by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Today is Palm Sunday, and we begin our journey with Jesus from Jerusalem’s gate to Easter’s triumph, from Hosannas to Hallelujahs! However, Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey ends with tears. He weeps because he knows that we too often miss God’s presence and look for peace in all the wrong places. We must never forget that Jesus’ journey leads through the betrayal of one of his followers, the denial of his closest friend, and the abandonment of all his disciples. It leads to the cross.
Raining Tears on a Parade
I got to the back of the sanctuary and asked what I should do with the basket. Web Heidt, our head usher, said “Just stand here for a few minutes.” A couple minutes later music started playing, everyone was waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” and I was leading the Palm Sunday procession. I carried the basket all the way to the front of the church. I had to sit up front for the whole service. I usually sat up in the balcony with my friends. Sometimes we slept. Sometimes we passed notes or played games. Not this Sunday. My friends all sat in the balcony making fun of me and I had to stay awake and at least look like I was paying attention.
I love Palm Sunday. It is one of the great stories from the Bible. It is so easy to visualize. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, surrounded by his disciples. The people of Jerusalem join in the parade, waving branches and praising God. “Hosanna. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” They danced and sang, celebrating their new king.
Strange thing about this parade, though. Jesus didn’t act like the typical Grand Marshal. Usually, when you’re the star of a parade you’re supposed to use the wave (wave) and have a smile glued onto your face. Jesus didn’t do that. Just outside of Jerusalem he stopped the parade and looked out over the city. He saw the temple, in all its magnificent splendor. There was Herod’s Palace, equally impressive. There was a marketplace, where anything could be bought. There were homes and people everywhere. Because the Passover was coming there may have been more than 500,000 people in the city, and it wasn’t a very big area. Jesus looked out over the city and tears began to roll down his cheeks. His chest started to tremble. His shoulders began to shake and he wept.
Through his tears Jesus tells us why he wept. He wept because the people did not recognize “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). The Jews were looking for a king, the new Messiah, who would sweep in and overthrow the Roman army. This king would throw out all the gentiles and restore the glory of Israel. He would bring back the good old days. But the kingdom that Jesus brought was different than the one the people expected.
Jesus wept because he knew that the people would reject him. He is the one who brings peace. He brings us God’s salvation. Yet the people would reject his message. They would reject him and miss God’s peace.
Jesus said “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.” The peace that Jesus gives is different from the peace of the world. It is a peace that comes through a relationship with God. Unfortunately, we look for peace in countless other ways. We fill our lives with activities and accomplishments, believing that the more items we can put onto our resume and the more money we can put into our bank accounts the more peace we will have.
If only I could get my degree and graduate from school.…
If only I could get that promotion or that new job….
If only I could build up my retirement account and have financial security….
If only we could elect the right government….
If only my kids would get their lives together, get a good job, find the right
spouse, and have children….
If only I could find the right church with the perfect pastor, where everyone
gets along and agrees with me about all the issues….
If only … then I could have peace. And so, Jesus wept. [6:00]
Jesus also wept because he knew what was going to happen to Jerusalem. He talked about enemies building ramparts around the walls of Jerusalem, which would allow the enemies to get inside the city. Jerusalem was going to be destroyed.
In 70 AD, just 40 years after Jesus died, the Jews rebelled against Rome. The Roman army came and captured Jerusalem. They destroyed the city. All the buildings were leveled. “They will not leave within you one stone upon another.” Thousands of people were killed. “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you.” Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because he knew that the people did not recognize that he was the source of their peace. And because they missed the peace that he offered Jerusalem would be destroyed.
Jesus weeps whenever we reject peace. He weeps when people have so much hatred and so little hope that they become suicide bombers. He weeps anytime violence is used to settle a difference. He weeps when people use words to attack other people simply because they disagree about an issue. He weeps when politicians are more focused on winning an election than doing what is right. He weeps when churches and denominations fight with each other and in the process stop sharing God’s love. Jesus weeps when we reject his peace and our lives are destroyed.
There is a third reason that Jesus wept. He wept because the people did not “recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:44). They didn’t recognize that in Jesus God was with them. They missed God. On Palm Sunday they shouted “Hosanna” and praised Jesus’ name. By the end of the week they had turned their backs on him and shouted “Crucify him!” They were so disappointed in Jesus that they wanted him dead.
All of us have moments when God visits us. I like to call them glimpses of grace, or even holy moments. Sometimes they are easy to recognize. Maybe it is a grand parade. Maybe it’s a great worship service. Maybe we are gathered with our family or friends, surrounded and overwhelmed by love. Maybe we are stunned by the beauty of creation, or we experience a peace and joy that are not based on the circumstances of life. Those are the easy moments to recognize.
Sometimes we miss God’s visitation because they come in our disappointments and in the struggles of our lives. We pray for Jesus to help us as we plan our dreams and goals, but life doesn’t seem to turn out the way we had hoped. We pray for God’s healing, but someone we love gets sick and maybe even dies. We ask God to protect and guide our children, but they make choices that are not wise. We pray for our church, that everyone would experience God’s grace and peace here, that it would grow and spread the good news of Jesus Christ to our community, yet we have arguments and people leave and go look for another church. We know what it is to be disappointed in God.
Let me suggest that these disappointments are likely to be “the time of our visitation from God.” They leave us with a holy choice: when we are disappointed in Jesus will we turn away from him and look for another God? When we are disappointed in God will we give up and decide that faith isn’t worth it. Or, will we continue to cling to Jesus and follow him, even if we are disappointed in God, even if following him leads to a cross?
During Lent, we looked at some of the parables of Jesus. He taught these parables as he and the disciples journeyed through Samaria, through a foreign land. Journey is one of the best metaphors for what it means to be a Christian. The Christian life is not a decision we make at one point in our lives but something we do every day as we journey through life.
Jesus’ journey took him from Galilee, through Samaria, to Jerusalem. Just outside of Jerusalem he stopped, looked out over the city, and wept. He wept because he knew that the people would reject him. He knew that people would not recognize that he was the presence of God, offering hope and peace. And because they rejected Jesus and didn’t recognize that he was God, Jerusalem was destroyed.
Sometimes, when Jesus looks at the church today I think he weeps. He weeps because he loves us and wants the best for us, but he knows that when we take our eyes off of him we will miss the glorious future God wants for us. He weeps because churches are so busy, or so timid, that they miss opportunities to share the good news of God’s love with a world that desperately needs the good news. He weeps because we spend time arguing over the issues that divide us and forget that we are all sinners who need God’s grace.
Thankfully, Jesus’ journey didn’t end outside Jerusalem. He continued into the city, to the Upper Room where he celebrated the Last Supper, to the cross where he died for our sin. On our journey of faith let us focus our hearts and minds, our lives, on Jesus. Let us look to Jesus as the source of our peace and salvation. “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”