Sermon from April 10: “And so it begins.”

“And so it begins.”
Palm Sunday; April 10, 2022
Luke 19:29-40

“And so it begins” is a line from a 1990s TV show I love;[1] some of you may know it but I’m sure most of you don’t, so I won’t go into it. The character who speaks that line in the TV show foresees the cascading events to follow. That is how I react to reading the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem that Sunday: “And so it begins.” The die is cast; the inevitable is about to unfold.

The Prophet Zechariah had announced to the people some 500 years earlier that their king would come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey; Jesus deliberately chose this method to come into the City in order to provoke the response that he would get. He was making an announcement here: I am the Promised One. What followed, however, no one expected except Jesus himself. And the God Who is behind it all.

Jesus began the day with this bold move, and then followed it by upping the ante. He went to the Temple and caused a scene: he drove out those who were selling animals for sacrifice and all the other vendors in the Temple precincts. He claimed that the Temple authorities had taken God’s house of prayer and turned it into a den of robbers. He provoked the political authorities by his ride into Jerusalem and he provoked the religious authorities by his attack on their administration of the Temple.

Even if you know the story, let’s take some time to remind ourselves of what unfolded after these two provocative actions. Jesus spent much of the week in the Temple precincts, teaching and telling stories. His teachings poked at people’s typical scale of values; his stories poked at the authorities. People who were poor or pushed to the margins of society found much of what he said encouraging, but they were disappointed that he wasn’t mobilizing them to overthrow the power structures. And the authorities plotted to do him in.

Thursday of that week he and his disciples had the Passover supper together, during which he used some of the bread and one of the cups of wine to inaugurate what you and I call the Lord’s Supper, or communion. Then while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was arrested and taken to the religious Council who questioned him all night, agreeing that he was to die; they sent him to the Imperial Governor, Pontius Pilate, for trial. Pilate hoped to assuage them by torturing Jesus, but they were not content with anything less than death. With some effort, they persuaded Pilate to condemn him to be executed, and mid-day on Friday Jesus was taken to a hill outside the City to be executed by crucifixion. Come back next Sunday for the rest of the story.

There are so many moments in this story when what I called “inevitable” could have been prevented. Jesus didn’t have to be in the Garden that Thursday night, waiting for the police, but he was. Jesus could have pleaded his innocence before Pilate, but he didn’t. And Jesus didn’t have to choose to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, but he did. When he sent those two disciples to untie the colt with the message, “The Lord needs it,” he set in motion the events that followed, the events we commemorate this week.

And so it begins. And today something else begins, too. The children being presented for baptism are set on their own journey with Jesus today. During the baptism ritual you will hear me say that in baptism God unites us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. It’s a weird thing to say and even weirder to think about: when someone is baptized, the life they might have lived without Jesus is killed and they are raised to a new life in him. I was about Bennett’s age[2] when I was baptized, so I don’t remember the event, I don’t remember a life “B. C.” (before Christ), a life without Jesus. That’s a good thing: it’s a blessing to be part of the family of Jesus from the very beginning.

But it’s a big choice, too. These parents are making a big choice for their children. Here’s how I’m picturing it today. In the comic strip Peanuts Lucy and Linus have a baby brother; they call him Rerun. Rerun goes all over town on the back of his mother’s bicycle. She puts him on the back of her bicycle and she sets off; he goes through all the same hazards she does, sees all the same sights, but she is clearly in control.

When parents bring their children to be baptized, they strap them to the back of Jesus’ donkey. Like Rerun riding behind his mother, these children ride behind Jesus on his donkey. They can get off; they may slide off. They can close their eyes. Or they can take in those sights and ride with Jesus into Jerusalem, staying with him as he makes a scene in the Temple, as he teaches, and then when he breaks the bread on Thursday evening and goes to the Cross on Friday. The parents who bring their children to be baptized place them on the donkey with Jesus.

And you and I: what’s our role? The people of God walk alongside, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and helping those children stay on. It can be a precarious ride, and you never know where Jesus may take you. But this I know: if you hold onto him tight, and you let the people of God walk alongside you, you will not fall off.

Robert A Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

[1] Babylon 5
[2] He was 11 months old at this time.