Today is the only Sunday on which we have two gospel readings – the first to remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the second to remember his Passion. I have often wondered about the two gospel readings in the same liturgy. Why is it the Church decides to tell these two stories?
During the entrance to Jerusalem we are told of all the spontaneous pageantry – a entry worthy of a king – at least that is the way it seems. There are cloaks spread before Jesus, palm waved, and cries of joy at the arrival of the one who will bring about the desired change. Hosanna is word which means “rescue” or “save.” It is easy to understand Hosanna as a single word that captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs and expectations of a people who have been occupied by the Romans, made to feel strangers in their own land, and had little hope of improving their lot in life short of selling their soul to the Roman overlords. The people at the gates of Jerusalem wanted a King, a fixer someone to change the world they lived in. They wanted a dramatic defeat of the Romans and a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. They want Jerusalem to be great again. They want the world around them to change.
And yet, it was Jesus’ goal not to change the world, but to change them.
By the end of the week, it was clear Jesus was not going to be the one they wanted. I have often wondered if it was the same crowd that cried Hosanna upon Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem that will later shout “Crucify him!” Just days later they are assembled in the governor’s courtyard, but now their eyes see differently. Instead of a king they see a criminal, a zealot, a disturber of their peace. The signs of welcome are replaced by the shouts for death on a cross.
I wonder if there was someone there, who in their later year came to understand Jesus as Lord and Savior. A generation past, he is surrounded by his grandchildren, the family growing up in the early Christian community. One of the grandchildren says, “Baba, I heard you met Jesus. You were there when he came to Jerusalem.” I wonder what story he would tell – would the cries for Jesus’ crucifixion be left out of the story – would he move from Palm Sunday quickly to the glories of Easter and the Resurrection.
What would we do? Depends. We are people who have a seemingly inexhaustible well of possibilities, and so our stories are of plans, achievements, successes (ours, our children’s or our grandchildren) – and we have the social media accounts to share the good news with our crowd. We are not a people who instinctively tell stories of our loss and failure.
Yet, in many a quiet conversation with people – the person right there in the pew next to you – I hear the deep ache so many of us carry. There are fears about the future, challenges in our relationships, a general sense of impotence about local and world events, diminishing confidence in traditional social structures – church, law enforcement, government, family – and more. In many ways, we are the people who here on this Palm Sunday, cry out Hosanna! We too want a savior, we want rescue, someone who will restore us and make it like it used to be – fixing the world around us. “Hosanna. Save us…. but don’t change us.”
And yet, it is Jesus’ goal not to change the world, but to change us.
Like the people of Jerusalem, we got a savior, a rescuer, just not the one we expected.
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself.”
What we got was Savior who identifies with them in every way (except sin). A Savior who came, not to change out the people on the throne, but to change hearts. What we got was the grain of wheat that falls to the ground, dies, in order that there would be new life – new life in the people of the crowd; in us.
I hope that grandfather’s story talks about the new life and the change he experienced. That he told them about the man he was on Palm Sunday, about his failures on Good Friday, about the wonder and puzzlement of the Resurrection, and the later moment he realized that he had indeed been rescued as the grace of God began to let him read what had been written on his heart.
I hope he tells the children that God himself became one of us, humbling himself, in order to rescue us all. I hope he tells his grandchildren,
“When I knew the whole story of Jesus, then I understood that week in Jerusalem and the changes I needed to make in my life.”
“What changes were those, Baba?”
“Children, let me tell you the whole story of Jesus, the Son of God. The story that is written on my heart.”
…and so we tell the whole story. Maybe that is why we are reminded of the Passion of Jesus so that we do not skip from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection. Come Easter Sunday the Romans were still in charge. Come Easter 2018, the world will be pretty much the same. Life won’t have changed, and yet everything will change.
What will be the story that you tell?