Palm Sunday Matthew 26:14 — 27:66

Turned Upside Down

Today Jesus is entering the most troubled place in the world. It is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. It has a history of killing the prophets, fighting wars, and living in violence. It is a place in turmoil. The most troubled place in the world is not, however, a geographic location but the human heart. The reality that our hearts are the most troubled place in the world is as true now as it was at the time of Christ.

We see the turmoil not only throughout all of human history but, sadly, we see it now. At a time when unity is needed more than ever, people are hoarding food and cleaning supplies, ignoring bans, and endangering others. Because of the shutdowns and closures, millions of people have been thrown out of work. Dreams are being crushed. The economy is in an uproar, and nobody knows when this will end.

Turmoil such as this challenges our beliefs and our faith, confronts the way we have always done things, and makes us question where we are going. In the midst of turmoil, life, people, and maybe even God do not line up with our expectations and what we have come to believe. When that happens we mostly want things, people, and God back in alignment. We don’t often think about realigning ourselves, but that is the opportunity turmoil gives. Instead we want life to go back to the way it was before. But on this day there is no escape. There is no easy answer.

Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the heart of a people, the identity of a nation, the foundation of a religion. We are that city and we are shaken, agitated, and confronted every time Jesus comes to us and we acknowledge that we are not who we should be. He turns our world upside down.

If given a choice, I suspect that most of us would prefer a domesticated Jesus: one who brings peace and security, one who makes life easy and happy. That is not what Jesus is about. He has been bringing turmoil from the day he was born.

  • When King Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem King of the Jews, Herod and all Jerusalem with him were troubled, shaken, in turmoil.
  • Jesus called James and John to leave their nets, boat and father, the very foundation on which their life and identity had been built.
  • He ate with the wrong kind of people, tax collectors and sinners.
  • He sent out the twelve apostles telling them, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” Jesus separates us from the things and people we most often think hold our life together. He broke rules and violated expectations by healing a man’s hand on a day the authorities thought it should remain withered.
  • Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”The turmoil of Palm Sunday points to the deeper mystery of Jesus’ identity and leaves us asking, “Who is this?”          But right now, when all we can see and all that we experience is turmoil, how do we make it through to Easter Sunday? How do we make it through until whenever these closures, bans, and restrictions are lifted and we are allowed to resume our lives?          Jesus deliberately mocked the traditional entrance of a king or conquering warrior by entering through a back gate, seated on a donkey. Instead of legions of soldiers ordering people to line the streets and shout their praises, we see hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem for the Passover spontaneously creating a parade and choosing to spread their cloaks on the ground for him. They made their own celebration for a Teacher who turned the usual upside down.          But just as Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem, so also he has entered our hearts, and he turns upside down our first impulse. In years to come, when people look back on a time so extraordinary that even gathering for worship was banned in the name of health and safety, we want history to record that those who follow a different kind of King stepped up and continued to find ways to worship. That we used our extra down time to strengthen and enrich our walk with God. That we thought about and prayed for and reached out to people outside our own homes, that we shared our goods and our gifts. And that we made our own celebration for a Teacher who turns us all upside down.
  •           Right now, all of our usual has been turned upside down. And the expected response to so much social distancing and so many restrictions could well be to withdraw into ourselves and turn in on ourselves and become utterly inwardly centered.
  •           Social distancing has unintentionally brought each of us the gift of more time. Time to sit in silence and solitude and open our hearts to Jesus. Time to read the Scriptures and to search our hearts. Time to find creative ways to keep relationships alive, reaching out with phone calls, FaceTime chats, and handwritten notes. We are finding our own ways to be together, to build and reinforce relationships in a world turned upside down. And the turmoil has shown us that it is relationships that matter more than anything else.
  • He is not the sweet baby Jesus of Christmas card fame. He is not our buddy and our pal. He is not our copilot. He is the man of turmoil. His turmoil is life-giving and God-revealing. The turmoil he brings calls our life into alignment with God’s life. His entry into Jerusalem inaugurates a Holy Week of turmoil: realigning our relationships and teaching us the intimacy of washing feet, calling us to die before death comes, and breaking open our lives in ways we never expected or thought possible. The turmoil Jesus brings is the chaos out of which new life will be born on Easter Sunday.
  • His life, his teachings, and his behavior all caused turmoil. Palm Sunday is no exception. Today the whole city is in turmoil. That turmoil is a revelation. It suggests that something about our life, our faith, our way of being is not in alignment with God’s life and way of being. So much so that immediately after Jesus enters Jerusalem he goes to the temple bringing more turmoil. He drives out those who were buying and selling the way to God. He overturns the tables and chairs of those who acted as gatekeepers to God.