[Our service began with a procession of palms from the Fellowship Hall, accompanied by an accordion, a fiddle, and a sousaphone].
We began today with our procession of palms, as is our tradition. We may have broken that tradition somewhat with the additional musical accompaniment, but it was fun, right? The goal was to recapture some of the excitement of the original event, which is a little hard to do since we are not waiting for a warrior king to throw out our government.
Not only that, we know the whole story. We know that in the first Procession of Palms, Jesus entered the city gates as the righteous one of God. We know that because of him, we entered these doors as the righteous ones of God. That’s not to say that we are inherently good or better than anyone else. That is to say that we know the burden of our sin, and we know that God has given us the opportunity to be free of it.
We know that we are still able to be involved in what God is doing in the world, no matter what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.
Yet, there is something about this day that pulls us back from diving too far into the Easter basket too quickly. There is something about that line in the Psalm about the horns of the altar that gives me pause. We, of course, do not have an altar. We have a table, and it’s not even ours! It’s the Lord’s table. It is a table that reminds us that there is no need for sacrifices except for those we make in response to God’s grace.
The idea of the altar still sticks with us sometimes, and the horns of the altar are important on a day like today. In ancient times there were horns on the corners of the altar, and they were the ultimate “safe space.” For no matter what you had done and whoever was after you, if you made it to the horns of the altar, no one could harm you.
Now, you couldn’t stay there forever. Depending on the situation it might buy you some bargaining time or the opportunity for penance, but for us I think it serves to remind us that mercy is the way that we know that God is God. Even though the Psalm speaks of victory, the true revelation it offers about God is found in mercy.
So, we have this procession of Palms for the One who comes in victory, riding the foal of a donkey. The crowd is charged, they are jacked, they are ecstatically throwing clothes on the ground and ripping palms from trees. This is the rock star status moment for Jesus, and he pretty much just lets it happen. There is not a lot of commentary about it in the Bible itself, so it’s as though Jesus just realizes that it’s what the people need to do for themselves.
It’s definitely a politically charged moment. For those that get frustrated over the intersection of faith in politics I can’t help but point to Jesus on this one. It is what it is. The people wanted him to be their version of a savior. They wanted him to, dare I say, make Israel great again.
How awkward it must have been. Instead of an acceptance speech, he looked around, yawned, and said, “It’s late. Let’s go to Simon the Leper’s house – in Bethany. It’s not far, and he’s got room for us. You know, since people shun Lepers…”
Then the next day there’s the weird scandal with the fig tree that wasn’t even in season that he cursed – and his disciples heard it! And you know the rest. Instead of receiving a temple blessing, he gave a temple condemnation, and then through the whole Passover there was this awkward tension between him and all the religious leaders.
That awkward tension is what fills the space between the crowd that shouts, “Hosanna!” and the crowd that shouts “Crucify!” You know that, for the most part, we assume these to be the same crowds, right? You see, in reclaiming the excitement of the original procession – even in some small way – we have to reclaim the awkwardness and the accountability of the same event.
That’s why the story of the fig tree matters. It’s not just about a cranky Jesus who did not get the quality of service expected from his stay in Bethany. It’s about a man with a donkey. Yeah. You may remember that when the disciples went to get the donkey they were told that, if anyone asked what they were doing, they should say, “