April 14 “Arrival” Philippians 2:5-11* Luke 19:28-40 * Psalm 31:9-16 * Luke 22:14-23:56
One of my favorite memories from our last assignment to two small churches on the coast is the annual “Come and Play on Labor Day” weekend in South Bend, Washington. It includes a softball tournament, fireworks, games for the kids, and many other events. One of the highlights is the parade which runs through the main street, all 3 or 4 blocks of it. Participants include every emergency vehicle in town, and from the neighboring town, high school sports teams and their cheerleaders, clowns from Astoria, politicians, and a few local businesses. I would usually make a joke about the clowns and politicians, but in this case, I actually know some of the politicians, but not the clowns. All of them walk along tossing out candy and prizes, or ride in cars and trucks pulling trailers that have been decorated. Since this is a small town, the grand marshal, more than once, was one of our church members. It was a time to call former residents back to town to celebrate where they come from, and to celebrate small town life. It certainly is quite different from the big city parades you see on TV.
Perhaps this is the kind of atmosphere Jesus enjoyed as he entered into Jerusalem on a donkey: joyful, humble, and intimate, unlike what was going on down on main street. With it being the Passover weekend, all sorts of people would be in town to enjoy the celebration and catch the sights. Pilate certainly would have had his own parade, riding in on a proud horse and in full costume, flanked by his leading officers and other supposedly important people. In such parades, the ruler usually came last, while all the lesser beings went first, along with whatever things the ruler possessed worth bragging about, such as chariots, armies, and even slaves captured in war. Not unlike todays military parades in some countries, with very different weapons these days. Such as parade was designed to glorify the leader, remind everybody there who was in control, and send a dark message to ones’ rivals. If that ruler was the emperor, he was expected to be worshipped as a god, the one who provides all and who demands all from the people.
In sharp contrast is Jesus’ entry. Perhaps we might even sense a tone of irony in the story. Jesus arrives as a totally different kind of ruler, not the ruler of a temporary city in a temporary kingdom, but as the eternal ruler of an eternal Kingdom. He doesn’t seek to draw attention to himself, but to point to God. He doesn’t come to conquer peoples and enslave his enemies, but to set people free. He comes to offer himself, feeding the hungry and healing the sick, physically and spiritually. He comes riding on a humble donkey, seeking a humble room to share a final supper with his disciples. Certainly he has the power to call all of heaven’s forces down and overthrow Pilate and the Romans, but instead, he casts this aside, and places himself into their hands, and they take everything from him, including his life.
We may not fully understand why this all had to be done. We, as usual, cannot fathom the depth of God’s plans. Perhaps we remember Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion” and its vivid portrayal of Jesus’ last moments, and we ask ourselves how anyone could willingly go through such excruciating suffering. We say to ourselves: “He did this for me. For me.”
As we look at our world today, and what we have done to it, and when we look at our lives, and what we have done with them, we might ask in a weak moment if what Jesus did for us was worth it. But we hope for a better world now, and a perfect one in the future, perfect as Jesus is perfect. When we read of another mass shooting, of another scandal, of innocent people suffering, we ask why this all has to happen, and in the end, we just don’t understand, other than to acknowledge that we live in a broken world where sin and evil reign freely for a time. Jesus came to bring an end to all of this, it has already started, but we are not there yet. Even so, he was obedient to God in all things, as we are to be obedient, also. Jesus shows us the way, and we acknowledge that it is not an easy path, but it leads to victory and glory.
Jesus came to bring healing. He healed the sick before his death, he continues to heal the sick now. He brings healing to our bodies, to our eternal souls, and healing to our world. He brings forgiveness and healing for or sins and shortcomings, the harm that has been done to us from other people, and the scars of living in this world. This is the one who came triumphantly riding into town on a donkey, slipping in the back way unnoticed by the famous and powerful. He also provides all the good things in life: our homes, our loved ones, our jobs and our food, and the pursuits that bring us joy and a sense of meaning and purpose. In return, he asks us to recognize where all good things come from, give humble thanks and praise, and be obedient to God. We may not be called upon to give our lives like Jesus and others did, but we are called to give sacrificially from the abundance we have been given to those in need and in shadows.
This week we remember the Greatest Story Ever Told. Take time each day to reflect and be grateful, cleansing your heart and drawing closer to Jesus. Remember what Jesus did for you, and recommit again to following him, and doing what he calls you to do with the life that he gave you and preserves for you into eternity. The journey with Jesus continues, and we are invited to join in. We take our place in the divine parade headed into glory. We are not to the end yet, but we are on the right path.