A strange and different messiah


Matthew 21

2011 Palm Sunday Procession 29The 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!”

We are not very good at enacting the excitement of that first Palm Sunday. What is supposed to be a raucous crowd of pilgrims shouting acclamations full of messianic hopes as they throng the road to Jerusalem on the occasion of their great national celebration of deliverance becomes a relatively polite and orderly reading of assigned lines by people trying to walk and read their bulletins at the same time, while looking to get their usual pew.

It’s different for us, of course. We don’t come to this day with the same fervent hope for revolution. We do not have enemy soldiers watching the crowds. We do not have an enemy garrison at the corner of the church lot. We do not have a story of miraculous deliverance – we have a national story of brave men and clever citizen soldiers fighting from behind trees with truth and justice and providence on their side. Our Fourth of July is a time for beer and picnics and fireworks. It doesn’t have the expectancy of the big game. It isn’t fueled by present tyranny. We do not anticipate angelic armies with drawn swords to appear by our side.

Nor do we live in a time when this simple acclamation “Hosanna!” is provocation enough for the riot police to start smashing heads.

So I will forgive a little lack of enthusiasm in our Palm Sunday procession. What will happen next is not fueled by uncertainty and possibility. We know the story. The soldiers will crack heads. Or they would, if Jesus had not chosen to go quietly and give us time to flee. Jesus, however, will get cracked. Brutally. More brutally than we can imagine. Give humans a machete and a reason to hate and you will be horrified to discover the things of which we are capable.

The purpose of the Palm Sunday liturgy is not to get us geeked up as on that original day. It is to let us worship with our hands and feet and well as our heart and mind, to give us a chance to step outside the ordinary and to physically walk into this extraordinary story where messianic hope is radically rewritten. No longer is it about the power to crack heads (cracking the “bad guys’ heads”); suddenly it is about the refusal to crack heads, the refusal to answer violence with violence, the decision to love even those with batons and spears and a hammer and nails.

It is a strange and different messiah. A sacrificial lamb. A footwasher. A man of prayer. An embodiment of grace and truth. An innocent laying down his life that others may be freed from the self-righteousness and violence that lurks in the darkness of the human heart. An innocent through whom God will raise a new people, a new community, a new world to life.

Hosanna.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.