REV. DR. ELIZABETH CUNNINGHAM
Stouffville United Church
Palm Sunday marks the opening event of what we call Holy Week, with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, as the people wave palm branches and shout Hosanna to the Son of David. Take a minute to picture where you are in this scene. Perhaps you’re being jostled by others who stand shoulder to shoulder with you. Maybe you’ve found a little ledge from which to perch and watch the action on the road. Maybe you’re looking out from a window in a house. Listen to the sounds of that day. Children, running and squealing. Shouts of recognition to another. Heads leaning toward each other in a close conversation. Perhaps dogs barking. Mourning doves cooing. It is hot and sunny and your eyes are straining down the road to see if he is here. There is a gentle calypso song that I have in my mind, with the words, “I looked up and I saw my Lord a’coming. I looked up and I saw my Lord a’coming down the road.”
There were two parades on that day. Coming from the east, up the Jordan valley from Jericho, using the original route their ancestors had taken from the promised land centuries ago, there came a crowd of Jews, traveling into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Their leader, a well-known healer and teacher was traveling on a donkey. For didn’t the scriptures say, “Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on the back of a donkey.” The crowds accompanying him shouted, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us! Save us!” They cut branches from trees and waved them in celebration. The other parade was on the other side of town. The Roman army, led by Pontius Pilate riding a horse, marched into the city from the west in a great display of military power. They were prepared for war, ready to quell any uprising or threat to Roman rule. Those who marched with Jesus were acutely aware of that other parade. As scripture notes, “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil.”
Tony Robinson wrote, “One has a sense in hearing this story of Palm Sunday of some greater purpose playing itself out in the midst of a lot of ordinary stuff like donkeys, palm branches, dirt roads and shouting crowds. Something is going on here that is completely of and on earth and yet completely of heaven … This is the way Holy Week has often seemed to me, as if we were living at the intersection, the crossroads, of temporary and eternal, ordinary and extraordinary, earth and heaven.”
This is holy week. Palm Sunday is not simply an entry into what must be endured. It reveals the passion of what must be – death, to new life. We see in the cross, a God who chose to become one of us, and in that incarnation, brought God to us, so that we might touch and hear and see God in humanity, in us.
Sara Jewell Mattinson penned this exquisite poem, ‘At the Eastside Diner’ – which describes the day before Palm Sunday. Picture a diner in your mind.
AT THE EASTSIDE DINER
On this day,
Jesus and his friends,
all of them,
even those who worked an overnight shift,
gather early at a diner,
filling up the space,
dragging over another table, adding a few more chairs
as each one arrives,
hanging up coats,
ordering coffee and toast.
They are excited, even those who are yawning
and complaining about a breakfast meeting.
They eat and drink,
and a few hangovers dissipate.
Jesus sits in the middle
with his fingers wrapped around the thick white mug,
listening to his friends talk about tomorrow.
They are planning, he thinks.
Planning, like it’s a show –
“A convertible,” someone suggests, “just like the politicians use.”
“Yeah, optimum visibility. Good idea,” another agrees.
Jesus sips his coffee.
“We need flags for people to wave.”
“Do we have a flag?”
“I can design one on this napkin. Who’s got a pen?”
“Put a sword on the flag!”
Jesus sips his coffee.
“I’m going to buy a new outfit for tomorrow.”
“Not new. Go to the thrift shop. We need to save money for the food bank.”
“My forsythia branches are blooming. I’ll walk alongside and wave those.”
The waitress comes over to Jesus.
“What do you need, dear?” she asks. “Let me freshen up your coffee.”
She fills his cup.
“I’ll bring you some more toast,” she says. “My treat.”
He thanks her,
and sips his coffee. It scalds his tongue.
“I will ride the bus,” Jesus says,
his quiet voice cutting into the loud discussion.
His friends stare at him.
“I will ride the bus.”
They all start talking at once,
objecting, insisting, wondering
what on earth he’s thinking,
riding the bus into the city.
“Oh, wait, you mean like a tour bus! Cool.”
“You need to make the right impression.”
“A show of power, that’s what we need right now.”
“No,” Jesus says. “I will ride the number 3 bus into the city.”
The bus, he thinks,
that’s where my people are.
Not the politicians or the bureaucrats, not the investment bankers.
You’d never catch that pastor in the Gucci suit
using public transit.
The bus, he thinks,
that’s where I’ll find the people who will follow me.
“There’s more than enough room for everyone
on the number 3 bus,” he says.
The waitress puts a plate of toast in front of Jesus
then holds out her palm.
Three packages of jam rest there.
Jesus takes them, brushing his fingers over her heart line
as he thanks her for her gift.
- fb post in the Facebook group Casa: An Experiment in Doing Church Online