Palm Sunday begins Holy Week for much of the Christian church. Palm Sunday also marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It begins the series of stories that will culminate at the cross and then the empty tomb.
The Entry into Jerusalem is found in all 4 Gospels. But I want to focus on Matthew and Luke’s rendering of the story
“As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
And notice that there is a difference between the crowd who meets Jesus as he enters into Jerusalem and the crowd demanding his crucifixion. The latter doesn’t know who he is. When Jesus enters Jerusalem Matthew writes “when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this? The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Most scholars I’ve read believe that the crowds who know who Jesus is are from places like Galilee where Jesus spent much of his teaching ministry. Inn the synoptic Gospels, Jesus never enters Jerusalem as an adult until this processional, so those from Jerusalem or surrounding areas have no reason to know who he is.
I mention this because it does change how one treats the crowds, what one believes in happening, there is an odd socio political clash, in this case between those in the hinterlands who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover, and those of the elite, those from the capital city who have no reason pay any mind to such a figure.
A picture I think develops that has made me rethink the meaning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The crowds that rejoiced in Jesus entry are not the ones that call for his crucifixion. This is not a tale about the danger of crowds. The folks are not fickle, these are two different groups, the folks who are the poorest, in the country, left behind by the powers that be, are the ones celebrating.
I want to make another distinction. There is a difference between those who come in the name of the Lord versus those who claim the name of the Lord. There are those who claim the name of the Lord, churches who endanger themselves and others by meeting in person. There are politicians who claim God’s mantle as they ignore the dangers of coronavirus and are not responsive to the needs this virus has created. There are those in power who are interested in profiting from our situation. Whether they claim the name of the Lord, they are not ones who actually come in the name of the Lord. And whether they have official sanction or not, their shame becomes evident. Jesus did not have official sanction but he was greeted as bearer of God’s salvation.
If God is understood as the source of life, of goodness, of growth, of possibility, if God is that which sustains us, nurtures community, heals nations, transforms us to something better, a shared world that all can thrive in, then when we see these things in this pandemic, we have encountered the God of life. And we celebrate it and bless it.
The thing about this encounter is it not based on who claim the name of the Lord. It is instead based on who actually comes in the name of the Lord. Those who create the conditions for life and thriving in the midst of a pandemic. They may not claim the name but their lives and actions give witness to God’s presence.
In the grocery store workers and store clerks that insure we have basic supplies and needs met.
In educators who are tying to keep teaching and students who are fighting to still learn in the midst of a pandemic and online.
In the role of science in discovering a vaccine, in researchers working overtime on this problem and in developing effective treatments.
In our congregations that are seeking to establish and maintain community in the midst of a pandemic that asks us to socially isolate.
In parents who are keeping families together, children learning, and more.
There are atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, nones, eclectic spirituality, Pagans and more who come in the name of the Lord because by their lives and by their actions, they bring life. My hope and prayer is that we are exuberant and joyful, as those crowds were in the Gospels, when we encounter such people and such actions. And that this celebration does not end when the virus does.
We might even make sure these folks get a living wage and health care as a result!
Dwight Welch is the campus minister at United Campus Ministry at Montana State University Billings