Luke 19: 29-40


I was just a boy when the event
happened in Dealey
Plaza in Dallas Texas
in November of 1963. If you were alive then, you know the event I mean. Our
youngest president ever flew to Love Field, got into the classic Lincoln
Continental limousine, and began his fateful journey in that presidential
convertible. Those were more innocent days, days in which Pope Mobiles and
armored vehicles for presidents were thought not to be needed. And Dealey Plaza
was the place where the tragedy occurred: our president was shot. Four years
ago Richard Hills and I were in Dallas for a meeting and I asked him to join
me in a journey by walking and by train to visit Dealey Plaza.
What first struck me in seeing it is how small it looks and how many places a
gunman could hide. The plaza is surrounded by tall buildings including the now
famous Texas Book Depository which we toured. And there was the grassy knoll
where someone could escape undetected; it was next to the overpass under which
the president’s driver sped to Parkland
Hospital. Americans, even
those who did not vote for John Kennedy, were glued to television sets, stunned
over such a brutal assassination. I remember pouring over the commemorative
hardback book with pictures that our family purchased: “Four Days: The
Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy.” And if you have followed
the conspiracy theories over the years, you might have also seen the color film
of the motorcade taken by a now famous man, Abraham Zapruder. Visiting Dealey
Plaza was a haunting
experience for Richard and me. In that crowd, 50 years ago this November,
clearly some were cheering, and some were plotting or carrying out a plot, but
the mixture of persons was not apparent until later. When Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, there surely were some in that public
place who also cheered for him, while others hoped to stop him before he could
continue his plans for peace negotiations with Israel’s Prime Minister, Menachem
Begin. In another assassination in 1948, the Hindu leader called Mahatma Gandhi
was killed by a fanatic. He too threatened the status quo by leading the fight
for an independent India.
He too had crowds cheer for him while others found his messages a threat.


Over the years, those leaders with
progressive, groundbreaking, or revolutionary ideas have often met with tragic
ends. When people suggest to those with power, with money, or with influence
that things should change, unrest is often the result. Today as we began the
service, we did so with the naiveté of the crowd; the crowd included children
simply caught up in the excitement, cheering because others were cheering,
waving things because others waved things. The procession is like a parade to
them. It is sweet to think that way, but like the other events I’ve just
mentioned, there was plotting going on behind each of them. Those in the know
were not just cheering, they were angry and hopeful.  Why were they angry? In Jesus’ case the Jews
had been under the tyrannical taxing and ruling thumb of the Romans for dozens
of years. They were tired of being taxed to death. Sound familiar? They wanted
to go back to a time when Jews ruled Jews. And such a time was not that many
years earlier! Here is where history informs our Palms Sunday joys. Two hundred
years earlier a Jewish family known as the Maccabees revolted again the Selucid
rulers of the day. The revolt, led by a man named Judas Maccabeus, ended in
years of freedom from 164 BCE to
63 BCE when there was a true Jewish
king and Jerusalem
was free; it was 100 years of Jewish freedom! It ended when Pompey’s eastern
campaigns captured the city for Rome
once again. During the Jew’s self rule, they created a national symbol, much as
Americans did with the flag or with the American Bald Eagle. Do you know what
the Jew’s national symbol was? A palm branch; that’s right. So on that Palm
Sunday ages ago, the palm branch was not just a convenient item to wave toward
Jesus; it was a symbol of hope for a
national revolt.
And what were those angry and hopeful people shouting? Not
“hallelujah” which means “Praise the Lord,” a cry we hear at Easter and
Christmas. No; they were shouting the Jewish word, “Hoshianna” or as we say it
now “Hosanna!” Hosanna means “Save us.” Those people cried out to Jesus things
like: “Save us from these Romans! Save us from these taxes! Return a true
Jewish King to the throne! Perhaps you will
lead our revolt and be our king!” Those are the things that certainly were on
the minds or on the lips of some of the crowd that day. So let’s recap. There
were the innocent persons in the crowd, the ones Jesus appreciated most; they
were the ones celebrating, and Jesus was drinking in their joy. When someone
asked Jesus to quiet his disciples because they were afraid too much noise
would stir up the Roman guards as they were nearing the Golden Gates of
Jerusalem, Jesus instead said, “If they are quiet even the stones will cry
out!” Fate was parading down the Mount of Olives
and about to enter city, the city that was overcrowded and tense because it was
filled with travelers there for Passover. There were Bike Week crowds in Jerusalem that week, and
some feared that one loud crowd could stir up the authorities. So this group,
the ones who asked Jesus to quiet his disciples, were Pharisees—they were like
elders—and the Scribes—they were Jewish priests. They began to grumble and
plot. They decided that Jesus and his fans had to be silenced. The didn’t have
rifles, but they had a Roman system of keeping the peace that included swift
death to those who spoke against Rome or it’s leaders. No Jew would do the
killing himself; that would break one of God’s commandments. But if they could
distort or create charges and get the ear of a Roman in charge, such as Pontius
Pilate, governor from 26 CE to 36 CE, then they could perhaps silence Jesus who
was seen by some as prophet, by others as a king, and still by others as a
possible messiah. The Jewish leaders thought all those titles were undeserved
and preposterous. So just as when other leaders had assassination plots carried
out against them, our Lord himself became a target. It was this third group in
the crowd—the religious leaders—along with the second group—the unhappy Jews
who wanted a leader to lead them in a revolt again, that make this day a
Passion Sunday. It is truly a day with more than a hint of suffering to come.
Only the first group, the young or naïve ones who cheered, created our Palm
Sunday processions. The palm branches were both handy and hopeful to wave.


So our Lord, even on this day of a
parade, was stepping into a tinderbox of activity, unrest, and
religious/political clamor. Today it would be so much more fun to just enjoy
the pomp and circumstance which by definition is “a splendid celebration with
ceremony and fuss.” But knowledgeable
readers of Scripture know that there is rain on this parade. Jesus is parading
into a powder keg;
tensions are high and irreversible actions are being
hatched against this irritating man from Galilee.
Today people who honor the Lord Jesus should not just jump right to the Easter
Jesus. We choose instead to remember what he faced that week; what he suffered;
and why it happened. Palm Sunday resulted in human and evil plans being carried
out, resulting in death. But God’s plan
will triumph.
We are not there yet. Remember your Savior this week. There
are weeks when you need him; this week he needs you. Remember
the events ahead with study, reflection, and service.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                  March 24, 2013