Triumphal Entry?

March 24, 2024

Series: March 2024

Speaker: Bethany Nelson


Today's Sermon


"Triumphal Entry?"


Mark 11:1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Usually when we celebrate Palm Sunday, we focus on the joyful processional.  There is a reason we began worship by waving our palms and parading around the sanctuary.  It is fun to celebrate Jesus as he makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I like to wonder about the people who were there to witness this grand event. I wonder about the children, who had probably heard larger than life stories about the amazing Jesus. Perhaps their experience of Palm Sunday was a little like this …

Wanna see Jesus?  I do, too! C’mon, bring your jacket, grab a coat, snatch a palm, line the way!

I can’t see! Where is he? Do you have binoculars? C’mon, lift me up above this crowd!  Where will he be? How will he enter? How will he come? How will he stride into Jerusalem?

A horse. Yes! A white horse, a parade, a military march, a 21-gun salute!

Yes! A political campaign, convention, a coronation. How shall we address you, prime minister?

Yes! A concert tour, a sports event, a rally. Come, let us bow before our hero, our star!

But, where is he?

The crowd disperses, leaves, like he’s come and gone. No horse, no limousine, no paparazzi. How did I miss him? How did I not see his face?

I’m sure there were some adult enthusiasts in the crowd as well …

What a party! The weather. Atmosphere. Great community spirit. Who doesn’t love a parade? And the excitement. Pandemonium! Woodstock all over again.

One of those historic-type moments. Not that I expected to meet him. 100-200,000 people. What’s the chance I’d see the superstar? But it was on my mind, you know. Something I could maybe tell my grandkids – “I was there. I saw him.”

And I did – he walked right in front of me. I almost touched him. Kind of embarrassing, my infatuation for the guy – like I sort of loved him. In a way.

Hey Jesus … can I have your autograph?

In addition to the enthusiasts, some people stood back and observed …

I had no problem loaning him my donkey. But I was curious, so watched from the back row and took a few notes.

Overall, I have to say, the street theatre was quite impressive. Well orchestrated. Well choreographed. Exceptional crowd control, given it was Passover and standing room only. And the branches – wow – they raised the crowd’s energy exponentially. March madness.

Pretty strategic, too, to enter the city from the Mount of Olives, and stage the whole thing from the traditional site of Jerusalem’s final battle. A+ I’d say.

Give credit to his communications team – to be able to stir up a carnival from the back of a donkey. And manage in that one moment to lampoon the whole system. Ingenious.

I want to think for a moment about that donkey. I began by noting how we focus on the joyful processional on Palm Sunday, but in Mark’s version of the story, most of the focus is on that donkey. The processional doesn’t begin until verse 8.  The first 7 verses of the story are about the donkey. I can’t help but wonder about the two disciples that were sent to fetch the donkey. Surely they had expected a more exciting role in this very important day than being on donkey detail. Seminary professor Thomas Long describes it like this – “it is deliciously ironic that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when he will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas, the two disciples find themselves engaged in a most unromantic form of ministry, mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves, and trying to wrestle an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves. For this they left their fishing nets?”[i]

I can’t help but wonder, though … on this day when Jesus was very intent on making a point about who he was and what he stood for, perhaps this donkey detail perfectly describes the life of discipleship. Most of following Jesus, most of serving God, is not glamorous. It does not give us rave reviews or parades thrown in our honor. As Thomas Long says, ministry most often looks like, “speaking a quiet word in a committee meeting, spending time with someone who is coming apart at the seams, emptying a bedpan at the hospital. ‘Preparing the way of the Lord’ usually looks like standing hip-deep in the mire of some stable trying to corral a donkey for Jesus.”

However, this simple, relational, personal, sometimes messy way of doing ministry didn’t sit well with everyone in Jesus’ time. How dare he ride into Jerusalem on a donkey proclaiming peace? Let’s wonder about some others who may have been present that day, like the doubters ...

I had good intentions of seeing Jesus that day. But I wasn’t looking for a donkey. There’s no shame in shouting hosanna. But, tell me, is a colt-rider capable of saving anything?

Let me back up a bit. Under normal circumstances I might have been a follower. Had there been less “turn the other cheek” nonsense and more brawn. Less hockey, more fight, if you know what I mean. What’s wrong with a bit of redemptive violence – when it is justified?

I never understood him.

Praising the woman who anoints his feet. Equating love with a father who hugs a prodigal. Identifying God as a mother hen. Shameful.

Why had there been so little mention of glory? Truimph? Or victory?

Some of the religious and political leaders of the time were no doubt present …

I saw Jesus that day. The nerve of a … Galilean – I can hardly spit out the word. A Nazarene, no less – to ride a donkey – under the auspices of peace – only to stir up conflict. Unequivocal provocation!

Why incite the masses with false ideological arguments that serve only to create controversy: accusing the money changers of injustice, assuming authority above our leadership, avoiding questions of substance, accusing us of shamefully accepting honor at the expense of the poor.

Does he know with whom he is speaking? Does he have any idea by what authority we act? Does he know we’re on the side of God? High time to end this disturbance and silence the rebel – once and for all.

Sort of makes you wonder how triumphal Jesus’ entry actually was! Finally, we hear from a faithful widow …

I went to the parade empty handed, not able to afford the concession price for a palm. Two branches for a buck! I only had two copper coins. And they were for the treasury.

I don’t necessarily care for the pomp and ceremony, anyway. Never have. What did we used to call it? “Splash and dash.” Get emotionally high, then disappear.

No, I was interested in him. I had heard him speak before – you know, of mustard seeds and pearls, lost coins and hidden treasures. He speaks in parables – gets you thinking.

Today I hoped to hear a parable again. But he didn’t speak today in words. His actions were a parable. I’m old enough to know that actions speak louder than words, anyway.

And that’s why I followed him – silently. And stayed with him – even after the crowd had gone. I was the only one.

Perhaps those who look for horses can’t see a donkey. Those who have power can’t see his authority. Those who love the crowd’s energy can’t see what all the fuss is about. Those who watch from a distance never really get involved.

I don’t know. That day I was the only one. That night I prayed for him. And I left my 2 coins – all that I have – trusting actions are louder than words. Trusting, in time, there will be more – enough – after the tears have been shed.

Yeah, I’m old enough to know that God is found in strange places – even on a donkey.[ii]

That brings us to the final verse in the scripture reading. “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” After the “triumphal entry,” it sounds like Jesus just sort of wanders around the temple with his 12 disciples, and then leaves. No adoring crowds. No throngs of people. Not much “triumph.” Could it be that the people have already started to desert him?

I chuckled to myself when our trio sent me their song selections for today, and they had chosen to sing a song with the title, “I Won’t Give Up,” the main line of the chorus being, “I won’t give up on us.” Because that’s basically the opposite of what happens during Holy Week. The people absolutely give up on Jesus.  The same ones who are shouting “Hosanna!” on Sunday are shouting “crucify him” on Friday. By Thursday, even his disciples – his closest friends – fall asleep when he most needs their support and deny even knowing him. There is a whole lot of giving up on Jesus during Holy Week.

I almost told them to choose a different song.  It doesn’t work for Palm Sunday!  But, then I took a moment to realize that the Spirit moves in mysterious ways and is certainly smarter than me.  Perhaps, this song is actually a perfect choice for Palm Sunday, as it encourages us to consider how we won’t give up. Even when God calls us to donkey duty. Even when we might not fully understand the way of Jesus. Even when God does not show up in our lives the way that we think God should. Even in the shadow of the cross, when there is no obvious triumph in the work of serving God. The composer of the song, Jason Mraz, sings, “I don’t want to be someone who walks away so easily; I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make.” May it be so for each one of us. Amen.


[ii]Monologues written by Arlyn Friesen Epp.