I am going to focus on the text for Palm Sunday rather than those designated for Passion Sunday. It really isn’t either or but the Presbyterian Planning Calendar forces my hand, so I am going with Luke 19 rather than Luke 22 and/or 23. I would contend that even in Luke 19:29-40 there are clues to the week ahead. Like those hidden picture drawings, if we look carefully we will find images tucked within the larger scene. We will find words and events that reveal Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King, the One who saves us through his sacrifice, example and victory. (For a wonderful summary of the atoning work of Christ through His three offices see Cynthia Rigby’s article in the Spring 2000 Austin faculty journal, Insights.) The entry into Jerusalem (sans palms in Luke’s version) gives us hints to what the events ahead will accomplish.
The very stones will cry out should this prophet’s followers be silenced (Habakkuk 2:11). The king will ride over cloaks put down on the path before him (2 Kings 9:13, Psalm 118:26). The priest will ride on a ritually pure colt on his way to the sacrifice (1 Samuel 6:7). The saving work of Jesus Christ already completed and still to come is alluded to in this text, as we find images and references hidden in plain sight for those with eyes to see.
And his followers do see. At least for now. Luke’s version of the entry into Jerusalem is about Jesus’ followers, not the random crowds who love a commotion. Note verse 37: “The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully and with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen.” These are the ones who have experienced the saving presence and power of Jesus Christ and they recognize him as the king who comes in the name of the Lord. They echo the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” If ever so briefly, Jesus’ disciples get it right. This is the Prophet, Priest and King who has come to save.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts, Christ the prophet reveals to us the will of God for our salvation, as priest he offers himself up to satisfy divine judgment, reconciling us to God and making intercession for us, as king he subdues us to himself, ruling and defending us, conquering all his and our enemies (Questions 23-26). All of this is present or foreshadowed in Luke’s triumphant entry and the disciples, the multitude of them, raise their voices in joyful recognition of the saving work of Jesus Christ. Not even the stones are too thick to get it. All of creation is relieved of its groaning. This scene represents a foretaste of what’s ultimately to come, a respite from the slaughter, weeping, cleansing, destruction and death that must be endured in order for resurrection to happen.
That’s a word to be shared and savored this Palm (cloak) Sunday. The saving work of Christ is hidden in plain sight. Christ the Prophet, Priest and King is in the midst of us. Praise, joy and song are the right response. Blessing, peace and glory are present and surely coming. The immediate future is not bright, weeping, betrayal, denial, are all on the horizon, and yet, the ultimate future is sure, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the reign of God relentlessly on the way.
No one can deny the reality of slaughter and suffering. Therefore, we are called to point out the hidden pictures that reveal Christ the Prophet, Priest and King, God for us and with is in the very thick of it all.
This week I encountered three glimpses of the saving work of Christ even as destruction loomed. I watched an interview with Francine Christophe, a Holocaust survivor. She tells the story of a few pieces of chocolate her mother was saving for her daughter, but instead gave to a woman shortly after she’d given birth in Bergen-Belsen. Take a few minutes watch Francine tell this story. The gift of a child’s chocolate contributes to life in the middle of pervasive death, demonstrating the power of handing over that which another has need of.
The second hidden picture of life in the midst of death came in the form of a woman thanking the strangers who surrounded her with care and prayer in Whole Foods. The author learns of her father’s suicide while grocery shopping and collapses in sobs. She writes:
“I never saw you after that. But I know this to be true, if it were not for all of you, I might have simply gotten in the car and tried to drive myself home. I wasn’t thinking straight, if I was thinking at all. If it were not for you, I don’t know what I would have done in those first raw moments of overwhelming shock, anguish and grief. But I thank God every day that I didn’t have to find out. Your kindness, your compassion, your willingness to help a stranger in need have stayed with me until this day. And no matter how many times my mind takes me back to that horrible life-altering moment, it is not all darkness. Because you reached out to help, you offered a ray of light in the bleakest moment I’ve ever endured. You may not remember it. You may not remember me. But I will never, ever forget you. And though you may never know it, I give thanks for your presence and humanity, each and every day.”
The third story that both embodies and foreshadows the Kingdom of God came in the form of a Facebook post from a colleague, Greg Allen-Pickett. He shared the following:
“Asked by the BBC to identify the defining moment in his life Desmond Tutu spoke of the day he and his mother were walking down the street. Tutu was nine years old. A tall white man dressed in a black suit came towards them. In the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. But this day, before a young Tutu and his mother could step off the sidewalk the white man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her!
The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was bitterly opposed to apartheid. It changed Tutu’s life. When his mother told him that Trevor Huddleston had stepped off the sidewalk because he was a man of God Tutu found his calling. “When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God” said Tutu.
Huddleston later became a mentor to Desmond Tutu and his commitment to the equality of all human beings due to their creation in God’s image a key driver in Tutu’s opposition to apartheid.”
The Holocaust went on, a daughter’s grief continued, apartheid remained the law of the land for years – and yet, hidden in those large, painful narratives was both the embodiment and the foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God. Christ, Prophet, Priest and King, is present and actively working for life in the face of death. Individuals sometimes get it right even while there is so much wrong all around them.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday, we are keenly aware that it is also Passion Sunday. The week ahead will bring sorrow and suffering, but Luke 19 reminds us that within it all, hidden in plain sight, is the saving work of Jesus Christ, Prophet, Priest and King.
- Take a look at the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem. Once again make note of the differences and consider what those differences mean. Note what is unique about Luke’s account and consider the significance of those unique elements.
- Read the Shorter Westminster Catechism, questions 23-26. Take a look at the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 31. Pay attention to the three offices of Christ in the events of Holy Week.
- Look up “donkey” and “colt” in a concordance (or use a digital version) and read the stories cited. Do these stories inform your understanding of the meaning of Jesus riding on a colt/donkey?
- Read Luke 9:51-52. See any connections to Luke 19:28-40?
- Consider this from “The Mind of Jesus” by William Barclay: “Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an action of supreme courage; it was an assertion of royalty and an offer of love; it was one and at the same time royalty’s claim and love’s appeal.”
- Hymns #196-228 in “Glory to God” are about Christ’s passion and death. Pick one or two to use as prayers for your personal devotions this week.
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