(Editor’s Note: This is a sermon given at North Congregational UCC, in New Hartford, CT)
Wow. I was prepared to describe Palm Sunday to you from the text. I was prepared to explain the different versions in the four gospels, the subtle differences between John’s gospel and Mark’s gospel, both of which were optional texts for this morning. I thought I might add in the versions from Matthew and Luke just for good measure. I thought I might talk about Jesus and revolution, or about Jesus being allowed one good day for all his hard work. I thought I might prepare you for what’s coming later in the week religiously, in Jesus’ day. I expected I would do all of this just to give you a sense of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And sure enough, I will do all of those things in this service, and this particular part of it. But you have already witnessed Palm Sunday. You have already gotten a sense of Palm Sunday. It’s no longer head knowledge or book knowledge, nor is it “street smarts” and the primal reaction that goes along with them.
If you watched the news yesterday, if you watched any of the protests on TV yesterday, if you went to any of the protests yesterday, you have experienced Palm Sunday. You know, in 2018 America, what it was like to be in Jerusalem in 33A.D. The same Spirit that caused one caused the other. Let me explain. It doesn’t matter what your politics are. It doesn’t matter what your thoughts are, nor does it matter whether you’re on the right side of history. What happened when ¾ of a full million people appear and are united is a force to be reckoned with. It just is. When Martin Luther King held a rally on the mall in 1963 (?), everyone knew that that moment had come. People are still fighting it today, but that moment came… and it changed everything. When, last year, the Women’s March happened, again, everybody knew that the moment had come and that things would never be the same.
If we go back to the Civil Right movement, we can see that it has brought about change. According to a recent study, Overall, nonwhites (including blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans) make up 19% of the current Congress. By comparison, nonwhite Hispanics and other racial minorities make up 38% of the nation’s population. Now, that sounds pretty pathetic. But prior to 1963, there were probably zero percent minorities.
Minorities, however, account for 20 of 59 new members (34%) of the House and Senate. This represents a notable jump over the 114th Congress, when just 11 of 71 new members (15%) were a racial or ethnic minority and the Senate had no newly elected minority members. This year, three freshman senators are a racial or ethnic minority, along with 17 new members of the House.
If we look at the women’s movement, For the first 150 or so years of our country. We had ZERO women in congress – House or Senate — Until 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first. Now, in 2018, There 105 women hold seats in the United States Congress, 22 women in the United States Senate, and 83 women in the United States House of Representatives.
In the 2018 midterm election coming up, twice as many women are running as were running just two years ago.
At least 431 female candidates are running or are likely to run for the House, compared to 212 in February 2016, according to NPR. In Senate races, 50 women are running or are likely to run, compared to 25 in 2016
Their moment has come. This will be, according to an article I read, the 5th wave of women attempting to get into Congress.
So yesterday, when all of those people marched on the nation’s capital and marched on any number of state capitals, a moment had come. What was once unthinkable is now … thinkable. And once it’s thinkable, it becomes possible. Gun control, of one form or another, will become the law of the land, maybe not now, maybe not in the near future – but gun control will come. There are at least a million people who say so, and – of them – some of them will take their place as leaders in our government, and gun control will happen.
Now, back to the original Palm Sunday story and why I said what I said about yesterday… Yesterday, the world stood on its head in more ways than one. For example, silence spoke louder than words. Yesterday, with an estimated 800,000 people in front of her, Emma Rodriguez said absolutely nothing for 6 minutes. If you know anything about kids at all, you know that it’s hard to get silence in a room full of them, for 6 minutes! This was a crowd estimated at 800,000 people. In an America that’s getting increasingly busy and distracted, yes, the crowd’s anxiety broke in a couple of times, not sure what to do. But it was quelled. And in six minutes of non-speaking, she had the same impact today that Martin Luther King had at his rally 55 years ago. You know the phrase, “If these were silent, even the rocks would begin to sing”? That is what happened yesterday. Just as it had when the women’s march came, and whatever happened when Stonewall happened, and King’s march on Washington. They are all moments in time when the previously voiceless believed in themselves enough to speak The Truth as they felt it. And in their spontaneity, they all spoke as one. Part of what makes Palm Sunday spectacular is that there were no organizers, per se. The text says that “when people heard Jesus was going to be in town for Passover (“the feast” in the text), they came out and took what they could. Tree branches, coats, etc. Palm Sunday just happened. The disciples might have told people Jesus was coming, but they didn’t tell them that it was important that he was there, and they didn’t tell the crowds what to say. They knew that this man who had listened to them, who healed them, who taught them a new way to live was “He who comes in the name of the Lord!” And to that, they said. “Hallelujah!”. The interest, the zeitgeist, the Spirit of the times was already there, so when they heard, they knew where they wanted to be. It is the same way that news spread around the Women’s March. People were getting on busses the minute they heard about it. Yes, there was co-ordination, but the crowd was never in doubt. The size of it far surpassed anyone’s expectation, and the crowds in each statehouse were representative of the same Spirit. Women’s speech, oppressed, or repressed or suppressed before this was louder than can be imagined. They had had enough, and with something like a giant “sigh”, they appeared, never to go into the woodwork again. When someone tried to pick on them about the …um, hats, because they were “probably manufactured in China, it became apparent they didn’t understand. All those hats were hand-made by the women who were there.
No matter whether you supported the movement or didn’t, you had to take notice of it. That same thing was true as Jesus rode through the gates of Jerusalem. Whether people disagreed theologically, like the scribes, Pharisees and Saducees, or felt like threatening Jesus with political violence, like the Roman Occupation Army, you couldn’t help but know what was happening. Victor Hugo is quoted as saying, “There is nothing so powerful than an idea whose time has come”. The idea that gun violence has to end – its time has come.
Now, if we look at the different versions in the Gospels about Jesus’ march into Jerusalem, you can see that no one knew what to make of the energy of the day. This morning’s text says that Jesus’ disciples took a donkey for him to ride on. That’s in John. In Mark, the disciples take a horse/colt. In Matthew, as my professor used to say, we have “Jesus the trick rider, who rides both a donkey and a horse, at the same time. In Luke, it’s a “colt that’s never been ridden” – a wild animal. Which of these is true? Each storyteller wanted to tell you something about Jesus. Mark wanted to have him be the triumphant (or ironic) military challenge to Rome by riding on a horse. John wants him to be humble, riding in on a donkey – a beast of burden. Matthew can’t make up his mind and takes them both. And Luke wants him to be slightly out of control.
At a moment of high energy like this, people don’t know what to expect, ot what to make of it. I’ll bet there were people at yesterday’s march that wanted to storm the NRA offices to prove they had the power now. There were people that are generally quiet and made a fuss because they had to. Violence is never going to be an option for them. And there were those who understood the anger, but actively chose non-violence. Some version of that happened in the crowds on Palm Sunday. Which one is “true”? Whichever works for you.
Now finally, about the title to this morning’s sermon: For years, when I have read the story of Holy Week, I wince and think, “Oh, Jesus, man.… It’s a great day, and you deserve it, but if only you could do something different, Good Friday would have been better for you”. We see that in hindsight, knowing how the story ends. But today, I wanted you to experience Palm Sunday as those people on the streets of Jerusalem did. I wanted, as Shirley can tell you, for Jesus just to have his big day, with no worries about the future… riding in to town on the biggest day of his life. All of this morning’s songs are glorious, upbeat songs today. The psalm gives you some understanding of what the people thought was going on. If something were to happen to Jesus now, after this point in the story, it’s going to really hurt, really be a blow to the disciples, and us. Just when we think good has triumphed, evil will raise its ugly head once again, in the pendulum sweep of history. On Good Friday, it will feel like evil has won. But it hasn’t. What once was a group of 12 guys is now approximately 2.1 billion Christians around the world (about one third of the total population of the planet)! The number of people worshipping Zeus and Athena and all of the Roman Gods is now down considerably, and no one is afraid of Caesar anymore. On that Palm Sunday, 2000 years ago, Christianity was an idea whose time has come. Amen.