Facing Our Emotions
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
March 20, 2016
Luke 19: 28-42 (CEB)
28After Jesus said this, he continued on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. 30He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If someone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” 32Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.
33As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34They replied, “Its master needs it.” 35They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. 36As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.
37As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. 38They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
39Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”
40He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
41As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. 42He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. For three years he has been calling disciples, teaching crowds, healing the lame, welcoming outcasts, and dining with sinners. He has been teaching about God’s new covenant and the reality of God’s kingdom, even as he embodied it. Now, it is time for Christ’s ministry to reach its fulfillment. It just so happens that this time coincides with the Festival of the Passover, one of the “high, holy days” of the Jewish calendar, not unlike Christmas and Easter on the Christian calendar. An important part of the Passover celebration was a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy City. So each year at the appropriate time, thousands of Jews would begin their journey to Jerusalem, which is exactly what Jesus is doing where we pick up in Luke’s gospel this morning. We call today Palm Sunday, but for Jesus, it was the beginning of the Passover Feast, and it’s time to go to Jerusalem.
Jesus and his disciples began their pilgrimage in Jericho, the lowest point on the face of the earth (that’s not underwater). They would have journeyed mile after uphill mile, winding through the sandy hills from Jericho. They would have traversed through the Judean desert, climbing all the way. About halfway up the climb, they would have reached sea level, having already come a long way from the Jordan valley. But still, they had a fair-sized mountain to ascend on their journey. It would’ve been hot; since it seldom if ever rains, and that makes it quite dusty as well. It would be a tiring journey for any pilgrim. So as Jesus and his disciples approach Bethphage and Bethany, Luke tells us that Jesus instructed his disciples to go ahead into the village. There, Jesus says, they will find a colt that has never been ridden. Jesus tells the disciples to bring the colt to him, and that if anyone asks why they are taking the colt, to respond that, “Its Master needs it.” So the disciples do as they are told, and when they return with the colt, they throw their cloaks over it’s back, Jesus mounts it, and the journey continues.
But the tone of the journey has changed. Whereas before we can imagine that they might have felt burdened and tired, now the mood is light and celebratory. As the crowd of pilgrims continue on, with Jesus among them on the colt, they continually throw their cloaks down before him. And eventually they reach the top of the Mount of Olives. After such a climb, the sense of relief and excitement would have been intense. At last, the barren, dusty desert gives way to lush green growth, and at the crest of the summit there is a clear view of their destination, the Holy City, Jerusalem itself. For the Jews, Jerusalem is the place where heaven and earth meet, and now they see it before them, glistening in the sun on its own slightly smaller hill just across a narrow valley. And there, Luke reports, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens,” they sang!
You know, when we imagine Palm Sunday, the picture that emerges in our mind is one of Jesus, clothed in white, riding through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey. All around him people are singing praises and waving palms. But Luke’s story is a little different. There are no palm branches. And as a matter of fact, Jesus and the crowds of pilgrims haven’t made it into Jerusalem yet as the people throw their cloaks before the colt that Jesus is riding, and begin lifting words of celebration and praise. It is because of what happens next that these little details matter.
As they stand there at the summit of the Mount of Olives, looking out across the Kidron Valley to shining Jerusalem, the city of peace, Jesus begins to weep. This is not something that happens very much. The only other time the gospels record that Jesus wept was at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. But now, this vision of Jerusalem prompts a similar reaction. Why? When Jesus is surrounded by crowds of celebrating pilgrims, why would he stand in their midst, the Holy City laid out gloriously before him, and weep? Why?
I imagine the crowds around him must have gradually fallen silent as they realized that the One they were celebrating was crying. I imagine they must have all turned to look at him in wonder and curiosity. Then, as the tears fell from his eyes, Jesus spoke, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jerusalem, the city whose very name means peace, is laid out before them; and yet Jesus weeps saying that the way to peace is hidden from our eyes.
By now, we may be beginning to feel like we’ve got a pretty good handle on this peace thing. I mean, we’ve been talking about finding peace in an anxious world for over a month and a half now. Maybe we have worked hard on achieving peace in our lives by focusing on the good news, by gaining a new perspective through our God-given identity, by improving our prayer life, by building strong communities grounded in God’s love, and by staying connected to God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. It seems like we’ve pretty well “covered all the bases”, doesn’t it? And we may even be feeling like we’re on the road to experiencing greater peace in our lives. But as we approach this Palm Sunday text this morning, we need to understand the significance of all that is happening here.
Jesus stands among throngs of celebrating, praise-filled people, and he cries. With these crowds, Jesus looks across the Kidron Valley to beautiful Jerusalem, the city of peace, and he weeps, saying essentially, “You can’t see peace.” Jesus is teaching us something extremely important here. As he faces the week ahead, knowing the fate that is before him, Jesus also knows that the way to peace is a way of sorrows. The prophet Isaiah foretells that the Messiah is “a man of suffering and acquainted with grief.” That’s what we see in this moment. And yet, this is the only path forward, for Christ and for us. Sometimes, sometimes, peace only comes through pain and sorrow, through weeping and grief. And we should not try to avoid the sadness in our lives, or pretend that it does not exist.
When I was a sophomore in college, my grandfather died. I was 19. I had lost other family members—both of my grandparents on my father’s side had passed away when I was very young—but this was different. I knew what death was now. I knew what death meant. And when my mother woke my sister and I at 2:30 in the morning to tell us that he had died, I was overcome with grief. Over the next few days, as we remembered and celebrated and then buried my grandfather, it seemed that the tears would not stop. When I got back to school after all the services were done, one of the first places I went was to the Wednesday Night Worship of the campus Wesley Fellowship. And the campus minister, knowing what had happened, approached me and asked how I was doing. I could feel the tears coming again, and so I looked away and shook my head. Then, he put his hands on my shoulders, and said to me, “It’s okay to cry. The Bible tells us that the Lord wept. It’s okay to cry.”
Sorrow, weeping, grief—this is all part of life, and we don’t need to avoid it. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he knew the fate that awaited him. Can you blame him for weeping? But Jesus also knew it was only by facing these sorrows head-on, that he would experience and make peace possible for all people. And we don’t need to be afraid to face our grief either! When we acknowledge our sadness and deal with it, it makes joy all the more possible. As we approach Easter this year, we need to understand that avoiding the worry, sorrow, and fear of this moment will not make things peaceful; celebrating now will not make the events to come somehow preventable. Facing these sorrows, as Jesus does here on Palm Sunday, will enable us to celebrate the joy of an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. In the same way, acknowledging, dealing with, and intentionally working through every grief in our life will enable us to experience greater peace and more joy!
I realize that this seems counter-intuitive. I know that none of us finds anything great about sorrow and grief. But it is something that we all face, and if we simply pretend like it isn’t there, if we try to cover it up and put on a happy face, then there will always be this nagging feeling, this anxiety and worry that just never quite goes away. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, it happens to all of us sometimes. But here, at the pinnacle of the Mount of Olives, Jesus gives a different example to follow. He interrupts the celebration and praise to weep. He shows us all without hesitation that sometimes, the way to joy, the way to peace begins with weeping. And that is the way we will all go this week as we sit around the table of the Last Supper, as we remember that moment when Jesus hung on the cross and cried out, “It is finished!” before breathing his last. Our Easter observation cannot be a celebration apart from these moments, so I hope each of us will take time this week to deal with these moments in Christ’s life. And if there are other things happening in our lives that we need to weep over, I hope that we will take time to do that as well.
We will celebrate with joy Christ’s resurrection next Sunday, but when we acknowledge and face our sorrows and fears, we can experience true joy and peace everyday!