Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday...

I wrote the following thing for our Palm Sunday service three years ago. I'm hoping to throw some more things together like it throughout the next few days. It was around the time of my doing this that I had the thought, "Gee, I might like to be a writer..."


Once again the city of Jerusalem was abuzz with anticipation of the yearly Passover celebration. The sweet aroma of bread being baked in stone ovens could be smelled throughout the alleyways. Sounds of Jewish children playing games and singing the songs of their people floated throughout the streets like a disjointed but highly melodic chorus. Those same children would be stopped in their tracks and forced to listen respectfully, once again, to the old people telling the stories of times past. Abraham…. God’s promise…. Idols….. Wandering…. Captivity….. Moses….. Frogs, Blood, Darkness, Locusts….. and, eventually, freedom. A special gleam would appear in the storyteller’s eye whenever the tales were extended to include the time when Israel had a king. Those were the glory days, they would say, and sometime in the future, maybe even the near future, the throne of David would be restored.

Isaiah 9:7

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The children rolled their eyes at the old people. “Can’t you see that Roman soldier over there with the sword, just waiting for you to make a wrong move?” the children thought. “Don’t you see the crucifixions that take place almost every week at the hand of those who occupy our land? What makes you think we’re ever going to have a king again?”

This cynicism of a future king was a youthful necessity, to prevent their hopes from being shattered. But they had heard the prophecies and, deep down, they believed.

Jeremiah 23:5-6

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely.

The predictions of these wild-eyed crazy men from years ago began to take root within the minds and hearts of the Jewish people. Perhaps a king for Israel would be provided once again. And now was as good a time as any.

king. Noun. One that is supreme or preeminent in a particular group, category, or sphere.

There were rumblings going on. There were always rumblings going on. But this had a different feel. The electricity in the air felt just a little more real when people started talking about this man named Jesus. He had conspicuously avoided Jerusalem for the greater part of the past three years, but that didn’t stop the stories from being spread to the holy city. Supposedly he had turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana just three years before. Many who had left Jerusalem in bad physical shape to wander out to the countryside to find this man, returned with whole bodies. Healed bodies. There were even rumors floating around about a ship and a storm and something about Jesus walking on water. One of those stories could have been dismissed, but they kept coming in one after another. Perhaps this guy needed to be taken seriously.

As exciting as those stories were, though, they didn’t match what those in the city heard he had been teaching. It was told that he talked a lot about love and compassion and sacrifice. That was good and all, but the thing that interested the people more than any was this man's repetitive use of one word: Kingdom.

The pieces started to come together within the minds of the people this Sunday morning. The guy coming into the city today has been performing miracles and talking about the Kingdom of God. Husbands and wives and friends and children, after a morning of pondering these stories, slowly began to look at each other and realize that they were thinking the exact same thing. Our king is coming! Today!

At first the amount of people walking out of their houses and toward the city gates was just a trickle. But as the morning progressed the crowd grew exponentially bigger and began to run a lot faster. The noise became almost unbearable as the stories of Jesus began to be told over and over again in groups of people.

A quiet woman is standing among the crowds, listening to all that is being said. The prospects of this guy coming in town and establishing a Jewish kingdom doesn’t do much for her. Sure, she thinks it’ll be great and all. But lately she’s been feeling this weird feeling, like something isn’t quite right with all these “kingdom” expectations that are being imposed on her by these people surrounding her. Her pain extends much deeper than that caused by foreign occupation. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it seemed like she needed delivered from something more imposing than just Rome.

Nevertheless her heart started beating fast when, over the horizon, she spotted a group of people walking slowly towards the city. She had to tip-toe to see over the crowds. Her ears began to ring when a leader of the crowd remembered a song of David and began the chant “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” As they got closer and people began to throw onto the ground their cloaks and palm branches from the nearby trees, she started to notice through the heads of the people more and more features of Jesus. He had the most kind face. It’s almost as if he was glowing. As she strained a little more to see through the crowds she noticed the children running around his entourage yelling his name over and over.

It seemed she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. The peace on his face, the strength of his gaze, the way he rides that………

Donkey? The person who is supposed to be the King of my people is coming into town on a donkey? Not a Stallion or a Mustang, or even a camel or a mule, but a donkey? The animal that is notoriously lazy and stubborn and dirty and lowly is the animal that a king is coming to town on? Over history the only things donkeys will be remembered for are taking those Brady kids into the Grand Canyon to be scared by the Native Americans, and as the mascot of what some consider the greatest cultural achievement of the south—Hee Haw—this is what he chooses as his mode of transportation? What kind of king does he think his is, coming into town on a donkey? And these people, they don’t even notice. They’re so hungry for power to be placed back into their hands that they can’t even notice their “king” is coming in on a donkey.

She had had enough. Making her way out of the crowd, being pushed and shoved around from the excited admirers of Jesus, she thought about what a fool she had been to even waste her morning to get a glimpse of this guy. A king, on a donkey.

As she traveled some distance away from the crowd those feelings began to come back. You remember the feelings. That unsettling deep down within her soul that things in this world, things in her life, are not as they should be. In the past her people could rely on miraculous deliverances from God… a sign…. a cloud by day and fire by night….. rivers being parted…. to know that God was near. That he could be touched and heard from. At least they could go to the temple with sacrifices to ease that nasty feeling of messed up humanness.

And then she stopped in her path. The noise of the crowd was now a considerable distance away. Her mind raced. Bits and pieces of remembrance passed across her mind. Other words. Other prophecies. Other declarations.

Isaiah 53:3-5

He is despised and rejected by men. A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised and we did not esteem him.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

And then……

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; He is just and having salvation. Lowly and riding on a donkey.

Having walked too far from Jesus to run back, yet coming much closer to truly seeing him than those crowds who were off in the distance shouting his name, she fell to her knees and whispered to herself…… “Could it be?”

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