Pomp and Circumstance (Luke 19:28-40)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this Palm Sunday comes from our Gospel text, especially where Luke records, “the whole multitude of his 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!’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
It’s not often that Easter falls so late in the year, but it does this year. That means the celebration of Holy Week is also concurrent with students and teachers alike looking ahead about a month or so, to another time of celebration, of great pomp and circumstance: graduation. Our own eighth graders, high school seniors, college seniors, and those concluding their advanced degrees are all looking forward to that time when all their hard work will have paid off as they accept their diploma or some equivalent evidence of their accomplishments. Hearing all the lauding, the congratulations from loved ones and friends and mentors, it’s certainly something to look forward to. But, let’s be honest, it’s also the festivities that surround these great accomplishments that we also look forward to: partying, enjoying that downtime after those hard-fought struggles and examinations, just being able to relax and breath easily, knowing it’s all behind you.
Everyone loves a good celebration, especially when you’re celebrating something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time. That likely explains the festive atmosphere in our Gospel text. The people had heard Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus. They had heard the parable that immediately followed about the ten minas. They heard these words, and they perceived that the time for the Messiah to do His Messiah-thing had arrived.
These same people, who heard Jesus in Jericho, went on ahead. They spread the word that the time has come, the struggles are over, that the King is on His way! People along the road start to congregate. Inhabitants of Jerusalem start to come out of the city. All the people, those who have heard the words from the incarnate Word, those who had seen His mighty wonders done in their midst, all of them come out to hail David’s Son, yet David’s Lord. Luke writes this: “As Jesus was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his 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!’”
They were right to hail Him as the royal Son, coming back into His royal city. They rightly perceived Him to be the Messiah, the One YHWH had promised to send time and again over the centuries. Their reaction here is meet, right, and salutary. While it’s no apples-to-apples comparison, it is somewhat likened to a graduation: the wait is, at long last, over, and the time of festivities has come! Celebrate! Lift up your voice! Give thanks to God, for He has done marvelous things!
That is, however, where the comparisons stop. For graduates, the pomp and circumstance of the graduation ceremony, of having that diploma in hand, lasts for a few days or weeks. For Jesus, the pomp and circumstance of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem is basically over the moment it begins, as He’s drawing near to the city, humble yet regal, riding upon that colt. Before He even sets foot in the so-called city of peace, Jesus weeps over it. “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Wasting no time on the confusion of those who heard His prophetic words, Jesus proceeds directly to the temple to clean house – metaphorically and literally. Perhaps for a second time, the infamous Nazarene drives out those who were selling and dealing crookedly, telling them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day during that week, Jesus was in the temple, teaching the people … and raising the ire and fury of the religious leaders. They’d been angry with Jesus before, but things were reaching fever-pitch, as they sought something, anything, to use against Him and shut Him up.
Their murderous rage reached its zenith as the Passover drew closer, and a jaded (not to mention devil-possessed) disciple of Jesus approached them with a plan on how he would betray his Teacher. This would lead to the sorrowing story we know so well, which we will again revisit in a few days’ time, when we will hear how the same people who lauded the Messiah with such great pomp and circumstance … would demand His life. Gone would be the praises and hosannas. “Crucify, crucify Him!” they would shout, not knowing the evil they were doing.
But the One who rode in lowly pomp … He did know. Jesus knew what He was doing. Perhaps that is the most incredible thing about this week. Jesus knew this would happen. He had always known that this would happen. The pomp and circumstance, the villainous plot, the vile betrayal, the vicious beatings … the excruciating and prolonged death. He knew this would all happen … but more than this, He also knew it was the only way to fully and finally atone for all sin. He knew this was the only way to reconcile fallen humanity to God. And He took this path willingly, out of love, for you, for me, to win for us full and complete pardon for every sin we’ve ever committed and will ever commit. He knew this is where His victory march would lead, to this last and fiercest strife … and still … He comes.
So yes, celebrate this day along with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Shout your loud hosannas. Wave your palm branches high. Don’t stay silent, lest the stone be forced to sing the praises of the Redeemer. Sing with Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But … do so knowing full well that your King does not come to meet out human military conquest, but rather to conquer the old evil foe. Sing His praises, knowing the bloody and gruesome fate that awaited Him at week’s end. Praise and hail Him, knowing how His love for you compelled Him toward the hell He would endure. The pomp of this day … pales as we draw closer to the horrific beauty and terrible splendor atop Golgotha’s love-stained hill.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.