Gospel Luke 19. 28 - 40
Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' say, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34 They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
Today we celebrate triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus enters on a donkey. In fulfilment of Zechariah 9.9:
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
By doing so, he is claiming to be the king-messiah offering salvation to the people of Jerusalem.
Last year we read the account from Mark’s gospel. In it, all the people shout Hosanna. The word means “Save us.” Save us from what? Domination. The oppression of foreign rule. Occupation by the Roman empire.
This year, we read from Luke. You might have noticed Luke is a little more circumspect. In his account, only the crowd of disciples shout out. They don’t shout Hosanna – but they do acknowledge their master as king – one who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Pharisees rebuke them, and ask Jesus to shut them up. The Pharisees call Jesus ‘Teacher’ – a mark of respect. Jesus responds that if he hushed his followers, even the very stones on the way would take up their cry.
Last year I said quite a bit about what it meant to be Messiah. The expectation of the people that Jesus would be a military saviour who would oust the Romans. The disciples clearly shared this hope, which made their despair all the greater after Jesus was condemned to death.
Jesus had a different expectation, which was why he asked for his Messiahship to he kept secret when acclaimed by those he healed. This introduces my theme of Expectation, which I am going to follow throughout Holy Week and the Easter season.
In the next two weeks, we follow the events from Palm Sunday, through the Last Supper, the trial, condemnation, crucifixion and the empty tomb. This means we concentrate much more on the death of Christ than his resurrection. So, to start on my theme of expectation – what was the expectation of the disciples after Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb? Knowing the outcome, what are our expectations?
My suggestion would be this. The disciples expected a manhunt. They laid low. Their hopes of a king-messiah to free the Jews was shattered, and they hid, fearing for their lives as the Romans sought out the remaining followers of the cult whose leader they has destroyed.
Our expectation, knowing of the empty tomb, would be that Jesus would appear in triumph. His first words would be “I have risen!” “Look at me!” “Believe in me!”
What were his first words? I wonder if you know? They were nothing like those. If you say his first word was “Mary” – you are wrong. That’s what I guessed, and apparently that’s what most clergy say.
The answer, if you care to look it up in your pew bible, can be found in Luke 20 verse 15. Peter and John ran to the tomb when Mary Magdalene reported it was empty. They were scared of repercussions, so when they found the stone rolled back just as Mary had said, they went home. But only after they saw – and believed. They remembered that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead. Still, they went home.
Mary, being a woman, posed no threat and could wait around outside the tomb. After seeing the angels dressed in white, she turned and encountered a man whom she did not recognise. That man was the risen Christ.
It’s significant, of course, that his first words were to a woman like Mary – a woman with a past – although we don’t know whether she was the same woman who washed his feet with her tears, anointed them with costly perfume, and wiped them with her hair.
What were his words? No triumphalism. Nothing like “It’s me. I have risen. Now will you believe in me?” No, he asked a question. He showed concern. “Woman – why are you crying?” Then even more surprising, as it was obvious: “Who is it you are looking for?”
The truth was, she was looking for a body to anoint. But she found a man seemingly alive, though she did not recognise him. When Jesus then said “Mary” – she knew, somehow, who it was. The man she assumed was the gardener Mary called “Teacher” – and she ran to the other disciples with the news “I have seen the Lord.”
Of course they thought she was delusional. It’s not unusual for people to believe they have seen a loved one who has died. She did not have to endure their doubts for long, because that same evening Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples, in hiding, locked away in an upper room. He breathed on them, according to John’s account, and they received the Holy Spirit. From that point on, everything changed.
Later on, I’ll talk about the other first words of the risen Christ. You can read them in Luke’s gospel. It’s many people’s favourite story – the Road to Emmaus. Meantime, let’s use this week to contemplate the first words of the risen Christ. What he said and why? Why to Mary? Why was he not clearer? What was his appearance? And why did he leave such room for doubt when he could have commanded faith in a word, by a look, and by his very presence after the tragedy of Good Friday? Amen