Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our first Gospel reading for today comes from Matthew 21:1-17. Jesus and his disciples are almost to Jerusalem, where they will celebrate the Passover together, when Jesus stops and tells two of them to go and get a donkey for him to ride. That seems very normal for that time. Lots of people rode donkeys. It was not, however, very impressive, kind of like the VW Bug of the time.
At about the same time, on the other side of town, another man is entering Jerusalem by another road. He is not riding a donkey. Pilate is riding a war horse, kind of like a Range Rover, strong, powerful, and ready for anything. Very impressive! And Pilate was bringing with him a large contingent of soldiers for the Roman occupiers of Israel.
The Passover festival was nothing but trouble. So many people crowded the streets. Anything could happen. Pilate was tasked by the Emperor in Rome with keeping the peace. So, every Passover, Pilate brought in more and more soldiers to try and control the crowds. Thousands of people came to Jerusalem to take part in Passover, the most important festival of the year.
Jerusalem was really not a large city, geographically. It would get really crowded at Passover time. The other thing that made Pilate nervous was that Passover celebrated the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On top of this, there had been rumors going around, of a Messiah who would save Israel from their oppressors again.
Jesus riding on a humble donkey reminded the people that Solomon was anointed king of Israel on a donkey. Donkeys are symbols of service, suffering, peace, and humility – not to mention the prophet Jeremiah’s words we heard in this reading: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
And what was this that the people were shouting?? The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” But as we will read today, all this praise does not last. There will be, in just a few days, a complete reversal in the crowds following him today. As Rev. Jonathan Hemphill wrote in his sermon for Palm Sunday, “Jesus is coming into town where the same people who shout “Hosanna” on Sunday will yell “Crucify him” on Friday. Here, Jesus is coming into the town where the same people who yell “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” will yell “Give us Barabbas.”
We know what happens next. But how do we understand what Jesus did for us, and why? And harder still, how do we act out in our own lives the love that God has for us? That God gave his only Son to die for us while we were and are still sinners? I believe that God’s love for us is so great that we must not hold it inside. This love has to be shared. During this Holy Week, we need to ponder what that looks like in our lives today to share God’s love with our neighbors. Amen.