Year B Palm Sunday Matthew 21 2012
When the Cheering Stopped
Some years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was "When The Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.
It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.
It happened that way to Jesus. When he emerged on the public scene he was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow him. The masses lined the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday leafy palm branches were spread before him and there were shouts of Hosanna. In shouting Hosanna they were in effect saying "Save us now" Jesus. Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country.
But the cheering did not last for long. There came a point when the tide began to turn against him. Oh, you didn't notice it so much at first. People still came to see him, but the old excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they had been. His critics now began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they had been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they began to perceive that the fickle public was turning on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they could not discredit his moral character, they began to take more desperate measures. Before it was all over a tidal wave welled up that brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross.
Why did the masses so radically turn against him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday transform into the shouts of crucify him on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it all fell apart. Why? That is the issue that I would like for us to concentrate on this morning. Why did the cheering stop?
- Jesus Began to talk more and more about commitment.
- Jesus dared to suggest that all people are worth loving.
- Jesus began to talk more and more about a cross.
Will You Be an April Fool for Christ?
How many of you have been "April Fooled" already today?
Were all your shirt sleeves turned inside out?
Good April Fool jokes and pranks are supposed to strike out at our routines, shake up our perceptions, make something ordinary odd and extraordinary. Sometimes April Fool is something contrived. Sometimes April Fool just happens. For example, Andy Warhol, who turned out to have been a devout Christian, received a Catholic burial at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on April Fool's Day 1987, attended by 2000 people. Whether contrived or natural, to be an "April Fool" is to embrace the surprises and new experiences of Spring.
There is no better day for Palm Sunday to fall upon than April Fool's Day. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is a classic "April Fool" experience.
First, the two disciples Jesus chose to go "borrow" that colt in Bethphage must have been waiting for Jesus to say "April Fool." But he doesn't. Instead Jesus seriously instructs his disciples to go and commit the first-century equivalent of "grand theft auto." "Borrowing" a valuable animal, a pristine, unbroken young colt, was frowned upon and punished in first century Palestine as seriously as horse-thieving was in the Old West.
Jesus' suggested "get out of jail free" card sounds like another "April Fool" — just say, "The Lord needs it." Yeah. Right. That will work. But . . . it does!
Jesus and his disciples were observant, pious Jews who knew their scripture. His disciples knew the significance of their master riding a young colt into Jerusalem. This was a statement of kingship, of deliverance, of prophetic fulfillment. It is then with great anticipation and expectation that Jesus' disciples decide to disrobe. They bare their arms and back, they lay their cloaks, the garments that most physically identify who they are, down upon the roadway, creating a cushioned path for the skittish young animal bearing their master. What April Fool's was this, what April Fool's were they for stripping down and looking undignified and under-dressed, in order to honor a scriptural image of the messiah.
The disciples surely envisioned that such a significant, majestic entrance into the holy city could not help but lead to great success. Surely Jesus chose to enter the city in such a significant, royal, messianic manner because he was planning some sort of popular uprising, or some extraordinary display of power. This Passover Week was obviously going to be a scene of great success. April Fool...