So there is a parade….and people are clamoring to see Jesus. The crowds are in Jerusalem for the Passover and word has gotten around about Lazarus…that Jesus could raise the dead three days after they’d been put in a tomb. And now they dare to dream that Jesus is the Messiah..the king Israel they have been waiting for…the one that will save them. And so they greet him with a parade…and wave their palms. Even Greeks – foreigners – those outside of Israel are wanting to see him….to find out who he is and what he’s about. It’s a big day.
And there are three very distinct reactions to all of this. The disciples are excited…they see all the hoopla and figure even bigger things are coming. Jesus is going “global”, as it were…and they were there at the startup. You can kind of see Philip and Andrew giving each other the thumbs up…”It’s happening now!”
The Pharisees, on the other hand, are angry…fed up. They realize that this isn’t something they can wait on any longer. It has gotten out of hand…too many people are being led astray by Jesus. They realize the urgency of doing something to stop Jesus once and for all. Something that will humiliate him and turn the crowds off of him….make him a fool instead of a hero.
And Jesus…well, Jesus realizes that this means it’s time. It’s time for him to be glorified….which sounds great…but Jesus knows what it means. And his soul is troubled. Because the way God will reveal God’s glory in the world…is by letting the world destroy Jesus…by letting the world do its worst… as it has always done . The world has done a bang up job throughout history of destroying people. Hating people. Blaming people. Rejecting people. Hurting people. And God’s idea of revealing God’s glory….is by showing us once and for all that this ….this is where we find God. Not in our righteous acts as judge and jury over those we think have done “wrong”…..like the Pharisees and chief Priests and so many religious folks. But, rather, we find God hanging on the cross with the despised and rejected of the world. This is how Jesus will be glorified. This is God’s plan.
Now we all love a parade. We love the energy and the joy. It’s fun to celebrate the Rodeo or Homecoming or the Lilac Festival or Martin Luther King. Ticker tape parades celebrated soldiers who came home from the war and ball teams who won championships. And understandably, we would like following Jesus to be a parade…all goodness and joy. A celebration of victories won…of overcoming odds and community support. And there are those moments…those beautiful moments…there are. But Jesus’ parade is short lived. Because in a few short days, Jesus goes from being hailed as “king of Israel” by the crowds…to being mocked as “king of Israel”, and executed as just one of many expendable lives in the Roman Empire.
There’s a reason we celebrate Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday together. Partly, it was because most people didn’t show up for the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services…so they went from waving Palms and shouting “hosanna” one Sunday to the empty tomb and ‘alleluias’ the next….without spending any time at the cross. And so you could have the illusion that believing in Jesus…that being a Christian was just one big party. But the heart of Jesus…the glory of Jesus wasn’t revealed on the donkey coming into Jerusalem or even in the resurrection. When Jesus says he will be glorified, he meant that he will suffer and die at our hands.
He will join all those who have suffered and died at the hands of others in this world…and he will suffer with them. He will share their pain…and reveal God’s presence and God’s love in the most broken places on earth. This is God’s revelation of love for us right in the midst of all our pettiness and hurt and hate…this is the glory of God.
Following Jesus can never be about going from one parade and celebration to the next…because life is too full of hurt and pain. We have glimpses of beauty and joy….but the work of faith is bringing God’s presence and love into the hard places. In church language lingo…we call that the “theology of the cross”. What Jesus leads us to is bringing God’s presence and love to the brokenhearted and the just plain broken. To those who have been abused. To those who have been rejected. To those whose lives have been distorted by addictions. To those who have gotten so lost in violence and hate that they have destroyed their own souls. The work of Jesus is done by people like Homeboy ministries, working with gangs in Los Angeles. It is done by prison chaplains and folks at domestic violences shelters. It is done by advocates for the homeless and the queer and the trans. It is done by those who stand with the victims of racial and religious bigotry. The work of Jesus is found wherever people stand alongside those who are hurting…without looking away. And without pity. Wherever you stand along side your neighbor who is hurting simply as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Because they are God’s beloved ones.
These holy moments…when we stand with one another in the midst of the pain of this world …these are the grains of wheat that bring forth new life. It is not easy. It troubles our souls…but this is the holy work we are called to. This is the eternal work…the only thing that matters. The parades are fun…but they are not the point. Recognizing those who still hang on the world’s crosses…that is the point.
I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast between the ticker tape parades that welcomed soldiers home from WW2 vs the outright hatred that welcomed soldiers home from VietNam. In truth, both missed the point. Many soldiers from WW2 never knew how to reconcile the ugliness of war and all they had experienced and seen with their “happy” life back home….no one wanted to hear it. They only wanted to celebrate the victory…they only wanted the parade and didn’t want to hear about the ugliness. So a lot of those vets wrestled their whole life with a dark space inside them and the nightmares it held that they never dared share. My brother was a doctor for a number of those aging vets before they passed on…and many of them, in their last years, shared the pain they carried alone for decades. On the other hand, everyone acknowledged the horror that the VietNam vets experienced…. but then, instead of people recognizing their pain and standing alongside them… they were rejected and hated for it. God does not reject…but is with them in their pain…calls us to be with each other in our pain.
Friends, the cross of Jesus places God in the midst of the darkness within and the darkness without. It places God in the midst of the horrors of war…in Ukraine. And it places God in the midst of the tortured places within us….when we fight demons of all kinds.. The cross of Jesus places God there…in the midst of the depths of our hopelessness and struggle….and claims that these people…that this world…that we…that YOU…are beloved. That nothing is beyond God’s reach…beyond hope. Nothing and no one is beyond resurrection.
On this Palm Sunday, we enjoy the parade….but we remember that its joy is hinged on the truth that the one we celebrate…Jesus…is the one who goes into the darkest places…into our darkest places. And says. I’m here. Now. I love you. I am with you. And we are going to get through this. I have you. I hold you. I’m never letting you go. Not ever. Not for eternity. Amen.