palm sunday: there are two ways of doing everything
lets start where we’ll end:
there are two ways to do everything.
Today is Palm Sunday.
It’s that day when we get to wave around a plant that doesn’t grow anywhere around here while shouting out a word that has no meaning whatsoever in our lives and culture.
And people tell me the church isn’t relevant!
But all jokes aside, Palm Sunday is actually really really relevant.
And not just because it’s the Sunday that transitions us out of Lent and into Holy Week, which takes us to Easter, which of course takes us to resurrection; and not just because it’s a Sunday that names Jesus as the Christ; but because Palm Sunday gets us to remember a story that helps us navigate through us a very important intersection when it comes to being human and alive in this world.
The story this all stems from is one that's found in all four gospels (which tells you its important) and it’s a story about Jesus’ coming out party. It's a story about Jesus coming into Jerusalem finally owning and wearing the titles that have been swirling around him for years, these titles of King, Messiah, and Christ, these titles that speak to the idea that Jesus is the one who shapes our world and lives, the one who embodies what it means to be human and alive in this world, and the one who repairs and restores the universe by drawing us and everything else back into loving unity with the Divine.
And its a story, if you ask me, that might just be one of the coolest, most elegant, and most subversive in our scriptures.
But to really see that, we’ve got some work to do. To really get at what this story holds for us, to get at its punch and power, we really need to deconstruct it and peel back the layers to get a glimpse at what this story was saying to it's original audience.
Which, sidebar, is always a good thing to do whenever you read scripture, even if it all seems pretty straight forward. We always need to remember that these scripture stories were written down by a particular person with a particular agenda in particular time to a particular group of people. In order to understand and receive it today, in order to access the universals, what it says to us, we need to know the particulars.
So: three things to know which really help us have our minds blown by what Jesus is doing here:
First: When this story was taking place, we need to know that it was Passover.
And what's Passover? It's one of the central Jewish festivals commemoration and celebration of the Exodus.
And what was the Exodus? It was when God led the enslaved and oppressed people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.
And what was Egypt? Egypt was an empire.
Passover is the celebration of how God is bigger and more powerful than Empire. Passover is fundamentally anti-imperialistic. That's the festival taking place in this story.
The second thing we need to know: When we enter into the story of Palm Sunday, where are we?
Outside Jerusalem. Wheres Jerusalem? Israel. The Middle East.
Who controls the Middle East? Rome.
What's Rome? An Empire.
As we enter into this story people are celebrating the triumphal escape from one empire right in the midst of another.
And this wasn’t lost on Rome.
Knowing what this festival was about and that it was ripe for riot and revolution, each year at Passover, on the very day this story was taking place, on the west side of Jerusalem, the Roman king would march into the city with a royal military procession.
In a display of might, power, and strength, a red carpet would be rolled out, and the King would come in on his massive war-horse, surrounded by legions of soldiers waving their swords in the air, chanting Roman imperial slogans, all of it designed to say to those celebrating Passover:
'Your God is not bigger than us. Look at all this power and force. This is the way the world is meant to work.’
Which brings us to the third part of this story we need to know about: When this is happening, where’s Jesus?
He’s entering into the city near the Mount of Olives.
Where’s the Mount of Olives? On the east side of Jerusalem.
As the King and Empire march into west part of Jerusalem, way over on other side of the city, quite a different scene is taking place:
Jesus is coming into the city riding on a donkey, surrounded by fishermen, women, and outcasts, all of them waving palm branches in the air and putting down their smelly rotten cloaks on the ground for Jesus to walk on, all of them shouting: ‘God save us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.' And we're told the city began to shake as they did.
Are you with me?
God … Empire
Jesus on donkey, a beast of burden … King on horse, an animal of war.
Women waving branches, symbols of peace and anti-imperialism … Soldiers with swords, weapons of violence and oppression.
Dirty cloaks, a symbol of the 99% … Red carpet, a symbol of the 1%.
"Hosanna God save us," cries for liberation and revolution … Battle cries and edicts, threats of submission and manipulation.
Anyone get the sense that this whole thing feels a bit staged?
You’re not alone.
As most scholars would agree, what we have happening in this story, is Jesus putting on a radical act of subversive guerrilla street theatre -
something intentionally designed to offer a powerful counter-narrative to the one being offered on the other side of the city.
While the Empire is saying:
Power, violence, hatred, and brute force is the way to be in the world for that’s the way the worlds works.
Jesus is saying:
there’s a different way to be in the world,
there’s a different way the world can work,
a way that’s rooted in something more powerful than anything we can think of: love.
Extravagant and indiscriminate love.
Are you with me now?
Palm Sunday is a relevant and important story because it doesn’t just capture the kind of King, Messiah and Christ Jesus is, which sets up ways for us to newly understand Easter and resurrection, but also, and here’s where we’ll go with it today, because it captures an important truth that can help us navigate an intersection we’ll come up to again and again throughout our lives:
There are two ways to do everything:
there’s the way of power
and then there’s the way of love.
A couple years ago my girlfriend and I had our first big fight. It was my fault. I lied to her about something.
It doesn’t really matter what I lied about; what matters is I chose to lie. The more I reflected upon it, the more it became clear that I didn’t just lie to her, I did something bigger than that: when confronted with conflict, when confronted with an uncomfortable situation, I chose the way of power.
I chose to control her.
I chose to manage her.
I chose to manipulate her.
Yes, because I was scared and guilty and shameful,
but also, lets be honest, so I could win,
so I could save myself,
and so I could dictate the terms of our relationship.
And if you’ve ever been in that kind of situation before, where does that way of power generally lead?
It leads to more of the same, doesn’t it?
It leads to a cycle of violence, to this cascading need for more power, control, management, manipulation, which leads to more lies,
which leads to the need for more power, control, management, manipulation, which leads to more lies.
Theres a word for this kind of life and world in our tradition. We call it ‘hell:' a world absent of love, respect, and grace.
I could have and should have, as I'd later learn and experience, when confronted with conflict and that uncomfortable situation, chosen a very different way: the way of love.
I could have chosen to be honest with her,
to be vulnerable with her,
to trust her,
to respect her,
to share with her,
and to give myself over to the truth.
And if you’ve ever been in that kind of situation before, where does that way tend to lead?
It lead to more honesty, more truth, more respect, and more love which leads to more truth, respect, and love, which leads to more respect, truth, and love.
There’s a word for this kind of life and word in our tradition.
We call it ‘heaven:'
a world full of love, harmony and peace.
Maybe you’ve got a similar story.
Whether it be in our relationships, or how we raise our kids, or how we lead, or how we use our influence and money, or how we do our work,
or how we respond to conflict and violence, Im sure we’ve all experienced this truth:
there are two ways to do everything.
the way of power,
and the way of love.
Palm Sunday reminds us to always, no matter what it is we’re doing, choose the way of love.
And this isn’t just romanticized fluff - this idea that sounds beautiful but is ultimately empty and powerless.
There’s something ancient and deeply true about the power of love. There’s a reason the earth shook as Jesus came into town:
Love has the ability to change our lives and world. It has the power to shake the very foundations of all we see and all we know.
It has the power to bring walls tumbling down to make room for something new.
We’ve seen it.
We’ve seen it people like Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and Malala.
We see it when forgiveness reconciles and makes new.
We see it when honesty and humility leads to cooperation and transformation.
We see it when people of different races and religions come together in the face of violence and tragedy.
The evidence is all around us.
Whenever we chose love instead of power the ground shakes.
Whenever we chose love instead of power the world begins to change.
Whenever we chose love instead of power the world became a bit more like heaven.
Palm Sunday invites us join in on Jesus’ parade and shake the ground and world with our love.
So as we head into Holy Week,
as we head towards Easter and resurrection,
as we back head into our lives and worlds,
we join in on that parade and choose the way of love
knowing love is worth it,
knowing love can change the world,
and knowing love will save us all.