Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9; Luke 19:28-40
Today we waved palm branches to remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palm trees grow well in dry land since they have deep roots that seek out the water easily. In the Bible palm trees are characteristic of water sources and oases. The date is its fruit and it was consumed as a sweet. The leaves were used as roofing for houses and for weaving mats and baskets. According to Jewish tradition the leaves were also used as a symbol of joy and celebration when people welcome their heroes.
Nowadays how do we welcome our heroes or our loved ones? We wave flags to welcome national or international political heroes. We raise our hands and wave them at parades on occasions such as Independence Day or St. Patrick’s Day. Sometimes we raise our hands when we praise God at church to express our joy. And sometimes I raise my hands and dash to Chris when I greet him when he comes home from work. On all those occasions we feel and express our joy and excitement by waving something or raising our hands.
Now I want you to take a couple of minutes to meditate and to imagine the people’s excitement when they welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem. Please close your eyes and use your imagination. If you have ever been in Israel remember the Damascus gate from the Mount of Olives and if you have never been there, remember any movies you watched about Jesus’s life and the scenes of Jerusalem in the movie. The road is narrow, hilly, and dusty. It’s around the Passover festival time. People come from all over the country to celebrate the festival and it’s very crowded everywhere. There is a man coming on a donkey. People recognize him as the one who healed the blind, the deaf, and even raised the dead and they get excited because they saw all those miracles he performed. They take off their cloaks and put them on the road. They shout, “The Messiah and the King is coming.” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Now please open your eyes. What did you feel in this story? I felt the joy and excitement to see the Messiah. I also felt, however, the pain and brokenness in people’s hearts and their yearning for hope, the hope they can depend on and the hope that they will see the victory eventually. They were weary and hoped Jesus was the Messiah who will bring miraculous victory to their personal lives and their nation, too. If you come to worship services only on the two Sundays in this Holy Week, you will encounter two consecutive triumphs in Jesus’s life, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. But you will miss the whole story about the last days of Jesus’ life and his passion. The stories of Jesus’s passion are stories of his sacrificing love for people who are yearning for hope.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus’s passion is implied in the colt he rode when he entered into Jerusalem. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he sent two of his disciples to the village of Bethany. Bethany is about a half hour walking distance from Jerusalem. He told his disciples, “In the village you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. If anyone asks you, why are you untying it, tell him that the Lord needs it.” His disciples went to the village and found a colt as Jesus said. As they untied it, its owner came and asked them, “What are you doing with my colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” The owner didn’t say anything more and the disciples brought the colt to Jesus.
Here we see Jesus’s authority as the Lord. Our Lord is in charge. He is in charge of what happens. He knew that suffering and death lay ahead of him if he went to Jerusalem. But he chose to go to Jerusalem. He chose the way to enter Jerusalem where all his enemies lived. He chose to ride a young colt. He told his disciples, “Bring the colt and say to its owner ‘The Lord needs it’.” He declared his Lordship. Because his word and actions were filled with authority no one asked, “What do you mean by saying, ‘the Lord needs it’?” They obeyed the authority of Jesus’s Lordship and were willing to give up whatever the Lord needs.
Where do you think Jesus’s authority comes from? His authority comes from his obedience to God’s will. Jesus knew he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of religious leaders and had to be killed by them. I believe that Jesus prayed and asked God why he had to suffer all these things. He prayed until the last moment when the religious leaders came with Judas and Roman soldiers to arrest him. He prayed on the Mount of Olives, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; but not my will, but your will be done.” When he prayed in anguish, his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. He was in anguish because of the upcoming suffering, but he believed God’s will should be done. He knew and believed God’s Lordship and he was willing to give up whatever God needs, even his own life. In his prayer he knew God needs his life. And he chose to give up his life to God.
You may wonder how our loving God wants his own son’s life? Here is a story about that question. When Marco Polo went to the Orient, he was taken before the fearsome ruler, Genghis Khan. Now what was Marco Polo supposed to do before this mighty pagan king? One false move could cost him his life. He decided to tell the story of Jesus as it is recorded in the gospels. It is said that when Marco Polo related the events of Holy Week, and described Jesus’s betrayal, his trial, his suffering and crucifixion, Genghis Kan became more and more agitated, more engrossed in the story, and more tense. When Marco Polo pronounced the words, “Then Jesus bowed his head and yielded up his spirit,” Genghis Kan could no longer contain himself. He interrupted and yelled, “What did the Christian’s God do then? Did he send thousands of angels from heaven to smite and destroy those who killed his son?”
In human reasoning it’s difficult to understand why God needs His son’s life. It’s also difficult to understand why God’s son died on that shameful cross. Chris and I read books together about religion and theology. Now we are reading a book about Islam. According to the book Muslims highly honor Jesus for his miracles, and they really believe Jesus healed the sick and even raised the dead to life. But they refuse to believe Jesus died on the cross. They believe that God is just, and he would never have permitted his holy and righteous prophet Jesus to suffer the shame of the cross. It is generally believed that God performed a miracle to save Jesus. He changed one of his enemies to look like Jesus, and he was taken and crucified by mistake in the place of Jesus, whom God took alive to heaven, where he is today.
If Jesus didn’t die on the cross, as Muslims believe, the whole world loses the most significant example of love, the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life for others. Because Jesus obeyed God’s will and sacrificed his life for us he connects us, sinners, to the holy and just God. As God’s son, and in his obedience, Jesus opens the way for us to call God, “our Father.” Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Muslims believe God is up there somewhere and God is so holy and just. They never call God, “Father.” They believe calling God, “Father” is blasphemy. They believe God is the master and they are slaves of the master.
Sometimes I struggled with calling God, “Father” because of its gender implications. I thought why we don’t call God “Mother?” There are many theological debates about the use of “Mother God.” And I agree with some of the arguments about why we need more inclusive God language. This is one of the ongoing theological debates between Chris and me. After we read this book about Islam, however, I realized how much it is a privilege that we can call God, “our Father.” If we are stuck in debating the differences between “Father God” and “Mother God,” we may loose the whole point of the precious relationship we have with God through Jesus. As far as I know, no religion in the world calls their God, “Father,” except Christianity. When we really appreciate and treasure our privilege of calling God, “Father,” the term “Father God” is not any more an empty title but a living relationship with God.
Because Jesus chose to obey God’s will when he knew it would even cost him his life, Jesus brings us to his Father and opens the way for us to become God’s children. In this “Holy Week” I hope you hear God’s voice calling you, “The Lord needs you,” and you are willing to answer, “Here I am Lord.” Because the person of Jesus is the way for us to live with God in a loving relationship, we just need to follow him. Once we choose to follow him, we need to move where he goes and give up what our Lord needs.