24 March 2013
Winnemucca United Methodist Church
Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s the time of Passover, the Jewish celebration of their liberation from ancient Egypt under the leadership of Moses over 3,000 years ago. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians so that Moses and his people could escape. The tenth, and worst, of those plagues was the death of the first-born child in every Egyptian household. God instructed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so that the Spirit of the Lord would know to pass over those homes and spare their children.
It’s the time of Passover, and Jewish people are gathering in their holy city, Jerusalem, to celebrate once again. Jesus has known for some time that he would be on this journey to Jerusalem as well. He knows he must go there to face his enemies, to face his fears, and to face the cross.
As he begins to draw near, the crowds from Jerusalem begin to gather along the road. In ancient times, it was common to greet a conquering hero on the road as they drew near; covering the path with cloaks and palms as if to unroll a royal red carpet. And his entry is that of a royal king, indeed! These disciples and followers of Jesus have been watching him teach and perform miracles. They have heard him promise that he is the only way to true peace and salvation. They have witnessed the power of his presence, the power of his touch, the power of his preaching. When they see him coming, they now believe that it is true, that he will surely be the king that they have been waiting for, the king that will conquer the Romans, the king that will set them free and bring them peace! The baby who humbly entered our world at Christmas, is all grown up and will now take his proper place at the throne. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God with us; “Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Jesus is a king, but not the kind of king they were expecting. Remember, it’s the time of Passover. And when people gather for a celebration, no matter what ethnicity, no matter what religion, no matter what generation, things often get unruly. So the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, had also come to Jerusalem to ‘keep the peace.’ His entry was most likely also very royal, with people gathering, laying cloaks and palms, waving flags, and showing respect (genuine or otherwise) because it was demanded of them. Pilate was surrounded by soldiers, all of whom were heavily armed. He rode in on a warhorse, not a donkey. THIS is the kind of king they were expecting. THIS is the kind of king they were familiar with. THIS is the kind of king that Jesus was not.
Not only did Jesus arrive alone without an entourage of soldiers, on a donkey not a warhorse, unarmed; as Jesus arrived near the city gates, he wept. No, this is certainly not the king they were expecting…weeping as he enters his battle…no, certainly not. Another king of the Jewish people wept near these city gates on the Mount of Olives hundreds of years earlier. It was King David, another king familiar to Jesus’ followers. Why did David weep? Because his son Absalom came to seize control of the kingship…and won. David was conquered, defeated, rejected. He wept for himself. Jesus wept, not for himself, but for others, for the city, for the people who did not understand the magnitude of his suffering. Jesus wept for you and for me and for every other broken hearted soul who longs for a conquering king but has no idea the kind of savior we really need.
Jesus was not the kind of king they had in mind, but he is the Messiah, the Christ, that we all are in need of. You see, the differences between these two kinds of kings are differences in power, in peace, and in personality. King David and Pontius Pilate relied on the power of numbers and the power of weaponry and the power of force, and there is power in these things. We see it all around us today. Jesus, however, relied on the power of belief and the power of presence and the power of conviction. It may be hard to believe there is power in these things, but there is. The presence of a child can draw the undivided attention of an entire room. The faith of professional athletes amazes the masses. Teenagers who resist peer pressure are admired for their convictions.
The differences in peace were eloquently identified by Martin Luther King Jr. as the absence of conflict on one hand and the presence of justice on the other, two very different concepts of peace. Pilate and David wanted an absence of conflict. That meant everyone in their kingdom was on board with their authority. Their mentality was, “think the way I think and don’t raise a stink.” I’m sure we’ve all had the pleasure of dealing with those types of people from time to time. Or, perhaps, we ourselves have a tendency to be that kind of person. The presence of justice, on the other hand, is the peace that Jesus came into our world to show. Jesus did not remove conflict, in fact, his presence often created much conflict and Jesus was not always docile, he may have been slow to anger but he did show anger on occasion. His motive was that of justice. And the peace that Jesus intends surpasses all understanding. We may never fully understand the scope of that peace, let alone our role in it.
One’s concept of power and peace is evident in their personality. Pilate and David were a bit on the selfish side. They wanted people to admire them and bow down to them. They expected others to serve them. It made them feel special, and they used whatever means they could to get it. Jesus was the epitome of unselfishness, weeping for us when he was about to endure the unthinkable, washing our feet, serving us sinners all the way to the cross. Jesus could have had soldiers and weapons with him, but they still would not have been the sources of power he would have chosen to use. Instead, he chose humility and service to others.
Today, my friends, is the beginning of holy week. We not only celebrate Jesus entering our lives once again, but we contemplate our own willingness to follow Jesus all the way to Calvary. It might mean we have to check our use of power, or our concept of peace, at the foot of the cross. There is power everywhere. There is power in being a parent. There is power in being a child. There is power as a supervisor, as an employee, as a pastor, as a parishioner. It’s less about whether or not we have power, and more about how we choose to use the power that is available to us. Are we willing to humble ourselves and use our power for service to others? Our fear is that humility and service will deny us our own rights, but in reality they ensure that we are exercising our own rights properly and truly for justice and peace.
Jesus goes on a journey this week. It began on the Mount of Olives, continued down through the gates to the city of Jerusalem, and from here he will enter the temple, he will rebuke, he will teach, he will share a meal with his disciples, spend time in a garden where he submits himself to his Father and where he is betrayed and arrested. His journey gets pretty gruesome after that. This journey was for our sake, every step of it, because as much as we may try to be humble and commit our lives in service to others, we are still imperfect human beings. We are constantly in need of forgiveness and that forgiveness is only possible through Christ. Our celebration today is somewhat bitter sweet. Yes, we are jubilant at the arrival of our conquering Hero, but we are humbled because his arrival comes at a very high price.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!