The Return of the King
by Rev. Salvatore Seirmarco
Director of Mission and Pastoral Care
Matthew 21:1-11; Psalm 46
I’m sure that most of us have watched or can remember watching a military parade. Some may remember the victory parades after WW2. I can remember the parades after the First Gulf War. The returning army marching in all their glory. The Commanders, with their glistening medals and badges proudly leading the parades.
I remember that when I was in high school, I fell in love with American history; specifically Civil War history after watching the movie Gettysburg and then visiting the battlefield. I think I have been there at least 5 times, not that I was counting. But what drew me in was the regalia of military pomp and circumstance. The drama of the victory, and defeat. I mean who doesn’t like a good story about a victorious warrior marching into his city to the cheer, and adoration of the people. It can be very moving; more so maybe if you are on the winning side.
I can’t help to think that perhaps the disciples on Palm Sunday were feeling like me when I watched Civil War re-enactments or military parades-their chests puffed out with honor, their cloaks placed at the feet of Jesus. This was the great victory march of their King into the capital city. They were expecting a great warrior king.
But Jesus enters Jerusalem, not in full regalia. He rides on a borrowed colt, a donkey. Does a warrior ride a donkey? I don’t remember U.S. Grant or Robert E. Lee riding a donkey. There is not pomp and circumstance. There is great joy and jubilation from the group. They lay down palms, a symbol of victory. It is a very spontaneous parade. They throw down their clothes before him. I think I could probably get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Wouldn’t you?
Here are the disciples and people of Jerusalem, full of pride at the return of their “king,” about to enter the feast of Passover. The very celebration of their people’s liberation from Egypt. Jesus has come to liberate them from the oppression of Rome, or so some of them thought. There is great Joy on this day.
But think, in a very short time, life for the disciples was going to fall in around them. They were soon to lose their rabbi. Their world was going to collapse in chaos around them. At such a time there was only one thing for them to do, to stubbornly hold on to trust in God. This gave them Joy. We know that just a few days later their bubble will be burst. Their joy will be replaced with fear, uncertainty, betrayal, and even death. Christ came into the city and marks his kingdom. A kingdom that is meek and humble. A kingdom that doesn’t meet our (or the disciples) expectations.
On that Sunday as Christ entered Jerusalem, the people shouted Hosanna. Hosanna comes from the Hebrew; it literally means to save or to rescue. It can literally mean “Save, I pray!” but is not a specific request for personal salvation. Here it was used as a shout of jubilation. Five days later that same crowd would yell crucify him!
Today is Palm Sunday! We should be filled with joy, for our king has come. We should, and we will shout Hosanna. Our king has come, not to fill our expectations, but to call us to live to his. We should be filled with joy and pride for this. But we also are called to be deflated, defeated, and ashamed as we walk through Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, and eventually Easter Sunday.
When I was here last weekend for a memorial service, a great point was made. And I think it applies to Holy week and Jesus’ passion. Even though we walk through the valley of death, we walk. We keep walking. Death does not stop us. Christ’s death on Friday does not stop us.
We MUST keep walking. We must get to the glorious empty tomb on Sunday. And Christ has gone before us, he will come again, but he is walking with us. Neither life nor death, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Hosanna! The Lord saves us and has urged us to keep walking.