Open the Gates & Rejoice
Palm Sunday
April 2, 2023
Jane Shelton, CRE

This day in our story started out like any other day during the festival season in Jerusalem.  However, unlike any other time before, this day would be different.

I’ve tried to imagine, exactly what the scene would look like, and having been to area festivals, I imagine the streets were full of people, booths set up along the walkways, and shops and markets with merchandise out front of the shops.  People calling out to you to try their product as people walked by; being overwhelmed with all there was to see and do.  People bumping into each other on the street and catching up from the last time they have seen each other at the festival a year previous.  And maybe behind the scenes, the corrupt rulers watching over everything, watching every move of the people on the streets.  A scene of life overshadowed by darkness.

During what was thought to be the Feast of the Tabernacles, Jesus and his followers come to Jerusalem.  A time when the people of Israel would come in the thousands to participate.  It was a joyous time of celebration as the Israelites celebrated God’s continued provision for them as they remembered God’s protection during the 40 years in the wilderness.  It was a season when harvesting had ended, and tithes and offerings were brought to the Temple.  It was a season when sacrifices were made.

When we consider this scene, this major event, it was the exact appropriate time for the Lamb of God to be sacrificed.  God had sent his son, Jesus, to harvest believers in the message Jesus brought for God’s continued protection that had been promised by the prophets.  These believers came to announce and rejoice that Jesus was the one that was sent from God, and it was Jesus who would be sacrificed later in the week.

Considering the large number of people that came to the feast, there was not enough housing and inns to accommodate everyone, and many found themselves camping in the city and around.  Jesus came from the area of the Mount of Olives as had been prophesied.

When the disciples return with the donkey and colt as they had been instructed by Jesus to obtain, the disciples and people began to lay their cloaks on the animals.  Now if you have ever ridden a horse, or watched an old western, you know there is a blanket that goes under the saddle to protect the animal from the rubbing of the saddle, but there was no saddle on this donkey and colt, only the cloaks.

The Cloak was a symbol of authority, and for a prophet in Israel, it was a symbol of the power of God resting on whoever the cloak was placed.  In the Old Testament, when Elijah met Elisha, he threw his cloak around him, as a symbol of passing his authority of God on to Elisha, and now, it is Jesus’ followers that know that it is he who comes with the authority and power of God.

As the gates of righteousness are open into the city of Jerusalem, and as Jesus and his followers walk through rejoicing, indeed, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The Lord of light sent by God is walking through the gates, just as had been prophesied, and as the Psalmist speaks in our first reading of scripture.

As the gates open, the scene inside the city begins to change from just another ordinary feast day with the hustle and bustle to a scene of turmoil, as described in our scripture.  Turmoil is a Greek word that literally means “shaken.”  I can just imagine the enormity of the people, shouting and waiving the palms.

Jesus, surrounded by the people who knew him who had a relationship with him, flanking him in the front and the back, thousands of people, walking through the gates, shouting, “Hosanna!” and waiving palm branches, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”   Cloaks are being thrown down on the streets ahead of Jesus, and the crowd yells, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

And in the turmoil, heads begin to turn, and the onlookers begin to ask, “Who is this?”

I’m sure we have all been at a parade or festival or event when it is suddenly interrupted by a big bang of noise, a mega horn, or something that was so out of the ordinary, we immediately stop what we are doing, and turn our heads around, we look toward the turmoil, and we try to find out what the heck is going on, “who is this man?”

And the crowd of believers reply, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

These people must be so jubilant, so excited that here at this annual feast, they walk through the gates of righteousness with the one they have been waiting for all these years.  They are walking with the one who has been prophesied, and their eyes are upon the one who God has sent to save them from all of their grief and strife.  The hatred that surrounds them, the oppression they have endured at the hands of the religious leaders and powerful rulers. 

And they continue to yell, “Hosanna!” meaning, save us, pray, save us now!  With the symbol of the cloaks that Jesus sits upon as the symbol of the power of God resting upon the lowliest of animals, Jesus is that authority, that power given to redeem God’s people; the power to redeem all people.

With palms of victory waiving, branches of triumph, peace and eternal life have just walked through the gates.  Open the gates, and let this community of believers come in, let all who see, believe!

Let us not neglect to recognize the importance of community in this story.  Jesus is silent as they enter the city.  As Jesus enters the city, it is the people who speak.  It is the community of believers with Jesus who rejoice and announce the Son of David.  It is the community of believers who walk in front of him and behind him.  While they are announcing and celebrating, Jesus remains silently and humbly in the center of the crowd as the main focus.

Let’s talk about this community of believers for a moment.  Who are they?  Who are these people that have journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem?  They are the people Jesus has been spending his time with, the ones he has taught from the banks of Galilee, the ones who have been healed, the ones who have been fed, the ones he has touched, and perhaps the ones that he raised from the dead.  They are the ones that he has stayed and dined with in their homes.  They are the people with whom he has had conversations and made relationships.

In this story of the palms and celebration, we see communal faith, courageous proclamation, and a willingness to stand out and be visible.  This community of believers are the ones willing to take action.  How do we compare today when we consider our shared identity as the church and community of faith?

This community has allowed themselves to become a flashing neon sign to draw attention to who this man, Jesus, is in the world.  He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the Son of Man, the one who gives life, the one who brings peace, the one who is the light of love, the one who accepts them where they are in community with all their failures and burdens, and he brings them forgiveness and hope.  This man, Jesus, delivers them from darkness, and he is sent to save us from all our fears and the shadows of darkness today.  Together in community the people stood boldly to proclaim peace and freedom from oppression, so can we as a community of believers today.

Jesus enters the gates into traditions of the world to be replaced with the ways of God.  The ways of the world are selfishness and greed, pridefulness, a need for power, a need to rise above others rather than recognizing we are all equal as children of God.

God’s ways are gentleness, humility, peacefulness, mercy, and self-giving acts of generosity and compassion. 

The Jesus who enters the gates in Jerusalem was and always is a challenge to this world’s powers and principalities, both spiritually and politically.

In Zechariah and Isaiah, the prophets proclaim the one to come bringing salvation and redemption.  Jesus enters the gate to fulfill prophecy of the time to come, which is now here.  As these two worlds collide, turmoil begins.

Heads turned, questions were asked, “who is he?”  Jesus is the one who comes in peace, “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Jesus makes a nonviolent entry into the city, but in the fear of powerful leaders losing power, he will soon be met with the most horrible violence.

We will continue our Holy Week with the light of Jesus; shadows of weakness, betrayal, and denial; and in the darkness of injustice, ridicule and crucifixion.   During Holy Week we will find nourishment for the journey through the shadows and darkness with the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.  Easter Sunday will greet us with the light of a new day when Christ is resurrected and the light shines bright for evermore.

As a reminder and as noted on the church calendar in your bulletin, Holy Week services are Monday through Maundy Thursday at noon each day.  We will join together in community, prayerfully, through scripture and song that takes us to our First Friday Contemplative service at 5:30 p.m. in the darkness of Good Friday.

I invite you into this week of worship where we can be in community together to remember a time when darkness overshadowed the light of God.  Then we will join together in community on Easter morning for a time of joy and celebration when Jesus removes our darkness with forgiveness, and the light of the Living God will shine forth for eternity. 

Bring your flowers for the cross next Sunday that we will have out front.  As you place each flower, let us remember each hour from the time the gates were opened for Jesus to enter the city of Jerusalem, to each step he took along the Via Dolorosa, to each hour he hung on the cross so that we might have life eternal, and to the hour he broke free from the tomb of darkness into the light of the Living God.

*Cover Art from Unsplash, free domain.