Yesterday morning early, Janice sent me two pictures of the back of the church, where the spring flowers are in bloom. It was such a hopeful start to the day! The hyacinths, the daffodils, they are just doing what they do, on their own natural timeframe, blooming into beauty in their own natural time, adding beauty to the world for all to see. Even though this year, there are few of us there to witness and appreciate it.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus began making his way to Jerusalem for the final time. This day marks the beginning of Holy Week around the world, as we follow together the story of Jesus’ life and experiences—his triumphal entry into the city, which is our story for today; the Last Supper in the upper room; prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and then his betrayal, crucifixion, and death. And of course we know the miraculous end to the story—this isn’t a spoiler for anyone—on the third day, Jesus appeared and spoke to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, proving he was alive and offering us all living and continuing proof that nothing can separate us from the Love of God.
The story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem is one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. There is so much color, so much joy, so many people, such a feeling of arrival in the air. From Matthew 21: 1-11:
21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The scripture here is referring to the prophet Zechariah, who was a priest and prophet who was born in Babylonian captivity some 500 years before Jesus’ birth. Zechariah foretold many of the significant moments Jesus will live out the coming days, including arriving humbly on the back of the donkey and colt; his compassion and humanity; his betrayal for 30 pieces of silver; his crucifixion; his priesthood and kingship; his resurrection; and the establishment of his kingdom as one of enduring peace and prosperity.
The story in Matthew continues,
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, : whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
It is so easy to imagine this scene in our mind’s eye: a brilliant blue sky, bright sun on the sand and streets, a great crowd of happy people in colorful fabrics, waving palm fronds and filling the air with shouts and cheers and chants, greeting and celebrating this one who was passing among them. It’s even more amazing when you consider that this moment wasn’t a big event that had been planned for months by disciples out in the field: this was an impromptu event, something Jesus foresaw that needed to happen to fulfill scripture. It was also a moment whose time had come. The blossoming of his teaching and healing ministry was happening right before the people’s eyes.
And what a moment, when the people began taking off their own cloaks and laying them on the road before him as Jesus and the donkey and colt made their way into the city. A colorful road of honor. Taking off their own coverings, which protected them from the outer weather, which said something about who they were, how much money they had, what their status was in their community. They took off their own personal cloaks and spread them on the road, recognizing that here was someone who knew them beyond the “show” they put on for the world; here was someone in whom their life was secure; here was Love and Truth and Light, approaching them—each of them, all of them—to offer a living hope, a lasting peace.
I was curious about where else in scripture this “laying of cloaks” might be found, and I discovered that in 2 Kings 9: 13, this same honor is shown to a Jehu, who God had appointed as the new king of Israel. The story goes like this, “Many years before, the prophet Elijah had told the people of Judah they must change their ways and draw closer to God. On this day, Elisha summoned a messenger and told him to go and find Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, and anoint him with oil and declare, “This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel. Then open the door and run; don’t delay!” Elijah tells him.
So the young man did as he was told and found Jehu and called him out of his meeting to deliver the message. He delivered Elijah’s message and Jehu realized he was the one chosen to carry out the prophecy Elijah had given many years before. When Jehu returned to the room where the others were, they asked him what message he’d been given. He tried to avoid giving an answer, but they pressed, and he said, “Here is what he told me: This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.”
Here’s how his companions responded, in verse 13: “They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Think about what this means—this tradition, this honor—as hundreds of people of all ages, lining the road on the way to Jerusalem, took off their own cloaks and spread them across the road. People of all kinds, all education levels, all ethnicities, all ages, recognizing Jesus as not the king of a political realm but king of life itself—the true son of God coming to them, for them, in their very own time.
We know that this same loving king of life comes to us—to us, for us, in our very own time as well. This is what George Fox was talking about when, not long after his initial experience of the presence of Christ, he fell into a time of dark despair. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed this in your own life, but often after some kind of new spiritual learning, some way we’ve moved forward in our life of faith and grown closer to God, deepening our understanding, it’s as though there is a testing force that pushes us back, saying, “Not so fast.” After a time of mastery, there comes a time of testing. Feelings of joy and arrival are sometimes followed by a season of despondency and doubt.
In George Fox’s case, after the high moment when he realized, “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”—Fox wrote this in his journal about a struggle with despair:
“When I was in the deep, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great, that I often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how He was tempted by the same devil and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and that through Him and His power, light, grace, and Spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in Him. Christ, who had enlightened me, gave me His light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is Himself revealed in me, and gave me His Spirit and grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus in the deepest miseries, in the greatest sorrows and temptations that beset me, the Lord in His mercy did keep me.”
The Light came anyway, right into George Fox’s time of great despair. Spring came anyway, right to the doors of our meetinghouse, even though few of us are there to see it. Love comes anyway, with us separated in our respective houses, masked when we go in public, unable to gather and do the things we love this time of year. Christ comes anyway, moving down the road toward us even now, bringing peace and compassion, healing and hope, the possibility of a better world. Christ comes anyway, witnessed by others or not, moving right through the middle of the crowd of our doubts and fears, our tested faith, our sore nerves.
What cloaks will we lay before him today? How will we thank him for his faithful, loving, guiding presence? How good it is to know that in this time when we’ve lost so much of what makes us, us—our ability to go and do, to plan, and gather—we’ve laid down all those things that are external to who we are so deeply in the truth of our hearts and it’s there that Jesus comes, one by one by one, bringing truth and love and light, interested in us and our doing and our coping and our loving and our potential. Each person, each beloved child of God all the world over. That is truly something to celebrate, in the quiet of our hearts, in the comfort of our homes, and in spirit with all others across all the world.
And Father, we thank you so much today for being with us, for continuing to come to us wherever we are, Lord, wherever we are in thought, in body, in our emotion. Whatever we need, you come to us in just that place, bringing your grace and mercy, bringing the truth of who you are and who we are in you. We ask your blessing for people all over the world today. Be the grace of comfort to all who struggle; please bless all hearts that are mourning and afraid. Please Lord bring good answers to help stem the tide of this virus. Please help us to draw more deeply into our hearts and spirits, listing more closely than we ever have before, to receive you, to know you, to celebrate you, to live and do each day in love what we hear in the quiet of our hearts. We thank you for your presence, for your leading, for your love, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
- OT: 2 Kings 9: 1-13: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+kings+9&version=NIV
- NT: Matthew 21: 1-11: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+21&version=NIV
- The Journal of George Fox: https://archive.org/stream/journalofgeorgef00foxg/journalofgeorgef00foxg_djvu.txt