Palm Sunday April 9, 2017 Mt 21 :1-11
Ride on King Jesus! Palm Sunday is a time to welcome Jesus as our King. Although, we are celebrating, we all know that it precedes a week that will eventually lead to the Cross. Even today, we will end our service with the Passion story. We also know though that the story does not end in the tomb, but with the glorious Easter celebration of light conquering darkness.
But before we get to that, we need to understand exactly what Jesus was doing that day as he entered Jerusalem.
First, Jerusalem, a city of roughly 20,000, would, for a feast such as Passover, which was about to be celebrated, swell to 100,000. People were pilling into the city. Think of a Canadians game at the Bell Centre or a concert, throngs of people all with the same goal of getting inside, but multiply that a few times over.
That was what Jesus and his followers were joining. There was a lot of hype among the people heading into Jerusalem. Like the Habs fans, this game will their team to the Stanley Cup. The disciples thought Jesus would do something. He was the Messiah. This would be it.
Jesus knew their expectations. He was always trying to set the record straight of what type of Messiah he was. Despite his teaching, they had their own fixed ideas. He asked two of his disciples to go ahead of them and pick up a donkey and her colt, which they did.
When the text says, he rode them. Do not take it literally, that would be a very uncomfortable ride. Some scholars say it is a misunderstanding and meant just one animal, others say, the colt walked along side them. It really is not important. What is though, is that Jesus chose to ride into the city, that was wild with excitement, on a very humble animal. Jesus was making a very important statement.
Now, on the other side of the city, some scholars have suggested, that Herod would have also been entering the city for the Passover. We can imagine the soldiers, their shining armour, the horses, the carriage, the wealth, a very different type of entry into Jerusalem.
Or you can imagine Pilate, the Roman governor, and his soldiers marching into the city. The rows and rows of disciplined Roman soldiers, showing the people who was in charge. Rome was saying clearly, don’t any of you question our authority or we will stamp you out. We will destroy you. Their show of power had a clear message.
The people of Jerusalem were used to those types of entry, showing power and might, intimidating people into obedience.
Now Jesus though was showing something different. With his followers, that would have been more then just the dozen apostles, Jesus was continuing to point to a different reign, a different kingdom. His choice of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was thought out, following what he had been preaching and teaching about for 3 years. The Kingdom Jesus was announcing was one where you live in the joy of divine love, where you love your enemies, where you pray for those who seek your harm, where you forgive those who wrong you. The reign of God, Jesus was announcing was not one where you grasp for power but where you serve.
People were so hyped up. Hosanna, God save us. Who knows where this was going to end up! The authorities, Roman and Temple, were not going to put up with it, and they struck hard.
We know what happened.
So where does that leave us as followers of Jesus? There are two kingdoms, two ways to face the world, to live in the world.
Which one will we choose?
I want to tell you about one person’s story, his choice.
His name was Michael Jesse Sharp, people called him MJ, a man in his 30s, working for the UN, looking into violence and human rights abuse in the democratic republic of Congo. Sadly, Michael, his Swedish colleague, Zaida, and their interpreter Betu, were kidnapped nearly a month ago. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave over a week later.
I want to tell you about MJ. MJ was raised in Kansas, a Mennonite, a Christian who believed we are called to be peacemakers. He had studied Peace and Conflict studies at university. During the Iraqi war, he had worked for 3 years in Germany, counselling US soldiers pursuing conscientious objector status.
He had more recently worked for the Protestant churches in the Congo in working with militia leaders. You see these rebels were originally from Rwanda from the Hutu tribe. After the genocide, as the Tutsi regained power, the Hutus that had been part of the genocide, had to flee to the neighbouring Congo where they took up arms. Over twenty years later, they longed for home, they had raised families in the jungle. Their children now were fighters.
It would be into to these rebel camps that MJ would go and he would listen. The older men knew they could never go back to Rwanda without being tried for their part in the genocide, but their children could. Michael in listening to them, helped them realize their children had no future in the jungle, but could if they went back to Rwanda. He was able in his three years working with them help 1,600 fighters lay down their guns and return to Rwanda. They trusted him.
Unfortunately, the Norwegian government that had been funding the UN program, withdrew their funds to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. Unable to find further funding, MJ, concerned for what was happening in the Congo, decided to stay for one last stint & accepted a position with the UN, in another area of the Congo. We know what happened.
We mourn the death of MJ, and Zaida, and all those who work for peace in the world and are persecuted or killed for it.
But we do not despair, for as much as the darkness threatens, God’s light will prevail.
MJ’s parents have set up a memorial fund through a mission agency to further fund the work of peacemakers in the Congo. As they say, it is one way to continue to support the work Michael lived and died for.
May each one of us on this Palm Sunday, as we shout hosanna to the King, choose, as did Michel Sharp, to follow the way of the Peaceable Kingdom that Jesus showed us.
It is unlikely that any of us will find ourselves in the Congo seeking to bring peace but that does not mean we do not have choices to make. Even in our own communities, the darkness will not prevail when each one of us chooses, in his or her own small way, to live according to Jesus’ vision of God’s Kingdom.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed are you Michael J Sharp for you announced the Peace of God.
Hosanna to the King.