Palm Sunday   Text: Matthew 21: 1-11

The story of this week begins in what seems the oddest way.  In the village up on the hill, just outside Jerusalem, we’ve got Jesus giving instructions to two of his disciples to go and get a colt. “Assure the owners you’ll bring it right back,” he tells them. And then we’ve got people laying their coats down on the ground to be walked on by a donkey. Others are breaking branches off trees, similarly spreading them out on the road. And we’ve got Jesus riding the donkey he asked for, down the hill into the city, surrounded by all these people shouting and singing to him and about him. Odd for sure, until you get the context and then you realize what’s happening is a highly provocative piece of street theatre.

There’s nothing random about any of it … not least, the timing. Pilgrims are flowing into the city for Passover … that annual event in Jewish life where people gather to remember, to taste and celebrate like it was yesterday when God liberated them out from under Pharaoh’s harsh imperial rule. These generations later when many of these people face the tyranny of the Roman Empire day after day after day, this a highly charged story to be remembering!

And none of that is lost on the Roman authorities. Just to be sure things don’t get out of hand, they’re especially deliberate about making their powerful presence known. Not only are soldiers in evidence everywhere. Making its way into the city, from the west, is a full-on military procession, with Pilate, the Roman Governor at the head, showcasing Rome’s military might.

It’s on the opposite side of the city that Jesus stages this other procession. The contrast couldn’t be more pronounced … which of course is his point.  We might wonder how on earth he got anyone to join him in it… a peasant man on a donkey … Rome’s military machine …is there any question which looks more promising?  We might wonder… unless we knew him … ‘cause if we knew him, if we’d been in his company when crowds came to him with their sick and he healed them, and when there was barely any food and he fed them-- all of them; when he spoke and his word released them, released in them a whole new energy for living. They joined him because they knew him or knew about him … and to know him was to sense there was something more about him.

It wasn’t just what he did, what he said. Before he ever said or did anything, there was this hope … this promise … this vision of a new day proclaimed by prophets generations earlier, and carried forward in the hearts and through the prayers and writings of the Jewish people. Jesus doesn’t call for a colt that day because his own feet were too tired for walking. He’s boldly reaching into the prophetic writings right to where we read:   “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.”   And so the people, at the sight of him, riding into Jerusalem on a colt, they get it! And they don’t begin shouting "hosanna, to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" because they couldn’t think of anything else to say. For years they’ve rehearsed those words as part of their liturgy, as part of keeping the vision alive. They‘ve been waiting all their lives for the promised one … for the dawning of that new day. Here it is! … in their own time. Here, in Jesus, sent by God to bring an end to Roman occupation, to restore their nation, to set them free. No wonder they were so exuberant in their welcome. Of course they imagine an armed revolt … for how else could it be accomplished?

Except that’s not at all what Jesus has in mind. Coming into the city on the back of a colt, he is not leading a military parade. He’s not after political power or a place in the Temple power structure. What he’s about is far bigger. What he’s about is a whole new way of being human together … a way that embodies the radical love of God, a way that builds up life, shared life.

Coming into the city on the back of a colt -- it doesn’t get more un-military than that! And yet somehow they couldn’t see it. With a mind-set so conditioned to settling things by force, by might, how could they see it? Don’t we know all about that! Even knowing, like we do, that violence only begets more violence, somehow we keep on as though there is no other way.

Mostly … but not always.
This past week I received a note, as did many others, requesting I pass it along … which, if you’ve received my Keeping in Touch note, you’ll have got it. It’s an invitation to be part of a grassroots initiative, at the end of May, the Walk 4 the Salish Sea, a 4-day March against further development of the Pipeline on unceded Indigenous lands, and a massive increase in oil tanker traffic on the Salish Sea. As it turns out the starting point for the walk is right here in our own neighbourhood, at the mile 0 marker. The destination is the gate of the Kinder Morgan Refinery in Burnaby. What’s the tone and shape of this march? Listen to these details: Participants are welcome to join for part or all of the journey, and accommodations and communal dinners will be available for those who register. The walk will culminate with a Festival, a rally and training in non-violent civil-disobedience at the gates of the refinery.

You can hear it can’t you … it’s an invitation to be part of another way. There is another way.

Riding into the city on the back of a colt, make no mistake:   while for all the world Jesus is the picture of utter powerlessness, he’s all about confronting the powers of death, by another way.
It is that way he invites us to discover … to try on for ourselves ... to walk … to live. And while training in non-violence is a big part of it, it finally is about more than technique … it involves transformation.  It’s something we not only give ourselves to, but open ourselves to receiving … “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” St Paul says.

That’s what this week is about … letting his mind, his way come home to us. It’s about asking ourselves ‘where is he coming from?’  Better still, it’s about asking him …Jesus, where are you coming from? And allowing ourselves to hear him say to us yet one more time “come and see!” For that’s where he wants to take us … this is what his “follow me” has been all about … that we could know and be met by the very Love that has ignited his life … the Love that has given birth to and sustains the whole creation. For to find ourselves there is to come into a deep and wondrous freedom … the freedom that allows us to live into the life God longs for us.

Every Palm Sunday in churches all around the world, people are given into their hands a palm branch -- or in our case, a west coast fern! And we sing Hosanna -- save us! Just like the crowd in Jerusalem. And yet, for all that we share in common with them, the difference between us and those people who were part of that Jerusalem procession is that we stand on this side of Easter.  We have been given to see that for all the seeming powerlessness of Jesus’ way of non-violence in the face of imperial might-- we have been given to see that Love’s way is more powerful yet.

So what if this ritual we have of waving branches and singing Hosanna …what if it’s not really about travelling back in time, like we're pretending we're there.   What if instead we allowed this ritual to meet us right where we are.  What if we allowed it to infuse in us a freedom to welcome Jesus … that in opening our mouths to sing Sanna Sannanina, we might find ourselves whole heartedly praying … longing for him to companion us to show us the way.