“Yet He Rode On” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with worship on the weekend of March 28, 2021 — Palm Sunday. The text on which the sermon is based is Luke’s account of the Palm Sunday parade through the streets of Jerusalem — Luke 19:29-44.
“Yet He Rode On”
Luke 19: 29-44
It’s hard for us to imagine what it would have been like in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover festival. An already busy and bustling city would have been swollen to many times its usual population. The streets, crowded with people; the marketplaces, teeming; all of the inns and rooms full. We certainly have modern examples of this type of thing, such as when the Olympics come to a city. But this great crowd was coming together for a religious observance, and we may have a hard time imagining such a scene.
The Romans were concerned about the Passover festival in Jerusalem; they were concerned enough that Pontius Pilate left the relative comforts of Caesarea Maritima for the little backwater town of Jerusalem. Not only was the Jewish festival of Passover a time when the Jews celebrated liberation from their bondage in Egypt (and thought about liberation from Rome), but there was this Teacher…and he had quite a following. It seemed good to have Pontius Pilate nearby in case this Jesus stirred up the people in a revolt.
Tensions were high. Not only was Rome concerned about a revolt, but the people who followed Jesus practically expected one. And this, in turn, caused the Jewish leaders concern.
They had been celebrating Passover for centuries, observing the rituals and saying the words in exactly the same way: passing down the story of God’s deliverance, the story of how God brought them out of Egypt – out of slavery and into freedom. And, as they prepared to celebrate this Passover, the people prayed for deliverance from Rome’s oppression. They looked for a messiah who would lead them out from under Caesar’s hand. They envisioned a great king, like David. They expected a military coup.
So, when Jesus decided to go to Jerusalem, he was placing himself in a dangerous situation. And he knew it. He knew it better than most, and he also knew that he was not the type of king that the people expected, not the type of revolutionary that the Romans expected, and exactly the type of person that the Jewish leaders feared.
He came into Jerusalem riding on a colt. It must have almost been laughable for the Roman guards who watched: what kind of King came into town on a baby donkey? Maybe they even relaxed a bit, ready to report to Pilate that this guy didn’t seem to pose a threat at all.
Perhaps, if the leaders of the Jewish people had not stirred up the people later that same week, this whole thing could have been avoided… This rabbi, this teacher, certainly seemed harmless enough.
The people were familiar with Jesus of Nazareth. He had been preaching and teaching and healing throughout Galilee for three years. When they saw him, seated on a young donkey, riding into the city, their silent hope found its voice and they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The sea of people parted, and Jesus rode through the midst of them. They threw their cloaks on the ground, as well as some branches they had cut from the field. What a scene! What joy! The warrior messiah had come to deliver them from the hands of the Caesar! And Jesus’ disciples certainly shouted right along with them. All of them had so much hope, and so many big ideas, about what Jesus was about to do. And Jesus knew what they were expecting; and he knew the reality of what lay ahead. And on he rode, in the midst of their joyful shouting. He was surrounded by exuberant, hopeful shouts, and yet he knew how completely they were misunderstanding his reason for being in Jerusalem – his reason for being.
Have you ever felt all alone, even in the midst of a bunch of people? Jesus understands that feeling, I am sure; he rode through Jerusalem that day to shouts and praise, knowing that they would all desert him, betray him, and hand him over to be killed. Yet, he rode on.
As the writer of Philippians says in the passage upon which our creed for this season is based, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Christ willingly took our form, knowing what it would mean. Christ emptied himself, and faithfully walked the path that led to the cross, for us.
This story is for you: Jesus suffers, so we know that God understands and cares when we suffer. Jesus is utterly alone, so we know that when we are alone, God understands. Jesus cries out in despair, so whenever we are in despair and ready to give up we know that God understands and holds us. Jesus dies, so that we know that God understands death, and rises so that we know that death does not have the last word. This whole story is for you.
This is the story of God’s decision not to hold back. This is the story of God’s decision to enter our story, to get involved. This is the story of God’s passionate and relentless quest to redeem all of us in love. The gospel story tells us how much we are loved: that we are precious, that we have infinite value and worth in God’s eyes.
And so, Jesus rode on. He was keenly aware of the fact that the people completely misunderstood him, completely misunderstood his mission. And he rode on. He was aware that every last one of these cheering people would desert him. And he rode on. He was aware that he would suffer, alone. And he rode on.
Enter with Jesus into this holy week. Watch and pray. Worship with us on Thursday and Friday. Let the story, the story that is for you, wrap itself around you. And, having walked through the darkness with our Lord, come next Sunday to celebrate with us His Resurrection.