Palm Sunday (April 13 • 2014)
‘Perseverance beyond Celebration’
ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH
Last Sunday, I went to the Indonesian Consulate in Perth to cast my vote in the Indonesian legislative election. The Indonesians will have a new President this year. The current President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known as SBY, will end his ten-year term as the President.
Ten years ago, he was a political star in Indonesia, almost like a celebrity. In 2004, he became the first democratically elected President of Indonesia. In 2009, even after five years in office, he still managed to garner more than 60% of the votes in the Presidential Election.
But President Yudhoyono today is nothing like his own self in the past. Today, his popularity has dwindled. His approval rating is low. His party only managed to garner nine percent of the vote this year, as compared to more than 20% in 2009 when Yudhoyono came into power for the second term. Yudhoyono definitely will not end his political career with the same ‘bang’ as he started it.
Friends, people often welcome a rising-star like Yudhoyono with high expectation. That person often becomes a messiah-like figure: a person whom many expect will be the one who solves all of their problems. Yet - once reality kicks in - people often realise that their leader is a mere human being who is baffled by the same questions that baffle them. As time goes by, his popularity often wanes and most people would leave him and look for another person - a ‘fresh’ one - who will restore their dream. Often - without being aware about what actually happens to them - people are drawn into the unending cycle of expectation and disappointment.
For many leaders - like Yudhoyono - the transition from highly expected or anticipated to totally disappointing takes years to happen; for Jesus, the transition took days only.
Today, we hear again the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Many people in his time would not miss the similarity between his entry into the city and the Roman Emperor’s Adventus: the Emperor’s ceremonial entry into a city that could include Roman citizens throwing their cloaks on the ground before him; perhaps not only as a symbol of respect, but also as a symbol of surrendering themselves as subjects to the Emperor, their master.
So the crowd was treating Jesus and his companions in the same way they would treat the Emperor; yet this same crowd - who shouted, “Hosanna!” to welcome Jesus - would later shout, “Crucify him!” Even his disciples seemed to have a change of heart. They boldly entered Jerusalem with Jesus to proclaim his Messiah-ship, yet they would all soon desert him. Even Peter - who arrogantly said that he would never leave Jesus no matter what - would also deny him three times (Matthew 26:31-35; 69-75).
What happened? Why did they desert Jesus? Was it fear, fear for their own safety - thus their own selfishness - that made them all left Jesus not long after his triumphant entry? Perhaps. But if we search deeper, we will find that underlying that fear was a broken hope, even disappointment. They had hoped that Jesus would become the figure who would finally end the Roman Empire’s occupation of their fatherland. They had hoped that Jesus would become like the great Jewish military leader, Judas Maccabeus who - less than 200 years earlier - led a successful revolution against the mighty Greek empire and drove them out of Jerusalem. Even today, - during the annual festival of Hannukah - the Jewish people still celebrated Judas’ victory over the Greeks and his restoration of the Jewish worship in Jerusalem
So it is no surprise that when Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer in Jerusalem, Peter immediately rebuked his teacher for saying such thing. “God forbid it!” Peter said to Jesus, “No such thing will ever happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-23) After all, should not Jerusalem welcome their own Saviour and King, just like they welcomed the victorious Judas?
But Peter and the other disciples failed to understand Jesus’ mission. They failed to see that this Messiah was nothing like the other messiahs; that this King was the Servant-King who was like the humble and gentle servant depicted in our reading from the book of Isaiah today.
Indeed, it took Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead to make his followers understand what his real mission was all about. An ancient Christian hymn - whose lyrics we read today in the letter to the Philippians - tells us the true identity of Jesus: he was one with God, but he became human; a human who became a servant; a servant who died on the cross for us all. This was the real identity of Jesus and we are to be like Jesus who dared to leave his identity as God to be in solidarity with us.
So what Jesus asks of us is not simply a ceremonial celebration, like waving of the branches; or ceremonial words, like saying the word, “Hosanna!” or singing the song, “We are Moving in the Light of God”; or ceremonial offering of one’s life, like the laying of one’s cloak on the road. What he asks of us is our commitment to follow him wherever he goes; to walk with him even on the path of suffering; to be ready to carry our own cross just like he carried his; to stay with him even when the celebration is over.
Friends, these leaves - or those similar like these, which we used today in our procession - will not stay fresh and green forever. In a few days, these leaves will start withering. In a few weeks, these leaves will have lost all of their vigour. In a few months, these leaves will no longer be green, but like these whitish brown leaves. They will be dry and brittle.
Will we still follow Jesus at times when our faith loses its strength and vigour and, like these leaves, becomes dry and brittle? Will we still follow him when our life is no longer filled with joy, but with much sadness? Will we still follow him when our hopes are broken, our dream shattered, and life is not the way we want it to be?
Soon, the crowd - who greeted Jesus in much jubilation - would drag him to the Roman authority to be crucified. Soon, Jesus would be badly and cruelly beaten. Soon, his disciples would abandon him. Soon, he would die alone on the cross.
Where will we be when that happens? Will we too run away? Or will we stay with him in his darkest hour? Amen.
Only one King comes to our town
not in a Rolls Royce or BMW
with police bikes all around,
but bareback on a runt of a donkey,
like a comedian, feet brushing the ground.
Only one High Priest comes to our church
not led by bishops and cardinals
rich-robed with religious sentiment,
but led by a grubby gang of street kids
screaming their heads off with merriment.
Only one God comes down our street
not surrounded by holy angels
or shining like the sun at noon,
but with tears running down his cheeks
for those who play the devil’s tune.
Only one true-man comes along this way
never looking to be served
or honoured with public praise,
but to serve and give his life
as a ransom for rebels and strays.
© 2001 B. D. Prewer
 From an interpretation of a painting, The Entry into Jerusalem, on http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=3488 (retrieved:11th April 2014)