This is the beginning of Holy Week
and today is what is known as Palm Sunday.
It’s the last Sunday in the season of Lent—
the last Sunday before Easter.
Our reading today is longer than usual.
And you know what that means?
After we read more Scripture than usual,
there’s going to be more sermon than usual.
Today’s reading is an account of Jesus
arriving in Jerusalem at the beginning of the week
and the events at the end of that week.
I’d like for us to just to listen to the story—
to hear the story.
Let’s approach this time with a listening ear,
with open hearts, with receptive spirits.
We’ve been journeying with Jesus in Lent,
and this is where the journey has led.
After we listen to the story—after we hear the story—
I’ll make a couple of very brief reflections
and then we’ll come to the table.
(Luke 19.33-44) As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
That gives us context for the beginning of the week
and then Luke 23 tells us how the week ends:
(Luke 23.1-49) Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”
On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.
Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
A week that began
with such high hopes
ends with beating breasts.
The week that begins with
Jesus being hailed as the long-awaited king
who would save the Jewish people—
corpse on a cross.
He didn’t save them.
Not in any way they were expecting.
The people were expecting a liberated nation—
they were expecting a king who would overthrow Rome.
The Scriptures say that Messiah
is going to rule the world.
What else could it look like?
Boot the Romans,
throw their tea into the harbor,
and lead an insurrection,
start a revolution.
The expectations were so high that this is actually why Jesus is killed.
The Jewish leadership don’t like Jesus—
they think he’s the worst kind of blasphemous, rabble-rousing heretic—
and so they finagle the government to execute Jesus.
He’s trying to overthrow Rome.
He’s doing what we all want the Messiah to do.
He claims to be a king (v2).
Jesus is bounced around from trial to trial—
from Pilate to the local king Herod and back to Pilate.
Three times Pilate declares Jesus innocent.
Verse 4: “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
Verse 15: “As you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.”
Verse 22: “I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.”
And yet the crowd—the mob of God’s very own people—
want someone else released to them.
Luke doesn’t mention it like Matthew and Mark do,
but there was a custom of granting mercy to a prisoner
on a high holiday week like Passover.
Jesus is innocent, he’s innocent, he’s innocent,
surely the people will release him.
We want Barabbas.
Barabbas was in prison for insurrection and murder—
Luke makes sure to tell us twice (v19 & v25)
This is a guy who’s actually guilty
in the ways Jesus is innocent.
And he’s being set free
while Jesus is being strung up.
And Jesus isn’t mounting any kind of defense for himself during all of this.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks (v3).
‘You have said so,” Jesus replies.
It’s like Jesus wants to die.
It’s like Jesus needs to die.
In the midst of all the torture and mockery,
in the midst of all the shame and humiliation,
(“This fella’s a king? Let’s dress his royal highness up like a king, then!”)
in the midst of it all—Jesus doesn’t defend himself.
It’s like he’s resolved
that he’s to die
in the place
of the guilty.
As he came to Jerusalem in chapter 19,
I think we catch the briefest of glimpse
of how all of this affects Jesus—
it breaks his heart.
He rides into Jerusalem
as people are singing
and he—Jesus—is weeping.
What did he say?
He said (v42-44 of ch19)
“If only you knew what would lead to peace…
But you don’t. You’re all blind to it.
You all want revolution—and it’s going to destroy you.
“The days are coming when this city—
yes, Jerusalem—is going to be under siege.
“Your enemies are going to encircle you, hem you in,
and eventually dash you and your children to the ground.
Jesus was right.
An insurrection and rebellion
eventually leads to the death of over a million people
and Jerusalem and its Temple being destroyed.
A general named Titus does that in the year 70.
Jesus can see it coming decades away:
The path you’re on
is going to destroy everything—
it’s going to destroy your world.
“Not one stone will be left on another,
because you can’t recognize
that your God has come to you.
“I have come to you.
I am here.”
What an amazing statement.
From the lips of Jesus—
the Divine Mystery has arrived
and no one recognizes him.
Jesus weeps on his journey into Jerusalem—
because his people’s lives
are going to end in weeping.
He’s not weeping for himself.
There’s no self-pity, no “woe is me,”
no weeping for himself—
even as he’s on his way to the cross.
In verse 27, a large number of people
are mourning and wailing for him—
they see his tortured figure and broken frame—
and they’re weeping for him.
But what does he say?
He says (v28):
“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me.
Weep for yourselves. Weep for your children.”
“The path you’re on
is heading for disaster.
“Don’t weep for me—Weep for yourselves.
“I’m being killed when I’m not even rebelling against Rome—
wait until you and your children actually do rebel against Rome.
That’s what he’s saying in verse 31—
a verse that sounds really strange on first reading.
They’re burning green wood right now—
wait until they’ve got dry wood.
Have you ever gone camping and tried to burn green wood?
Green wood isn’t firewood—
it’s no good for burning.
But if they’re doing this to Jesus—if they’re doing this when the wood is green—
what’s going to happen when the wood is dry?
In the words of one scholar,
“If the Romans crucify the prince of peace,
what will they do to genuine warlords?”
Jesus knows that his people—that even we—
are living lives that end in weeping.
That’s a pretty universal observation of the Church.
The Church has have long-recognized
that there’s something broken in human nature.
Not just the Jewish people of the first century rebelling against Rome—
there’s something broken in all of us.
Something that leads us down the wrong path.
And it doesn’t just lead us blindly—
there’s something that causes us
to actually choose the wrong path.
To embrace the wrong path.
To love destructive ways of living.
To be blinded what would bring peace.
There’s something within all of humanity
that chooses the way of Barabbas.
The way of insurrection and murder,
the way of violence and power games,
the way of hatred and rebellion.
There’s something broken within us
and we actually choose—we embrace, we want—
death instead of life.
The short-hand for it is “Sin.”
Not just “committing a sin”
as in “doing something naughty.”
Sin meaning that something is broken inside us—
we’re enslaved to something—
and we can’t get free.
It’s not simply that we make bad choices—
it’s like there’s something wrong with “our chooser”
something is wrong with US.
We choose the wrong path,
and we want to choose the wrong path.
We’re living lives that end in weeping
but we’re also choosing those lives.
This manifests itself in countless ways in our lives—
in unhealthy relationships,
in patterns of brokenness and anger and despair,
in cycles of living we can’t break free from,
in staying on a path we know is destroying our world.
The good news of this week—
this Holy Week—this last week of Lent—
is that Jesus walks our wrong path.
Our wrong path.
Our path that leads to destruction—
that’s the path Jesus chooses.
He doesn’t mount a defense,
he chooses to walk our path of weeping.
God has come to visit us—
and this is what it looks like.
“Weep for yourselves, Daughters of Jerusalem,
the path you’re on will destroy you all—
but I’m going to walk that path.
“Innocent though I am,
I’ll go to the place called the Skull,
I’ll hang between two criminals,
I’ll enter into your darkness.
“And I’ll make sure
you hear forgiveness
even on the wrong path.”
That’s what Jesus has come to save us from.
Jesus has come to save us
from how we love the wrong path.
Which is a way of saying
that Jesus has come to save us
from our sins and the power of Sin.
Which is a way of saying
that Jesus has come to saves us
from lives that end in weeping.
I’m going to walk this path to make sure you know
that divine forgiveness is present in the worst of places.
Verse 34: “Father forgive them.”
and he bleeds grace.
In the midst of even hitting and hating Jesus, be careful—
you might get splattered with mercy.
That’s the gospel—
that divine forgiveness already present
in our very worst moments.
God’s presence meets us
even on our wrong path.
God himself walks the path of weeping
when he doesn’t have to.
Jesus shouldered something that wasn’t his to shoulder.
“This man is innocent, innocent, innocent”—
“This man has done nothing wrong”—
says the criminal next to Jesus (v41).
“Surely this man was righteous—he was innocent”—
says the centurion (v47).
The one innocent man
in the history of the world,
and they killed him.
the wrong guy.
But in this darkness—
in this moment when the sun
has stopped shining—
in the process of
the world tearing apart
this innocent man
God himself is tearing apart
everything that divides us from himself.
The veil is torn in two—
when Jesus dies on the cross,
the holy of holies is naked.
The heart of God is exposed.
Christians are the people
who don’t just hear this story
once a year at end of Lent
and shrug their shoulders.
Christians are the people
who don’t just hear this story
“It should have been me.”
Christians are the people
who heed the words of Jesus:
“I shouldn’t weep for Jesus—I should weep for myself.”
For the ways I embrace darkness.
For the places where I love the wrong path.
For the countless times I choose the way of weeping.
I’m the one on the wrong path,
but—merciful heavens—God has chosen to meet me here.
He’s come to save me from the power of Sin.
He’s come to save me from my sins.
He’s come to save me from a life that ends in weeping.
That’s the center of it all.
Christians are the people who see Jesus walking this path
and say In the words of our passage from last week:
“I want to know this Messiah—this Christ—this King—
and becoming like him in his death
and become like him in his resurrection.
And that’s what Jesus saves us for.
To enter into a new life—his life.
This Passion Week is where we remember
that Jesus volunteered for weeping
so that we can walk a new path.
A life of love and healing
not violence and power games.
A life where we let go of our give up our ideas of revolution
and our preconceived notions about how God should save us—
and we simply trust that God is saving.
A life where we rest in the reality that we are loved—
that we are splattered in mercy.
A life where we join God
in bleeding grace into those around us.
The path often doesn’t look any better than the old one—
like Simon from Cyrene (v26) stumbling behind Jesus
carrying the cross of Jesus.
But it’s a path that ends in a different place.
The path of following Jesus
does not end in weeping.
It’s the only path that doesn’t end in weeping.
It’s the path that leads to Easter—
the path that brings us to resurrection.
Christians are the people
who die with Jesus like that criminal (v42)
and who say, “Remember me.”
And Jesus does.
Jesus remembers us.
Jesus always remembers us.
That’s why Jesus came.
To enter into our weeping and show us a love
that takes those tears into the grave
and conquers death itself.
To walk our path of weeping
and set us on a new path.
May we recognize that Jesus meets us where we are—
in our weeping, in our sin, in our death.
And may we be filled with the strength and the faith
to daily take up our cross and follow Jesus on a new way—
on the way that brings peace.