Pastors and liturgists may find themselves in a dilemma with this year’s Gospel reading. If you’re searching for the basis of “Palm Sunday,” it won’t be found in Luke’s text. There are none of the nationalistic or royal trappings, such as palms, in this account. Nor are there any “Hosannas.” While there is a “blessed is the king,” it is quickly followed with a declaration of peace found only in Luke, and if we are to read on into the 41st verse of this chapter, we encounter that familiar image of Jesus who “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Not quite the kingly subject of a lavish victory parade!
Jesus does still end up on an untrained colt in Luke’s account. And he is greeted by a group of people who accompany his entrance into the city of Jerusalem. There is a declaration by the crowd, proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” And there are cloaks spread around, on the colt or donkey, and on the ground.
What would happen on Palm Sunday morning if instead of providing some delightfully green palms to our kids and choir to process with, we asked our congregants to pass right by the coat rack and bring their outer garments into the meeting space? And then, as the service began, what if we asked them to place their coats on the floor in the aisle and create a pathway for Jesus’ donkey to walk on? And then, what if there actually was a donkey that walked all over our Sunday best? How would “Blessed is the king” ring out while our Sunday finery is being trampled? I don’t know. If you’re brave enough to try it, I’d love to hear the details.
The spreading of the cloaks is significant for a couple of reasons. Think about important ceremonies in life. Everything from weddings to funerals to job interviews to first dates to public presentations and so on; while I will concede that our North American culture is becoming much less formal, it is still customary to put on one’s best clothes for these types of events. In fact, for several of these events we will put on clothes that we must rent or purchase new and that we wouldn’t wear any other time. Perhaps the most obvious example of how we dress up for events of significance and to show our place of privilege or power in a given situation is seen in the recent election of Pope Francis. A man who largely eschewed the trappings fitting an archbishop was introduced to the public in full papal regalia.
Why should we have expected anything less for Jesus?
We should not be surprised that the cloaks in our Gospel story are found turned upside down on the ground rather that adorning the back of Jesus and his followers. The symbolism is obvious: Jesus does not come in the trappings of power and privilege, but in the humble service of his Father.
For the disciples, there are at least two things suggested in the distribution of the cloaks. One is a continuation of the theme which Jesus has taught them, to lay down what they have in the service of God. So whether it was being sent out without a purse or bag or sandals (Luke 10:4), or whether it was being admonished to give away the shirt also to one who demands your coat (Luke 6:29), Jesus’ disciples have been taught the upside down nature of Jesus’ ministry (and theirs as well).
Second is the continuing nature of Jesus’ revelation. “As Jesus went along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.” (v. 36) This processional Sunday reminds us that following Jesus means we’re part of an ongoing revelation of God. We know key parts to the story, but we don’t know it all. And so we keep paving the way, laying down our own possessions, our symbols of power, and our elements of comfort in deference to Jesus.
This processional Sunday, as we welcome the peaceful, weeping King, may we not be silent in deference to the stones that will cry out, but rather may we be add our voices to the disciple throng proclaiming, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (v. 38)
Even while our fine outer garments are being trampled upon.
Song & Hymn Suggestions:
Ride on, King Jesus (traditional spiritual)
Lift up your heads (Steve Fry, ©1974 Birdwing Music/BMG Songs)
My song is love unknown (©1982 Hope Publishing Co.)
Where cross the crowded ways of life (traditional)
Prayer of Confession & Assurance of Pardon: (The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, in Gifts of Many Cultures: Worship Resources for the Global Community by Maren C. Tirabassi & Kathy Wonson Eddy, United Church Press, 1995. pp. 18-19)
Christ, Jesus, Lord, I bear your name.
No eyes can see it.
It is not written on my forehead.
No hand can touch it,
it is not tattooed on my skin.
I bear your name, Christ, Jesus, Lord,
engraved in the depths of my heart,
with letters of love.
Who can take it away?
Christ, Jesus, Lord, I bear your name.
Nothing can take it away.
I shall not shout it from the housetops
but people will be able to tell it
from my eyes and my hands and my lips,
which, because of you, bring happiness.
Then people will say:
“It’s true! He/She bears his name.”
Lord, forgive your church, for not having known at all times
how to convey you and announce you
to the ends of the earth.
Forgive your Church, for having lived, often,
among the powerful
and for having been firmly identified with them,
instead of with those who perish in prison
because they talk too much about love.
Forgive your Church, for having used your name as a lie;
for having closed its eyes instead of opening them.
Forgive your Church, for having been legalistic
instead of promoting liberty.
Forgive your Church, for having hidden its poverty
under the cloak of saintliness.
Forgive your Church,
and give it the strength of renewed Hope
so that it may live in your love
and gather all people together united in this love.
In Jesus’ Name.
Assurance of Pardon:
Christ who is our peace;
those who are divided he has made one.
He has broken down the barriers of separation
by his death and he has built us up
into one body, with God.
To whomsoever repents and believes
He has promised reconciliation.
So, live as people reconciled.