signs pointed to Jesus. You see, Jerusalem, was a Jewish city under the control of the Roman Empire whose oppression affected everyday life. And Rome, for their part, wanted to make Jewish life a miserable life. That’s why Jesus wasn’t the only person coming into town that day. The beginning of Passover, one of the most festive Jewish holidays of the year was the perfect time for the Roman Governor, a man named Pontius Pilate, to strut into Jerusalem in a full show of military power. So there he came in a chariot pulled by a war horse, surrounded by an army of men, covered in armor, wielding a sword. As if to say, you have festivals to worship your God, but as part of the Roman Empire, you will worship our Emperor and his power.

There were two parades that day. One led by a fully-armored governor surrounded by his military and the other led by a spiritual teacher from the countryside riding a donkey surrounded by children with palm branches.

I’m pretty sure Jesus recognized this irony. Jesus knew that two parades weren’t just better than one. He knew that the other parade needed an alternative. He knew everything about how the power and greed and militarism of the Empire was oppressing his people. People needed a place where they could shout Hosanna and be heard. He knew people needed a choice of what kind of parade to attend.

Here in 2023, we’re still faced with a choice between the way of Jesus and the way of the Empire. Which way are you headed? Which parade will you find yourself standing alongside? Oh, Jesus, of course, we say as we stand up taller and make ourselves look presentable. We wouldn’t dare not be at Jesus’ parade. And yet, do we understand the ramifications of that choice? When we choose Jesus’ parade, we choose the way of peace. We choose a way that rejects weapons in favor of vulnerability. We choose a way that speaks truth to power and doesn’t stand on the sidelines. We choose a way that trades armored ranks for the voices of children crying out Hosanna. When we say we choose the Jesus parade, do we really mean it?

Jesus knew the message he brought would be hard to bear. He knew there would be people who came to his parade who would later change their minds about his message. He knew the kind of saving people needed would be a lot to ask in the face of Empires and powerful stake-holders that felt threatened by his presence and his way of peace. Jesus knew the week that begins in Palm Sunday is a week that includes flipping tables of corruption on Monday, betrayal by Judas on Wednesday, a supper with friends on Thursday that would become his last, and death at the hands of the state on Friday. Jesus knew that was too much to bear for some. Jesus knew that the way of peace is downright hard. Jesus knew his life would lead to a sacrifice at the hands of an angry and powerful status quo that wasn’t able to hear the cries of Hosanna. A status quo that wasn’t willing to save the children.

Yet it’s for them, all of them, that Jesus entered Jerusalem anyway, a choice he could have declined. It’s for them, all of them, the children and the armed and powerful alike, that Jesus entered Jerusalem anyway, a path he didn’t have to follow. But he knew this was God’s work. To be the different one. To be the way of peace. To be an alternative to ruling with force. To show the people that their Hosannas were valuable. That their Hosannas were heard. To lay down his life at the feet of the powerful so that everyone would know that someone cared. That God cared.

Here in 2023, when we say we’re Christian it means we want to imitate Christ. Right? And as we look to the Jesus who listened to cries of Hosanna, this doesn’t just mean ushering people into some eternal life in heaven after they die, it means saving them from their present oppressions in whatever way we possibly can.

Imitating Christ means not only showing up to his parade of protest, but joining it also. Heading the way he headed, into the thickness of status quo power with a message of peace and justice that flips tables over and lays everything on the line for the sake of the powerless.

When we imitate Christ in 2023, it means no longer standing between the two parades because we’re too numb or afraid to make a choice. It means standing up for the way of peace and doing whatever we can and must to make some iota of difference in the lives of the children and others who are pleading with us to save them.

Imitating Christ in 2023 means seeing another mass shooting and realizing this has become the status quo, but it doesn’t have to be. Imitating Christ in 2023 means watching war play out in countries like Ukraine and realizing we’ve grown numb to these atrocities, but we don’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be like this and I think sometimes we forget that we have choices. We can be like Jesus and step off the sidelines to challenge what seems impossible even if our first steps are small.

I’ll be honest and say I look at Jesus on Palm Sunday, and he makes it look easy to stand up to the powerful. To ride into a city he knows will challenge him to the point of death and still he carries the cries of the helpless to the feet of the powerful. I wish I could tell you that imitating Jesus would be as easy as this. I wish I could tell you what to expect when you choose to head in the same way as Jesus. I wish I could say that he’s left us a step-by-step road map for how to stand up for peace in 2023. Figuring this out is hard and risky work.

But what I can tell you is that no step in the direction of this parade is too small. No dream for peace is too crazy. No dollar given in the name of God to make the world a better place for those facing oppression is too little. No act of mercy or justice that we take up in the name of God for the sake of the ones being oppressed is too small. No word spoken to the powers that be in the name of a child’s Hosanna is insignificant. We must not lose faith. We must not let the parade on the other side of town intimidate us into thinking weapons and armor and violence are the only answer. If you are like me searching for a way to do something in the face of so much suffering, I invite you after church to take a step in the direction of Jesus’ parade by picking up a pen and speaking truth to power. I’ve set up a table in the Social Hall for letter-writing to our modern-day “powers that be” around the issues of gun violence and war that dominate the narrative in 2023. Will you pray with me for courage to be like Christ.

Grace and Peace, Pastor Anna

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