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The Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger
The six-year-old came home from Palm Sunday services proudly carrying his palm. Mom and Dad quizzed him on his Sunday School lesson for the day. He responded enthusiastically, “Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And the happy people waved their palm branches and sang, O Suzanna…”(1)
Happy people singing. What a special day! Jerusalem was going to be Camelot, and Jesus was going to be King Arthur. The crowds were dreaming of trumpets and towers, capes and sashes, flowing robes and sparkling scepters. The disciples would be knights at the round table, shining in their armor, using might for right, battling evil. The rain would never fall till after sundown. By eight the morning fog would disappear. Camelot!(2)
Five hundred years earlier, the prophet Zechariah said that one day there would be a day like this one. That ancient promise was etched indelibly in the mind of a glory-starved nation. The words of the Psalmist had been a continuing national lament: “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.”(3) For half a millennium, they had kept an eye out for David’s successor to gallop into town, assume the throne, and change their sad song. The orchestra was forever ready to play, “Happy days are here again.” It had been SO long.
Would this be the day? As Jesus rode into his capital city, tourists from all over Israel lined the street and cheered wildly. The faithful cut down palm branches and spread them over the road just as their ancestors had done over a century-and-a-half before in a rare moment of national triumph when the Maccabees finally completed the overthrow of the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes.(4) He had been horrible! Antiochus had forbidden the practice of the Jewish faith on pain of death. He had taken over the Jerusalem Temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus. He had desecrated the altar by sacrificing pigs on it. After a 20-year guerilla war, the Jews finally won. Would this be deja vu all over again? Would Jesus lead the conquest of the hated Romans? The crowds shouted, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us, please,” or “Save us NOW!” “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” They shouted until they were hoarse. They laughed and cried and danced and sang. The disciples thought that it was the best day they had ever known.
The crowds lining the route of the procession should be commended for their enthusiasm. They were not there just because they loved a good parade. They were there because they wanted to believe. They had hope. Hope…”Hope springs eternal in the human breast”…”Where there’s life, there’s hope.” And they had it.
Good for them. The reality is that, if we figure to survive in this world, we had better have hope. The ancients knew that. Do you remember Pandora? Mythology has her as a lady endowed with every charm…the gift of all the gods. She was sent to earth with a little box which she had been forbidden to open, but curiosity finally got the better of her…she lifted the lid and out from that box escaped every conceivable kind of terror. Pandora made haste to close the box up again, but it was too late. There was only one thing left…HOPE. That was the ancients’ way of saying how important hope is. Even when all else is lost, there is still hope.
This was what had sustained the Israelite faithful from generation to generation. This was what energized the crowd along Jesus’ parade route that day. But hope is apparently a fragile commodity. We know the story. By the end of the week, the crowds will have disappeared and be replaced by a few faithful friends gathered on a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary. What in the world happened?
Perhaps the answer is as simple as a loss of hope. It might have taken different forms for different people. For example, there were those in the crowd known as the Zealots whose top priority was ridding the land of Caesar. For them it was religious duty to drive the infidels out. They were looking for the coming Messiah to lead them into battle, riding in a chariot or mounted on a fiery stallion. But here comes Jesus riding on the colt of a donkey, a notably undersized farm animal. An adult man on a full grown donkey would almost have his feet scraping the ground. Hardly the image of the conquering hero. Goodbye, hope.
There were the religious leaders. Hope for them would have involved bidding a not-so-fond farewell to the Romans, but that was not their true priority. Truth be known, their deepest hope would have been for Jesus not to upset their apple cart. No chance. According to Mark’s gospel, the day after the parade, Jesus came to the Temple and made a wreck of things.
Of course, near the end of the week, Jesus gathered with the Twelve in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover. One would think that these who had traveled with him and known him so intimately surely would never lose hope – they had seen him give sight to the blind, heal withered limbs, even restore the dead to life. They could never lose hope, could they? Well.
Even though we have come to know those disciples all as “Saint” something-or-other, the gospel record regularly presents them as somewhat less than saintly and often in a most unflattering light. This Last Supper over, they go over to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is soon arrested, betrayed by Judas – an inside job, if there ever was one. Jesus’ other good friends scatter like scared rabbits.
We know the story. The illegal midnight trial at the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and subsequent torture. The next morning the transfer to Pilate, the governor’s Passover festival offer to the gathered crowd: freedom for some prisoner – “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They cried out for Barabbas instead.
“Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” he asked.
No “Hosannas” this time. They shouted back, “Crucify him!”(5) The high hope of just five days earlier was gone. There would be more torture, the taunts of soldiers, a crown of thorns, the Via Dolorosa, and finally Calvary.
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Have you ever lost hope? Perhaps because the answer to a heartfelt prayer did not come in the way expected. A husband or wife was NOT delivered from the cancer. A son or daughter was NOT kept free from drugs. A deserved promotion went to someone else. Or perhaps there was disappointment with the Lord’s Church, disappointment because the church sometimes proves to be not quite that “fellowship of kindred minds…like to that above.” Those things can rob us of hope. Indeed, the cynic would say that those who would live on hope will soon starve to death.
Well, I have some good news for you this morning. I could offer it in any number of ways, but one of my favorites is from a special book called, It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’.(6) My mother gave it to me. It is a series of essays by Dr. Anthony Campolo, and the title work tells of a church service in which the author participated that remembered those horrific events that led up to Jesus’ death on Good Friday – it is a line from a sermon preached by one of the other speakers that day, a wise old African-American pastor. Dr. Campolo writes:
For an hour and a half he preached one line over and over again…”It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!” He started his sermon real softly by saying, “It was Friday; it was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!” One of the Deacons yelled, “Preach, brother, Preach!” It was all the encouragement he needed.
He came on louder as he said, “It was Friday and Mary was cryin’ her eyes out. The disciples were runnin’ in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd, but that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin!”
The preacher kept going. He picked up the volume still more and shouted, “It was Friday. The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’ `As things have been so shall they be. You can’t change anything in this world; you can’t change anything. But those cynics don’t know that it was only Friday. Sunday’s comin’! It was Friday, and on Friday those forces that oppress the poor and make the poor to suffer were in control. But that was Friday! Sunday’s comin’!
It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around, laughin’ and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things. But they didn’t know it was only Friday! Sunday’s comin’!
Campolo continues, “He kept on working that one phrase for a half hour, then an hour, then an hour and a quarter, then an hour and a half. Over and over he came at us, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin!” By the time he had come to the end of the message…He had me and everybody else so worked up that I don’t think any of us could have stood it much longer. At the end of his message he just yelled at the top of his lungs, `It’s FRIDAY!’ and all 500 of us in that church yelled back with one accord, `SUNDAY’S COMIN’!”(7)
That is the good news, the Gospel, the word the world is waiting to hear. That is the church’s message of hope. When life begins to get you down, our word is SUNDAY’S COMIN’. When the love you had counted on is gone and you feel that you may never know love again, remember that SUNDAY’S COMIN’. When you see what is happening in the hallways of our schools or the streets of our cities and are angry and afraid, we have to tell you that SUNDAY’S COMIN’. When you have lost your belief in the miraculous and no longer expect great things from God, look at the calendar and note that SUNDAY’S COMIN’. When you are so far down you don’t remember up, the word is SUNDAY’S COMIN’.
Yes, there is lots wrong with this world. But it is hope that we need to sustain us. Indeed, it is ONLY hope that gets us through the darkest hours. I have hope, the same hope that energized that Palm Sunday crowd. On this first day of Holy Week, we know know there will be a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, and finally, a devastating, death-dealing Friday. But on that awful day we can think again and recall a special time long, long ago. Then with heart and soul and every fibre of our being we can shout, IT’S FRIDAY, BUT, PRAISE GOD, SUNDAY’S COMIN’!
1. Pastors Professional Research Service, March/April 1993
2. Tom Long quoted by Brett Younger, “Staying for the Whole Parade,” Pulpit Digest, March, April, 1999, pp. 73-78
3. Psalm 31:9-10
4. II Maccabees 10:1-8
5. Mark 15:9-14
6. Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1985
7. ibid., pp. 124-126
Copyright 2001, Dr. David E. Leininger. Used by permission.