It was a sun-soaked afternoon. People had been lining the streets for hours with more and more joining them as the day stretched on. The excitement and fervor of the day’s events and the merriment of the folks lining the streets encouraged a sense of joy and hope and good tidings for all. Strangers and friends alike greeted one another and cheered in anticipation of those who were soon to come.
This was an annual event for many. A tradition in celebrating Patriots’ Day, it was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. It was a joyous occasion—a time to cut loose and enjoy a day off. It was a state holiday for many and so they thronged to the race route. For others, this was something they had trained months for, if not longer. The weather was perfect, the crowds were in a partying mood and the runners were spurred by the energy and happy mood of the day. No one suspected the turn this day would take. No one expected the turmoil that would ensue. No one sensed the darkness lurking just below the surface.
Jesus had quite a following. People flocked to this healer throughout Judea. He inspired hope and peace and joy and the promise that maybe there could be something different in this world. As word spread that he was nearing Jerusalem, people began lining the streets with more and more joining them as the day progressed. The excitement and fervor of the day was contagious and stranger and friend alike greeted one another and cheered, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” as this parade of disciples and their teacher riding on a donkey passed them by.
Typically, parades were only held when high government officials came to town. Their courtiers and officers would enter first leaving the most important, Caesar, to enter at the end of the route riding on a magnificent steed and dressed to impress. Our modern-day equivalent might be the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as the floats and balloons and bands go by building to the man himself, Santa Claus! This Jesus fellow entered at the last after some bedraggled men in shabby cloaks and he was riding on a donkey. But the crowd waving palm branches and spreading them on the road seemed to suggest that there was something great about this man—something kingly.
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look your king is coming to you,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey”
So when he finally enters Jerusalem and the people of the city have turned out in anticipation of whoever this great person is, they are left in turmoil. They had been spurred by the energy and happy mood of the day. No one suspected the turn this day would take. No one expected the turmoil that would ensue. The prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee had entered in—but the frenzy of energy and the excitement in the air would soon turn to fear and backlash as this outlier would disrupt the tenuous peace of Jerusalem.
In Boston that day, April 15, 2013, two bombs would go off close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What had been a happy, carefree occasion became a time of panic. A threat no one knew existed lurked beneath the surface of this sunny, joyous day—a threat no one even expected. Many of us remember the scenes that came out of Massachusetts in the week that followed—scenes of panic and exhaustion and fear and heroism. Five days after the hunt began, the nightmare ended as one suspect was killed and the other captured.
Jesus enters Jerusalem and an unseen threat lurks below the surface. The religious authorities do not trust how the crowd throngs about him. They find his words threatening to the status quo and fear the disruption of peace they have worked so hard to establish. The Roman authorities never appreciate a ruckus, especially when it involves the Jews. They, too, will keep their eye on this developing situation. They do not like when things are beyond their control.
This is the tension of the moment. It is a tension that has become more and more realized in our own lifetime: terrorism, political jousting, a mistrust of authority, economic turmoil, immigration, gun violence, every buzz word you might conceive of, and now disease, a virus. No longer do we enjoy the change in the weather, the beginning of spring and the warmth and flowers and beauty it brings; no longer do we celebrate the abundance in our lives and the health and well-being of our families, our bank accounts, our life styles; no longer do we spend our days in carefree innocence at Publix or the park without also knowing that something invisible lurks beneath the surface threatening our existence and stranger and friend alike. That is the tension of this moment—living in a world of beauty and joy and yet knowing that in a moment, things could turn ugly.
Our collect this morning will invite us to walk in the way of the cross. The cross will prove all of our fears realized, but Jesus will help us remember that those fears do not have power over us. He reminds us this morning that the path to the cross is strewn with palms. There is joy and abundance and happiness even as he knows the pain and suffering that lurk in the shadows of this moment. Not only does Jesus celebrate this time, he encourages it. He is the one who arranges for a donkey, knowing there will be a procession. He basks in the cries of the crowds, not out of pride but out of love. He lets the warmth of love that stems from this crowd fill him with the strength and courage to face the darkness that lies ahead. He will enter Jerusalem and face what lies ahead in faith not fear because he trusts in something more than what this world has to offer.
We are walking in the way of the cross in this moment. For some of us, we are still on the palm strewn path. For others, the path has become one of turmoil. For all of us, there is an unseen threat lurking just beneath the surface and yet we can face it as Jesus did, trusting there is something more than hoarding toilet paper or worrying about the lack of face masks. Those fears exist but our faith in Jesus Christ and his way of love remind us that they do not have to have power over us.
In the face of all that is bad and frightening and unknown in this world. There is one thing we can always know—Jesus comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Palm Sunday Year A: Psalm 22:1-21; Isaiah 45:21-25; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Sunday, April 5, 2020