Sundays are always chaos for my family and I. Usually, we end up being at church about half an hour early, leaving after most people have left, and coming back for evening things like youth, children’s activities, and choir. In between, I try to get something to eat and start my study for the week ahead or call and visit people if I can. Generally, the day starts and ends about the same time on the clock – 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. So normally, I end forgetting something along the way. Some days I forget my reading glasses, some days my office keys, usually, it’s something I need for things to go smoothly during Sunday School and the Worship Services.
I also tend to get sidetracked. I usually am only capable of thinking about one thing at a time. Personally, I think everyone is like that and the idea of multitasking sounds too much like having a split personality for me to be comfortable with it. So, if I am thinking about one thing it is easy for me to forget about or loose track of other things that I am supposed be or need to be thinking about. Case in point, this past Sunday night, Heather and I are trying to get things together to leave after choir practice. I am putting away my guitar, a stack of music, various other things that I have had out for practice while talking to Heather.
I gathered up my usual traveling kit of things: keys, wallet, phone, etc. and headed for the door. One little oddity I practice is to have my keys on key rings that are detachable because I hate to have things in my pockets, and I am afraid to hang keys on my belt loop for fear they will fall off. I checked my pockets, thought I had everything and followed Heather into the little atrium between my door and the office door that leads to the outer door.
I reached in my pocket about the time I pulled the door closed to lock the deadbolt on my door behind me and realized I only had my car key, the one that goes to Heather’s car, the one that I usually don’t use. We started toward the entry door thinking that I would get them the next day and realized the outer door lock is a double cylinder deadbolt – you need a key to open both sides. Heather and I were trapped in the little space between the offices and the back door.
I called Tonya, our church secretary who was willing to come to the church and let us out, because my keys were sitting on the desk where I normally leave them. Tonya was laughing on the phone when I hung up, laughing up the sidewalk to open the door, and laughing all the way back to her car. I think she may have been laughing when she came in Monday morning as well.
Sometimes, its only after we get used to doing something for the umpteenth time that we realize something is not quite right, something is missing. For me on Sunday, it was the habit of walking in and out of the door with same set of keys that threw me when I had a different key to a different car. When we read the account of Palm Sunday in Luke, we find one obvious and one not so obvious thing missing.
Today is Palm Sunday, as you know, the celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem, the beginning of Holy Week on the Christian calendar. As you may have noticed in our reading this morning, no palms. The only tree in the chapter is a sycamore in the story of Zacchaeus, twenty-five verses before. They are mentioned in John and Matthew and Mark have leafy branches, but Luke has no palms, plants, branches, or the like.
Instead, Luke has rocks, talking rocks; or at least they would be under the right circumstances. According to Luke, as Jesus and his disciples walked into the city, they walked into a party like atmosphere with people laying their cloaks on the ground for him to walk on and shouting out blessings and praises to God for sending Jesus. This was no ordinary procession, however, no simple walk into town with friends for a religious ceremony. For some scholars, this was a counter demonstration of the Roman, imperial machine, a defiant expression of the one true God over the false gods of Rome. For others, it is the presentation of the Messianic King of Israel who has come to liberate his people, with varying ideas of what liberate might mean. Palm Sunday was a day of two empires entering Jerusalem Jesus was leading one from the east and Pontius Pilate from the west. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Pilate came to proclaim the power of empire.
Here is how it happened. Pilate entered Jerusalem from the west, coming from Rome. With him, he brought not only a small army to keep the Jews in line – the Jewish people had a history of rebellious behavior at Passover, a celebration of liberation – but also as a show of Roman theology. This theology held that the emperor of Rome was the ‘Son of God’, specifically the god Apollo. This practice of naming Roman emperor’s in this way went back to Augustus who was said to have been the son of the god Apollo and the mortal woman Atia. The emperors from then on bore titles like ‘Son of God’, ‘lord’, and ‘savior’. The procession of Pilate would have been a reminder not only of their might but also of the state religion, not only a rival state order but a rival theology as well.
Coming from the east, Jesus and his followers entered opposite the Roman legions. Jesus enters to cheers and exultations to God. To many, he is the Messiah, coming to restore Israel to its former glory as an independent state. Like others – Judas of Galilee and Zadok the Pharisee some thirty years before this – Jesus was expected by some to lead a social and religious uprising that would end Roman rule in their homeland. The people looked to the prophet Zechariah for their inspiration,
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As he rides in on a donkey during the major celebration of the Exodus, Jesus triumphal entry appears, though we cannot be certain, to be a counter demonstration of power, the power of God in the face of the power of Rome.
That explanation brings us back to the discussion Jesus has with the Pharisees. When Jesus says the people must praise or the rocks will cry out, I believe he is using a metaphor to say that the people need something to restore their faith in God within the context of Roman occupation. The rocks crying out is a way of saying to the Pharisees that people are so downtrodden by their current circumstances that they must let it out of their system, or they may well have charged the Roman army right then.
So, let me ask you some questions. What do you believe in so stronger, with all the holy fervor you can muster, that would cause you to shout? What is so important in your life that your spirit wants to scream it from the heights? Some would say, “My faith is so important” but is it? Do you really make a point of living into it in such a way that your life screams your faith to those who see you living it? What are preparing for this Easter Sunday? Is it life as usual, another year of platitudes or are you getting ready to respond to what I think is the real reason behind the resurrection: life transformation? I’m not talking about a one-and-done, say a prayer and sit in the pew from now on. I’m talking real life change, becoming a genuine disciple of Jesus. Holy week is what John Wesley would call the prevenient work, the stuff that happens in preparation for the transformation. Jesus must go through this week to get to the cross and then the resurrection. What are you getting ready for?
Borg, Marcus J., and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006.
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Greene, Joel B., and William H. Willimon, . The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.
Johnson, S. Lewis. “Triumphal Entry of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 124, no. 495 (1967): 218-229.
 (Borg and Crossan 2006, p. 3-5)
 (Johnson 1967, p. 219-220, 223-224)
 (Borg and Crossan 2006, p. 3-5)
 Zechariah 9:9-10