Sunday, April 1, 2012
Look! He Is Coming!
(A sermon based on John 12:12-16 for Palm Sunday 2012)
I asked the congregation to close their eyes at the indicated point and not to open them until the indicated point.
Imagine that you were there.
Imagine that in Jerusalem it was a day kind of like it was there today: fair and around 80°--a lot like it is here, coincidentally. Imagine that the roads entering the city were more crowded than Pine Street in Fitzgerald on Wild Chicken Festival day—or even than those in Athens or Tallahassee on a fall Saturday afternoon or Augusta on any day this week. Imagine that rabbis and supposed messiahs were being greeted with more fervor than that directed toward Bruce Springsteen or Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift when they first appear on stage.
Imagine that you had heard him or heard of him or been with him or knew someone who had been with him.
Please close your eyes.
Imagine that you hear the whispers and then the murmurs and then the shouts: “He is coming! There he is! I see him! He is coming! He is coming!”
Before you see him you see the people--people who had followed him and people who were curious about him and people who were caught up in the crowd mentality and people who had been impressed by his raising of Lazarus as well as, no doubt, by other miracles he had performed. They are running before him, spreading palm branches along the dusty way before him. They are shouting “Save us, we pray! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”
And then, as he comes around the bend, you see him. He is riding on a young donkey that is trying to remain calm in the face of all the tumult around it. The donkey’s gait is slow as the palm branches land with gentle rustling sounds before it; it cautiously steps along the slippery green carpet.
Perhaps the donkey is so careful because it senses that the man who is its burden would gladly change places with it if possible.
The closer the man gets to you and the better you can see his face, the more moved and troubled you are. His expression is simultaneously concerned and serene, troubled and peaceful, present and removed, determined and relaxed. And his eyes—you couldn’t even begin to describe his eyes, no matter how hard you tried; the word “compassion” comes to mind but it’s not nearly enough.
You listen to the people: “Save us, we pray!” they are shouting, which makes some sense to you; who, after all, is not in trouble? You know you are. Who does not, after all, need to be saved? You know you do. But what does that have to do with this man who is riding on a donkey, who is blinking in the bright sunlight as he looks around at—it seems—absolutely everybody?
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—the king of Israel!”—that one really has you confused. What kind of king rides into the capital on a donkey with a bunch of peasants singing his praises?
He is smiling at those peasants; he clearly enjoys being surrounded by them.
Then you notice some men standing in a knot, talking and pointing and gesturing and fuming. They are not peasants; they are dressed in the robes of the big-time religious leaders. The man on the donkey sees them, too, and when he does, his face becomes clouded for a moment, but it passes, and he starts waving and smiling to the peasants again.
He is riding past you now. He looks right at you.
Please open your eyes.
He’s so close you can almost touch him. You see the dust in his dark beard, the lines on his dark face, and the tears in his dark eyes; those eyes lock with yours for just a moment, a moment that feels like an hour to you.
You feel things.
You feel both life and death emanating from him.
You are simultaneously drawn to him and repulsed by him.
He is past you now.
There he goes.
The crowd continues to go before him, singing and praising and dancing and tossing palm branches. You watch him until he rounds the next bend and things calm down.
You stand there, thinking. He looked so resolute, so determined, so torn, so together, so tense, so relieved. He looked like a man on a mission—a dangerous mission. Where will he go? What will he do? What will happen to him? What does the rest of today hold? What does the rest of the week hold?
You know that you will think of nothing else on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
and even a week from now, next Sunday.
You may never think of anything ever again without thinking of that man on that donkey with that face, those eyes, that aura.
What will you do for the rest of this week—and for the rest of your life?
Will you follow him wherever he is going?
Will you turn around and go the other way?
Or will you just keep standing there...