Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“In The Eyes”
Rev. Art Ritter
April 14, 2019
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
“The eyes are the window to the soul.” Most of us have heard this proverb. Its origin is unclear. Many people believe Ciscero first said it. Others give credit to Shakespeare. I read this week that the current First Lady of China is receiving acknowledgement for creating the saying. Some scholars believe it is an interpretation of a verse from the gospel of Matthew in which the eyes are said to be the light of the soul. Regardless we might all agree that our eyes don’t lie. They are the window to our soul. They show the truth about us and what we are thinking and how we are feeling, no matter what kind of face we try to put on.
In his Palm Sunday commentary, Calvin Seminary’s Scott Hoezee writes about one of his favorite episodes of the television show M*A*S*H. It is one I remember well. I used to watch the reruns of the show with a large group of people at the apartment building at my seminary. It was a daily way to unwind. While most of the show was filled with comedy, it was the serious episodes or moments that I most remember. The particular episode that Hoezee describes was from 1974. Trapper had just been diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. While this at first seemed like unfortunate news, his roommate Hawkeye quickly reminded him that according to Army regulations, soldiers with ulcers had to be sent home. Suddenly, Trapper was thrilled to have an ulcer. A farewell party for Trapper is quickly arranged. Minutes before the party was to begin, Radar, the company clerk, informs Trapper that Army regulations have changed and his ulcer would have to be treated in Korea. He was not going to be heading home. Trapper goes to the party anyway, trying his best to pretend to be happy and festive, just to give his friends an evening of joy in the midst of their weary service. Yet during the party he and Radar exchanged frequent glances. Their eyes could not hide their sadness. It was obvious if any of the party goers would have taken the time to see. Trapper smiled and laughed but he wasn’t being honest. It was a nice party but it did not end in the way it should. At the end of the evening he was asked to give a speech. It was there when he finally broke down and told everyone the truth. He was not going anywhere. He was not leaving the messy world of the Korean War. He was going to have staying with them.
Hoezee asks a question that I have often wondered about. If we would have looked deep into Jesus’ eyes that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, would we have seen the truth? For us, Palm Sunday is a sudden and quick interruption into our rather solemn and honest Lenten observance. For Jesus, Palm Sunday was a rather short intermission in the darkness that surrounded him. Before the entry into the city, he had spoken some ominous words about his enemies wanting bloodshed. Following the processional, Jesus wept for the city of Jerusalem and for its failure to understand the ways that make for peace. Yet in between we have this story of the triumphant entry, of the festive parade, or the joyous celebration. I wonder if anyone looked into Jesus’ eyes to see what he thought about what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem. Was he as happy as the crowd? Did his eyes express the understanding of a deeper truth?
Palm Sunday is one of the most unusual days in the church calendar. It is a day of contrast- the celebration of the triumphant entry but also the rapidly approaching shadows of denial, betrayal, and crucifixion. As Christians, we are tempted to focus on the joy part of things. It is easier to handle the story of a celebratory parade than it is to hear the story of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane and Calvary. For many people Palm Sunday is like a mini-Easter Sunday, an observance of Jesus’ success and ultimate victory. Even though they are supposed to be some of the most important observances in our faith, many of us choose to skip Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship services. They are too somber. They are too sad. They are on Thursday and Friday when we are getting ready for the relaxation of the weekend. We like to go straight from Hosanna to the triumph of the empty tomb. We try too hard to let Palm Sunday be a bright spot in the Lenten darkness and really don’t take what it means seriously enough.
While Palm Sunday is described in all four gospels, something most unusual indeed, the gospel of Luke’s version of Palm Sunday is distinct and most interesting. I hope you were listening very carefully to the Scripture lesson as Mark read it to us! Scott Hoezee writes that if Luke were the only gospel that informed us about Palm Sunday, we would not call this day Palm Sunday. We might have to call it “Coat Sunday” because it is about the only detail that Luke offers about the day. There is no mention of palms at all. There is no talk of branches of trees. In Luke, people laid down their coats for Jesus to ride upon. In Luke, there is no donkey. It is a colt who has never been ridden that is to be untied and brought to Jesus. Finally, if we left our Palm Sunday celebration up to the gospel of Luke, you would never get to hear me sing my annual solo about “Hosanna.” Luke never mentions the word. Our hymns today contain the words, “All glory, laud, and honor to thee Redeemer King! To whom the lips of children, made sweet hosannas ring!” Yet the writer of the gospel doesn’t speak of hosannas or of children singing Jesus’ praise or even of how big the crowd watching the parade really was. According to Luke, the crowd consisted only of Jesus’ disciples. Twice in this short account we are told that they are the only ones doing the cheering.
No palms! No hosannas! What kind of parade is this? Is this a real parade for a real conquering hero or is this a planned processional intended to teach a lesson about what kind of King this Jesus really is? Was Jesus thrilled at the reception? Or was he apprehensive at the lack of understanding and fearful at what he knew was yet to come? Perhaps we don’t really know unless we look into Jesus’ eyes.
In her book The Undoing of Death, Fleming Rutledge talks about a sign that she saw in the window of a local greeting card shop. The sign read, “We make Easter easy.” Of course the owners of the shop meant that their business provided one-stop shopping for all of the eggs and candy and flowers and cards and bunnies that you might need to celebrate Easter. But she also said that the sign spoke to how we prefer our observance of Palm Sunday to Easter. We want it easy. We want the triumph of the parade without the weeping that come afterward. We want Easter without the messiness of Good Friday. We like Jesus as a crowd pleaser but we are confused by the powerlessness of the man when he stands before Pilate and allows the crowd to shout “Crucify him!”
Again, Scott Hoezee writes that on this day we need to look deep into Jesus’ eyes. We need to see the sadness that is there behind the celebration. We need to feel the pain and doubt that Jesus must have felt, even as he entered the city to a joyous reception. Jesus rode into Jerusalem perhaps uncertain of his fate, yet certain of God’s intention in what he was doing. Jesus rode into Jerusalem allowing others to celebrate the coming of the Kingdom of God yet all the while knowing that the Kingdom he was bringing was something that no one would understand, a Kingdom that would come with a cost as it threatened the powers and logic of the world. Jesus rode into Jerusalem knowing that on that day his presence was a real crowd pleaser but his eyes told the story that life is sometimes sad and unfair, dangerous and unjust, but that he trusted that none of that darkness was outside the boundaries of God’s love and grace. Jesus didn’t stay home and play it safe. He led the way for us in entering the Jerusalems of our life, days and time in which we are uncertain of what was coming yet knowing that we are following God’s path and that God is with us.
One of the best moments of the year for me as a minister is Christmas Eve. I get to stand here at the pulpit with my candle during the singing of “Silent Night” and watch the candle light spread throughout our Meeting House. It is a moment of great joy and peace. But the privilege I have is to be able to see that light reflected in your eyes. I can see you in your Christmas joy all the while knowing that many of you carry some hurt or pain or loss or fear in your hearts. I can see it in your eyes. There is joy even as you pass through the darkness. There is the assurance of God’s presence even as you walk a difficult and uncertain path.
We are right to celebrate Palm Sunday but not because it is a day of triumph, a day of easily obtained victory. We celebrate Palm Sunday because we know that God’s promise will come true even when it seems most absent. We celebrate Palm Sunday because our God entered into the same kind of death and darkness, engaging in all of the pain that surrounds us and did not let it have the final answer. We celebrate Palm Sunday because it is a day that might best describe our life, a mixture of joy and sorrow, of triumph and pain. And Jesus rode right into it to be with us and to demonstrate how much God loves us. We can see it in his eyes. The eyes tell the real story of this day.