Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 10th of Fourth Month, 2022
Speaker: Brian Young
Scripture: Luke 19:28-44
Good morning, Friends!
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Today we’ve heard Luke's account of what is often called, “The Triumphal Entry,” the story of Jesus' coming into Jerusalem prior to the time of his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. We might think of this point in the Gospel as the “hinge” between his ministry and the Passion story, the last week of his life: all through Luke's Gospel, Jesus is “going up to” Jerusalem. From early on in the story, Jesus seems to know that this is his destination; from early on, he tells his disciples that he must undergo suffering and rejection, and death, even though they don't really understand what he is saying. His journey to Jerusalem concludes here, and then the next phase of the story begins to unfold.
A few things to observe about this passage: all four Gospels tell this story. Of the four, Luke's is the most spare, the one with the fewest details. Think, for a minute, if you’ve heard this story before, of the way you've heard or read this story. What's missing from Luke's version? (And also: what is unique about it?)
The first thing I notice is there are no palm branches, and there are no hosannas. (It's kind of ironic that we put “Hosanna” on the bulletin cover this week. If I had thought more carefully about it, we would have come up with a different picture.)
In other renditions of the story, It's the crowd who cries out “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Here, it's only the disciples, and in the disciples’ song or in their cry, they say, “Blessed is the King who comes,” not “the one who comes”; and they also sing of “peace in heaven.”
And then the Pharisees show up—they don't in the other stories. And there's Jesus’ enigmatic response: “I tell you if these were silent, the stones themselves would cry out!” (That's an enigma I'm not going to try today.)
There might be something else that you read, or don't read, in this story this time— something that's missing, or something that is unique.
One thing I want to focus on particularly today is that song of the disciples—again, in other versions, it’s the crowds in general who cry out, but here it’s just Jesus’ inner circle. There is more in the context of the Hebrew Bible that makes this entry into the city clearly a royal procession; the reason that they cry out, “Blessed is the King”, comes to us from Psalm 118:26. You might know this psalm—through much of Israel's history, this was used as a chant for various kinds of processions. Commentators state that one such procession in early Israel was an entrance of the king into the city, something that was observed every year. If you look up that psalm, though, you'll see that it says, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”, not “the king”; so the disciples seem to be purposefully putting that word in as they quote the Psalm, as if to more forcefully make the point for those who see and hear this enactment.
And, of course, Jesus’ opponents take the bait—as I’ve just said, the Pharisees’ objection is a unique detail of Luke’s writing (v39): “Teacher, order your disciples to stop!” They might be objecting because the disciples are twisting Scripture—they got the words wrong—it doesn’t say ‘king’ in the original! They might be objecting because this one hailed as king couldn’t possibly be the Messiah—a no-account Galilean? Can’t be!! Or they might be objecting because they’re afraid that the Romans will hear, and come down upon the people of Jerusalem generally—you can’t call this man a king, we have no king but Caesar here!!
Whatever their reason, It seems unlikely that the Pharisees were objecting to the second phrase that comes from Jesus’ followers—”peace in heaven”; who would gainsay a call for peace? Luke may record these words here as an echo of the angelic chorus of chap. 2, when they herald Jesus’ birth:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth
peace among those whom he favors!” (2:13–14)
It seems that both acclamations, those of the heavenly host and also the disciples, herald important chapters of Jesus’ life—the angels in chap. 2 appear at the beginning, and the disciples here, at almost the earthly end. We might say that his mortality is bounded by the glory of heaven. We might also think of what Lynn reminded us of last week when she looked at the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet at Bethany; (she pointed out that) Jesus is also anointed at the beginning when he first begins his ministry. So, peace on earth and in heaven at the beginning of Jesus’ life; anointing at the beginning of his ministry; anointing also at the end; and peace in heaven, as he enters Jerusalem.
But one important thing to note is that on the lips of the disciples here, peace and glory are only applied to heaven. We don’t hear anything about peace on earth. That, it seems, is not on offer. That may be because the disciples are anticipating that Jesus will wage a Messianic war of conquest, overturning the earthly power of Rome and restoring Israel to the days of David. Or they may not sing of earthly peace because they have been thinking about what Jesus has told them—they may know, at some level, that there will be no peace for Jesus in Jerusalem.
This second possibility is borne out in what happens next, if we read a bit further. Before Jesus actually enters the city gate, he surveys the walls of Jerusalem, and weeps (v42–44); then he pronounces this lament:
42 “...If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Jesus speaks here prophetically of the destruction of Jerusalem, an event that was yet thirty years in the future at the time of his entry into the city. But at the time that Luke wrote the Gospel, this would have been a fresh horror in the minds of his audience: the overwhelming response of Rome to a Jewish rebellion that began in 66 CE. By the time that rebellion had been put down (in 70 CE), the Romans had indeed crushed Jerusalem to the ground; the Temple had been destroyed, the insurrectionists executed, many of the people scattered to surrounding regions—including the new movement that Jesus began. So it is with empire; the Romans were not the first to oppress the people of Jerusalem, and they wouldn’t be the last.
Today, of course, we are witnessing the latest failure of our world to recognize the things that make for peace. Rather than Rome, it is Moscow, or more appropriately, the Kremlin, that pursues not peace, but war and imperial might. In the face of this terrible evil being visited on the people of Ukraine, it is difficult to know what to do. We pray, of course, and we will continue praying. There is a daily online meeting for worship to lift up the situation, which some of have attended (Eugenia has been doing that regularly; if you’re interested in knowing more, you can see her for the details). Some of you have given financial support to international relief agencies, which is much needed. In the longer run, there will be much work for us to do, as citizens of today’s global empire, as people who live in the USA, to call our government to recognize the things that make for peace. Today we are at risk of returning to the days of the Cold War; the mindset of fear that gave rise to decades of arms races and massive increases in our military budget is far too easy to fall back into. As Friends, we must advocate even more strenuously for the peaceful prevention and resolution of conflict, wherever it arises.
This past week, Quakers from Moscow posted on social media a message from a small group of Ukrainians who, before the invasion, were engaged with the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP). The war has put a stop to AVP trainings in Ukraine, but these folks continue to do what they can. The Moscow Friends shared these words from their sisters and brothers in Kyiv:
It is very painful to absorb everything that is going on. It is hard to restrain one’s emotions, while hearing the testimony of witnesses or looking at the photographs, photographs of people who have been killed, photographs of towns that have been destroyed. Yet, still, we bear in mind, that within us is the Transforming Power. This is the Power, which enables us to transform hot anger into inspiration, despair into help for those around us, horror into love for those near to us, rage into readiness to set to work. Now, as never before, we need each other. And this means that we we are called to stand faithful, to stay emotionally in equilibrium.
Stop for a moment, take a pause. You will find, either within yourself or without, a lever, which enables us to shift all the force out of hatred and into making peace. This is us—we are the peacemakers. Creators of peace, defenders of the light.
These are encouraging words—incredible words—from people in the midst of such a dreadful situation. These folks are the targets of this war; they feel the despair, horror, and rage, and yet they seek the transformation of these emotions, by an inward power, so that they may yet make peace.
Part of the ethic of AVP is that one can understand this inward Transforming Power in a variety of ways; for some AVP practitioners, this power is based in human capacities: compassion, forgiveness, love, and the like. As a Christian Quaker, I situate this power in the person of the one who rode into Jerusalem on a colt, as his disciples laid down their cloaks and cried, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” I hope that you do, too. For the one who came in the name of the Lord came to open the way for transformation—not the outward transformation of an earthly reign; he was not coming to conquer the Romans and restore Israel to its own imperial might. He was not coming with an immediate political agenda; his agenda was transformation not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God.
As we remember Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, we might think of what we’ve learned about faithfulness over the course of the last couple of months. Although he very likely wanted something else for himself, Jesus sought to be faithful to God in his last week in Jerusalem. Jesus came to the city with full knowledge of what would happen. He was coming to be rejected, to suffer, to be put to death... and then to rise again. In that willingness to suffer the ultimate punishment, Jesus established the pattern for our own faithfulness. Again, none of us is called to death on a cross as he was; but we are all called to faithfulness to God’s will. For many of us, that will mean an entrance into suffering in some way, whether our own, or someone else’s, as we accompany them.
As we seek the inward transforming power of Christ today, let’s remember all those who are suffering. And in a world that still does not know the things that make for peace, let us re-commit ourselves to Jesus’ way of peace.