Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Who is This?”
Rev. Art Ritter
April 5, 2020
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe.
Many years ago, when my daughters were much younger, I looked forward to taking them back to my hometown of Stanton for the summer celebration known as Old Fashioned Days. Old Fashioned Days is one of those events every small town has with a talent show, kiddie rides, softball tournament, classic car show, beer tent, and of course – a parade.
The parade took place on early Saturday afternoon and we had to arrive almost an hour early to set up our lawn chairs ad secure a good viewing spot on Main Street, on the lawn of the county Court House. And then we waited and waited and waited for the grand parade to begin. Maren and Amelia did not like this long wait. Their eyes and attention were focused on the face painting, kiddie rides, and snow cones that I wanted to happen after the parade. I told them to just be patient because the parade would be most exciting.
Finally we heard the drum beats and the police sirens and the parade began to make its way past our viewing point. There were two sheriff’s cars, a couple of fire trucks, the high school band, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, lots of tractors and horses and antique car, some local politicians, a couple of honored citizens in a shiny convertible, some souped up lawn mowers and some racing cows from Carson City. I remember being pretty excited about seeing the racing cows! But that was the parade. It was over pretty quickly. I remember Amelia asking, “What kind of parade was that?” Maren was even more specific in her criticism. “Where were the floats, the queens, the balloons, and the candy? I sensed that this parade wasn’t the kind they imagined or even the kind that their father was advertising.
I thought about that day when I read over the description of a parade in Jerusalem long ago. Jesus, having earned some reputation with his miracles, healings, and teaching, arrived at the holy city. Everyone was anxious to see him. Expectations ran rampant. Some hoped he was the Messiah, God’s chosen one to bring the Kingdom of God into reality. Other dreamed that he would be a gifted political leader, one to stand up to the abuse of the occupying Roman authority. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the hopeful and adoring crowd cut branches from the trees and waved them into the air. They threw their garments onto the street ahead of him. They shouted at the top of their lungs, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was a big thing, in expectation of a bigger thing. I mean, there were no racing cows but things like that only happen in Stanton!
Yet there was something unexpected about that parade, something disappointing about the guest of honor. He wasn’t exactly what the crowd was hoping for. He wasn’t riding on a white horse or even on the back of a shiny convertible. He rode a lowly donkey. He didn’t offer a rousing speech or accept the key to the city with his hand upraised with a victory sign. He remained silent. He didn’t stand with the city and temple dignitaries for a photo opportunity. According to the gospel of Matthew he went to the Temple and threw out the moneychangers, upsetting the disposition of the authorities. Jesus acted like he had something more important in mind, something not related to comfort and celebration and easy victory- but something that would confront the logic of the world and lead to a cross.
It is no wonder the author of Matthew quotes the crowd asking the question, “Who is he?” Others might have been wondering, “What kind of parade is this?” Even on that day of apparent triumph, Jesus didn’t seem to be what the crowd expected or wanted. He wasn’t bringing them the easy, final celebration that would remove them from fear and darkness and death. He had something else in mind. He was going to bring hope and ultimate victory, but not through a grand parade. He was going to bring God’s way through the midst of suffering and death.
The late Harvard University chaplain Peter Gomes wrote that the dual nature of Palm Sunday makes it difficult for us to know what to do. Our heads say it is a day of triumphant entry, a festive dress rehearsal for an Easter triumph. But our hearts focus on what is to come for Jesus in the week ahead, the sacrifices and sufferings that are yet to come. And that picture isn’t so pretty. As we watch this Palm Sunday parade in the midst of pandemic fear and isolation, we might better understand. We would like a God who comes into our midst to remove the virus and change our situations quickly and with minimal pain. Instead we are called to find the presence of God in the midst of our doubt and fear and struggle.
Gomes added that the only thing we can be certain about on Palm Sunday is the arrival of God’s love in the person of Jesus the Christ. God is present in the parade. The God who enters Jerusalem and who enters our lives this day will not take away our fear, our suffering, and our pain. Instead God will enter into our fear our suffering, and our pain- to hear us, to understand us, to share it with us, and to help us pass through it- just as Jesus experienced it himself.
I am a huge Frank Sinatra fan. I can listen to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” over and over again. I used to listen to Sinatra every Christmas Eve when we returned home from worship, and the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree. Scott Hoezee of Calvin Seminary writes that Sinatra prided himself on looking back upon his life compared to the lyrics of perhaps his most famous song, “My Way.” There is one tale that these lyrics were part of his last words. But in reality, as Sinatra neared his death he whispered to a family friend, “I’m losing.” Perhaps he understood that he could not control all of life, that he could keep life as he wished it, living it on his own terms. Hoezee writes that maybe Old Blue Eyes was in touch with something fundamental in the human soul: the aching sense that we were made for life and that death and darkness gets in the way. That is why we want to avoid it. That is why we wish it would go away.
Maybe the crowd that Palm Sunday hoped that Jesus would be different. They hope he would remove all of the pain and hardship of living so that life could be something celebrated in ease and comfort and certainty. Instead he rode before them humbly, going all the way to death, just so he could be like you and me, convincing us that he truly understood the entirety of our human experience and bringing hope and meaning to us even when times and circumstances are most difficult.
Jesus leads the way, helping us to find our way by assuring us that what we see is not all that there is. God will redeem these present moments and bring new possibilities and new life. Believe the promise and be exceedingly glad. Hosanna. Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Things may not be as easy as we wish. We may not have the control we desire. But God is with us. And God will have the last word.