when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he drew near to Beth’phage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.'”
So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.
And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
And they said, “The Lord has need of it.”
And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it.
And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.
As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works 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!”
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
—Luke 19:28-30 (NRSV)
Jesus knows how to compartmentalize. Arriving to Jerusalem, the three Passion Predictions having been issued, Jesus earnestly attempts to tell his disciples about the stark realities that face them in Jerusalem. The canonical gospels disagree as to whether anyone takes heed of anything but their own selfish concerns, but Jesus lays bare this truth: He must go to Jerusalem to be handed over, arrested, tried, convicted, tortured, mocked, crucified, and, finally, to die. But none of that is present here at the Jerusalem county line.
The text beckons us to see God at work. The fulfilled prophecies from 2 Kings and Zechariah regarding the manner of Jesus’ arrival present us with options: we can see this triumphal entry as described to be factually accurate; we can understand the passage to be the work of later Jesus followers who bolster claims of his messiahship by describing his fulfillment of prophecy; some combination of the two; or something else entirely.
What are we being shown, though, that transcends issues of exegesis and historicity? The manner of arrival matters more than prophecy fulfillment. It is in and of itself theological. Jesus does not enter as did Pilate, in the first year of his procuratorship, with standards flying and amidst Imperial trappings. Jesus comes as a rabbi whose authority others do not recognize; as a humble man who eschews material possessions and boasts of God, not himself; he comes not as one would expect a so-called king, riding not a chariot but a borrowed colt.
That Jesus, knowing what he knows, is able to exist in a moment of joy, even in the face of brutality, is a message to us. We should not reduce it to platitudes and meaningless niceties. We know that in Gethsemane, Jesus asks three times that the cup may pass from his lips. Fear and uncertainty exist in him; he wrestles. He harbors that inside him as he rides into Jerusalem. But the hosannas well up, not just in the crowds and Jesus, but in the rocks and stones themselves.
For the past two weeks, I have been in a hell of bipolar’s making. I lost the power of speech for four days. The depression and anxiety have been so crushing, I’ve been unable to function. All my techniques, therapies, coping mechanisms, breathing exercises; all fell far short, leaving me broken. I am back on my feet, wobbly-kneed and swaying. But ambulatory. So, this Palm Sunday presents me with the profound, contradictory nature of shouting hosannas in the dark.
God rarely comes as we expect, no? For so many of us, our prayers are aimed at God acting as we think we’d act, were we given charge of God’s powers. Is this not the basic lament of Job? And when God does not act as would we, we suppose that God must not exist. Or that our sin must be so great, God’s ear does not incline to hear our cry. We see darkness as the final word because we are unable to fashion our own light. God’s light shouts hosanna in the face of all contrary evidence.
God never promises us easy. That can be a hard lesson to accept. I have lost both an uncle and a brother to paranoid schizophrenia; there is too much mental illness to catalogue in both family lines. I have asked why a lot over the past fourteen days. As though some crystalline answer will appear, or that I will catch God in a logical contradiction and suddenly I will feel like I imagine I should feel, were I not saddled with mental illness. There are times when our exhaustion, when our circumstances, when the chips all falling another way prove to be too much. God reminds us that there is an eternal hosanna.
Please don’t read this as some supercilious nonsense, although I would certainly understand that being one’s conclusion were there not theological depth to this truth. Palm Sunday reminds us that there is joy moving through creation, and we are part of that creation. There will always be reasons to despair. Some things we can control and fix, other things we can’t. But God’s word today is that there is always time to be rejoicing. There are always blessings among us; most often if we don’t see them, that’s because we are not allowing ourselves to do so. Or, to see them would require allowing the scales to fall from our eyes. I say this as a recovering drug abuser and alcoholic.
I’ll be honest. I’m shouting hosanna in the dark this year, thanks be to God.