Luke 19:28-40, "As he was now approaching . . . the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice . . . , “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Luke 22:14-27, "When the hour came, he took his place at the table . . ."
Well, spring and the pollen are definitely in the air this week. Seems like spring is in the dirt too!
I finally relented and had to get out this week and pull some weeds out of the flowerbeds at the front and back of our house. It seems like along with the daffodil bulbs we planted in the fall, the weeds have been exploding right beside them.
We enjoy having flowers in the yard; it brightens things up; it just helps the world look alive.
We’ve even tried to hang some flowers on our front porch on these hooks that I put into the cross beam at the front of the porch. We did have a couple of ferns hanging at the front of our house, hanging on those hooks where other plants had hung back when we lived in Rincon, near Savannah.
I got to thinking about the spring, that old yard, this new one. It reminded me that about this time of year, when we had ferns in front of our old home, I walked onto the porch to water the ferns and this bird flew out from one of them and perched on the house next door, just watching me.
Yes, a tiny bird decided that one of those ferns was just the perfect place to build her nest, a nest of twigs and what looked like lint from the clothes dryer, this tiny perfect little nest. I saw it as I gingerly peeked into the top of the fern. There were no eggs yet, but a beautiful little nest.
Of course I did my best not to disturb it. And then for several weeks, I gently watered that fern. I wanted the fern to stay alive, of course, so that the long green fronds would cover the nest, so that they would protect it and shield it. And in all that I did my best not to disturb this little nest within the fern.
It’s a nice feeling to provide for something so fragile, something that does need a bit of protection. It was my little reminder of spring in a way.
But you know life is a fragile thing. You have such hope for tiny, frail things, but there is an awareness that this can be a cruel world too. It is a strange mixture of hope and worry, of joy tempered by concern.
I think we get that same feeling as we celebrate Palm Sunday, as we mark Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as in the first passage listed above.
It was a deliberate entry, planned in some ways. Jesus told the disciples as they stood outside of Jerusalem, “Go into the town. Go on into town ahead of us and look around. You will find a colt, just a young donkey that has never been ridden, untie it and bring it back with you.” Just a young colt was all that was requested, not a large stallion, not a horse of war. And if anyone said anything to them, they had their excuse ready, “The Lord needs it.”
Sometimes I wish that was all it took to say to someone, right?
But Jesus was thinking ahead. And he was remembering and reenacting a scripture from Zechariah that told of the arrival of the king, but a king who rode in on a donkey, a king who would bring peace, not war, a king who would be servant of all.
And surely the people there that day felt that excitement too! They knew the scriptures. They would have seen that this one who was coming was riding just as Solomon had ridden, on a colt. This was a new hope for a people who were oppressed by the Romans. This was a chance to be free again, to be liberated, to rise up and overthrow the ones who ruled over you. This was a parade of hope and joy and a spirit of possibility that life could and would be different.
There is an electricity, an energy when you get people together like that. It is a wonderful thing, but potentially frightening if this is not the type of king you are expecting, if this is not how you think things ought to be done.
And then at the end of this passage, we hear the voice of the Pharisees saying to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” And Jesus very calmly says, “I’m going to tell you this, if these people lining this road were quiet, the very rocks alongside this road would shout!”
There is such joy that day, such possibility.
What is hard for us, what is difficult for us, is that we know where this story is going.
We celebrate Jesus’ entry too, just as many congregations act out that scene again with our children, with the palms, strutting down the aisle, waving them to and fro. There is just something that makes you have to smile to see those kids coming down the aisle, waving the branches with smiles on their faces. It is a joyful thing! It is a wonderful thing.
But we know that this Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, a week where we will mark the Last Supper on Thursday, a week where we will also read about Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion on Friday evening, where we will extinguish candle after candle, as the world grows darker and darker.
I wish this was a story that was all sweetness and light, but it is not.
This is a story of great irony, a story that begins with a parade and ends in death.
I also know that that is not the end of the story, but we cheat ourselves if we do not acknowledge the difficult parts of this story, if we do not acknowledge the troubles in our own lives, if we do not experience again this story of God’s redemption of suffering, of God’s triumph over death. But for there to be this triumph over death, there must be death. I wish it were not that kind of world, but it is.
That week when I noticed the bird nest in the ferns, I was outside pulling weeds in the flowerbeds in our front yard. I heard a noise that sounded like a bit of creaking. I didn’t think much of it and I kept on working on pulling out the grass and the weeds from in-between those pansies.
And then . . . I heard a crash.
It was loud enough that it made me walk around to the front of the house and that’s when I saw it. The hanging fern where that bird had built its nest, where I had gently watered, where I had hoped we would get to see the little birds and hear them chirping, that fern had fallen.
I don’t know if it was the wind, if the hook just wasn’t strong enough after all . . . I don’t know. But the fern had fallen.
Sometimes that happens in this world. It had landed on its bottom and I could see the nest sitting there in the middle . . . and that’s when I noticed that two little white, speckled eggs had tumbled out of the nest. And one of them had broken.
You would’ve thought that someone had just told me that my dog had died the way seeing that broken egg broke my heart. I reached down with my gardening gloves and picked it up and a bit of red fluid trickled out. I set it back in the nest. I saw the other egg and that it had a crack in it, but maybe it could be salvaged. I gently picked it up too and put it back in the nest. I reattached the hook to the beam, and put the fern back in its place.
I didn’t know what else to do. This is just a world where brokenness exists, where there is sorrow and tragedy. I don’t know what redeems that sometimes . . .
. . . I do know that in my own life God has redeemed some of my suffering, some of my stumbles, and I suspect that that has happened for you too. That sometimes when you get lost in the sorrow, that it is God who finds that way to bring life out of death, joy out of sorrow.
So as we anticipate Palm Sunday we begin by reading of this joyous parade. We know that this king will be different than what we expect. But in the middle of that excitement we also feel the tension growing. We also feel the prayer rise up in our own hearts for God to be with us.
Because then we read about the Last Supper.
Jesus says that he wishes to celebrate this meal before he “suffers”. Jesus breaks bread and blesses cup with the one who would betray him. We begin in joy, and end by celebrating a meal that is prepared for us, just as Jesus asked us to do . . . so that we would remember.
May we come to that meal with prayerful hearts, hoping for the redemption of the suffering of the whole world, hopeful for the joy that can come out of our sorrows.