Homily for Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday, March 16, 2008; delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Grace Church, Amherst, MA

Matthew 21:1-11 (Liturgy of the Palms)  

Ride on in Majesty

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil,
asking, ‘Who is this?’

-Matthew 21:10

“Ride on! Ride on in majesty!” we will sing in a moment, as we contemplate Jesus entering Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. The crowds gave him the red-carpet treatment, spreading their cloaks and branches on the ground to smooth his way. They gave him a royal welcome, a welcome fit for a king. I can imagine people streaming from their houses and running to catch a glimpse of him. I can see them craning their necks and elbowing their way forward. A father swings his daughter onto his shoulders so that she can get a better look; a dog starts barking, and then a whole pack of dogs; a mother grabs her child’s hand so that he won’t get lost; and then look – here he comes on his donkey, with a crowd of people walking ahead of him and another crowd behind, and everyone is shouting, everyone is cheering and carrying on.

What do you imagine that Jesus was feeling? Was he caught up in the excitement and commotion? Was he smiling? I can imagine him drinking in these moments of praise and support, and his quiet joy when he looked into the crowds and spotted some of the people he had healed – maybe the man who had been born blind, and the man with the withered hand; maybe the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, and the little girl whom Jesus raised from the dead – all of them rejoicing and grateful for the surprise of being healed. And the prostitutes were there, and the tax collectors, the lame and the lost, the hungry and the hurting – all of them welcoming Jesus as a king returning to his throne.

But for all the excitement that swirled around him, I imagine that there was sorrow and determination in Jesus’ heart, too, for he was riding into that city to confront the powers that be. He rode as a humble king, not as a conquering hero. He rode with no army but a crowd of well-wishers and a handful of friends, most of whom eventually melted away into the darkness, betraying or denying him or simply running away. He rode with no weapon but the weapon of truth, with no power but the power of mercy, with no strength but the strength of love.

He could have picked up a weapon – he could have marshaled his ragtag followers into a makeshift army – but he didn’t. He could not have done that and remained faithful to who he was and the deepest truth he knew.

Jesus entered the city without a weapon, and yet, the Gospel tells us, “the whole city was in turmoil” – it was stirred up, it was shaken. The Greek word used here is the one used to describe an earthquake. The powers that be in this world are shaken up when the king of peace rides into town, when he rides into the boardrooms and back rooms of our country, when he rides into our hearts. There is an upheaval in the center of reality.

We may turn away from him. We may spurn him and deny him. And we do – we do it every day, in every malicious thought, in every word of cruelty or contempt, in every act of selfishness. When we get to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, you and I are every person in that tale – the family members and friends that, according to some Gospel accounts, stayed with Jesus until the end, but also the collaborators and the cowards, the crowds that turn on him and even the torturers themselves, since our government has no qualms about “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Every one of us can run away from love, but God’s love pursues us, all the same, meeting our violence with kindness, our sinfulness with forgiveness, our hatred and fear with the One who is “gentle and humble in heart” [Matthew 11:28].

As we enter Holy Week, we invite Jesus to ride into our lives and into our world – to shake things up, and turn things around, and open us to the love that makes all things new.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!