Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Matthew 21:1-11 Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
He rode into town with two borrowed donkeys. Who here has ever ridden two donkeys? Me, neither. I haven’t even ridden one donkey, just some small ponies. All four gospels tell the story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem this last time. They all have donkeys. This is the only version that has two. The people cheered him on like he is a king or a general who has just won a big battle.
Do you remember the word they shouted when they saw Jesus? That’s right: Hosanna! Does anybody know what that word means? Save us! It means, “Save us!” Jesus wasn’t the only person that people ever yelled “Hosanna” to. But, people also didn’t yell hosanna at just anybody. They usually just yelled it to people who were wealthy and had some power in the government. Jesus was not wealthy. And, his power didn’t come from Rome, but from God. But the people believed that he could help them, so they shouted and sang and made a path for him to come into the city, covering the ground with their own cloaks and branches cut from trees.
Matthew's version of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem says that the city was in “turmoil.” This can mean a few things. It might mean that lots of people were around, doing lots of wild things, maybe even fighting with each other. It also probably means that the city was shaking from all the noise and crowd movement. What’s the loudest place you’ve ever been? … That’s pretty loud. Matthew tells us that this parade into the city was that loud! Imagine watching a slightly dusty man ride two donkeys into town and be greeted like a king. Maybe you can feel it: Something big and strange is happening right in front of you. Maybe you’d even find yourself shouting along with the crowd. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Matthew doesn’t tell us this, but historians know that Jesus wasn't the only one who marched into the city during this festival. Pontius Pilate would have ridden into town, too, from a different gate, with a different agenda. He would not have had to borrow a donkey. His boss would have given him a chariot paid for by money they took from people in taxes. He and the soldiers he commanded would have tried to look tough and scary, because they wanted to intimidate the people in Jerusalem into good behavior during their religious celebration.
Remember, everyone is in the city because it is the time of a major religious holiday: Passover. Passover was a holiday where the people celebrate God helping their ancestors escape Egypt where the Pharaoh, that is the king, was cruel to them. Pontius Pilate, who worked for a different powerful king, knew that sometimes if you hear stories about freedom, you want freedom, too. He’d get worried that the people would try to fight back against Rome. So, to counteract the stories about freedom, he’d show up with his soldiers to remind people that Rome was powerful and could win any fight that was started.
I’ve also read scholars say that people, the same people who cheered for Jesus voluntarily, would be required to show up to welcome Pilate and to sing his praises. Has anybody ever gone to a party they don’t want to be at and had to pretend to be having fun? That could happen to whole cities. If they looked anything less than excited for Pilate to return to the city, they risked making him mad. If he was mad, he might tell his soldiers to do something dangerous. I don't how many people shouted Hosanna at Pilate. Some probably did, because he was powerful enough and might help him. I bet not many people thought Pilate had come in the name of the Lord.
In Matthew, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem shows us something important. It shows us how deeply people connected with his mission of wholeness and liberation. In the middle of a huge religious celebration, enough people heard he was coming, or saw he was coming and were excited about it that they gathered around him. They made a whole parade happen out of nowhere. And, they moved the earth with all their shouts and excitement. Their excitement probably also made some powerful people nervous. They would have seen a crowd gather to celebrate and ask for help from this teacher. They would have seen the crowd treat him like someone who was powerful enough to save them. Powerful people don’t always like it when someone who isn’t them is also seen as powerful. Sometimes powerful people do dangerous things when they think someone will take power from them.
Carolyn Brown once wrote something about this scripture and said that the Palm Sunday Parade shows us how Jesus will use his power differently than Pilate or even Caesar would. While they use their power to scare people and make themselves rich, Jesus won’t worry about being rich. I know we didn’t read about it today, but in the parts of Matthew right after this story, Jesus will use his power to heal sick people. He will teach people, too. But, he won’t hurt anyone. That’s important to remember. Jesus’ power was never used to hurt people, just to ask people to take better care of each other.
What are some things that we can learn from this story? Yes. Those are all good things. I’d like to add a few things, too. One might be, even when things are hard, take time to run towards the things that are good and celebrate them. That is what the people were doing when they made this parade to welcome Jesus. They saw an opportunity to be near to something Holy and they took it. I also think we can learn that what matters most is our welcome, not that we have fancy things to welcome people. The people who welcomed Jesus only had the simple things they had on hand and branches cut from trees, and their voices. They used what they had to make way for Jesus and to celebrate so loudly that the city shook. I hope that when you feel close to Jesus’ spirit, you will celebrate it, too. In your celebration, I hope that you will feel like Jesus can save you, too.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Stanley Saunders: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2404
I Love To Tell The Story podcast: https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=603
Pulpit Fiction podcast: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/palmsundaya
Carolyn Brown: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-passionpalm-sunday-april-13-2014.html
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.