Well, Palm Sunday is here. We’ve probably already eaten way too much candy, we’ve bent our palm fronds into crosses, and today kicks off the holiest week on the Christian calendar, the annual remembrance of Jesus’ defeat over the grave. “Death, where is your sting, Sting, where is your Grave, Grave, where is your victory? He got up! God raised him up! He got up, all power in his hand!!!”
Somewhere in the midst of all this Easter week protocol is the telling of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem does not get the attention it deserves. These are the final days of Jesus’ ministry. This is the final week of Jesus’ life. The heart of the Christian faith is built upon the events that happen this week: the Last Supper…the trial before Herod and the High Priests…the anguish in the garden of Gethsemane…the courtroom scene with Jesus on trumped up charges, paid for testimony against him…humiliation, denial, fists, thorns, state sanctioned torture…the road to Golgotha, the place of the skull…hammer, nails, scorn, wailing women…and a borrowed tomb. It all starts with Jesus on a journey pressing his way toward Jerusalem.
The crowd screams his name. People are falling to their knees and bowing before him. They are laying down palms and their good coats, paying Jesus the highest levels of respect. This gesture of laying down items in the path of an oncoming person’s entourage is a gesture typically reserved for royalty and formal processions. The crowds are cheering “Hosanna to God in the highest!” offering Jesus the praise of God. You can almost hear the flashbulbs popping, can’t you? It’s like Jesus is on the on the red carpet on Oscar night. Yet in spite all of this pomp and circumstance, Jesus knows that between him and victory over the grave is the slowest, most painful method of execution known to humankind.
Even though Jesus knows Friday is coming, he still presses toward Jerusalem. This image of our Savior riding on a colt, being loved on by the people, being appreciated by the people, being the center of attention of all the people…for far too many of us, this is our expectation of ministry. We expect church to be just like this.
The preacher takes the pulpit, the organ music gets us up on our feet, and we receive the preacher…we holler and chant and shout Amen, and we expect church to be just like Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All Hosanna, all the time. We mistakenly see the work of the church from the vantage point of the person riding in on a colt: “go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it” (Mark 11:1-3, NRSV). Please keep in mind that when Jesus gives this order, he is talking to familiar disciples. Those disciples who have been traveling with him, the ones who have been learning from him and witnessing his miracles, the disciples whose names we have likely heard. But as I mentioned, the heart of the church, those who are carrying out the will of the Christ, are the people we don’t know about. The people whose hands you never see moving, the people whose work is seldom acknowledged. In this context, it is the peculiar Palm Sunday people. Have you ever wondered who it was that obediently left the colt for the Lord to ride?
Who were these followers of Jesus who not only knew that Jesus would have need of a colt, they also knew just where to put it? Who was it that made sure the colt that Jesus rode would be in its appointed place at its appointed time? Even the Gospel of Mark is stingy with the details about these disciples who knew ahead of time that Jesus needed this colt set aside and taken care of. These peculiar Palm Sunday people already knew to feed it and water it, to make sure it was strong enough to carry a man’s weight, and leave it for the Lord’s use.
If we learn anything from them, we see that choosing to follow Jesus is not always going to be a Palm Sunday experience. If anything, it would appear that a good portion of following Jesus involves being sensitive enough to his leanings to know when to move: to be obedient to the Lord’s call, to press on toward Jerusalem, and to do as Spirit leads whether you will be recognized for it or not.
So many of us claim to follow Jesus. But what we really are, are fans of Jesus. We like the idea of Jesus. We cheer him on, like the triumphal entry. Fans holler Jesus. Followers develop a relationship with him. Followers present the Divine with the gift of their time. Followers develop a Jesus sensitive listening ear, because in order to know where to leave a colt…you’ve got to be somewhere listening for your name. Holy Week happened not only because Jesus was obedient to God even to the point of death, Holy Week happened because a handful of folk were obedient. Can Jesus depend on us? Because as we enjoy this remembrance of God’s best gift to humanity, Jesus still has work that needs to be done. Behind the scenes.