Texts: Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11
A long time ago I was a young tour bus driver in Alaska. Nearly all of us were college students from the Pacific Northwest working summers to pay for school. And a very decent wage it was compared to many other seasonal jobs. It wasn’t just the money though. We were curious about the world, and on the brink of adulthood, always eager to pick up insights for getting along well in life. I guess they call it “life hacks” now.
Our first year in Alaska we had a speedy tour orientation session from another driver who was long in the tooth, at least thirty-five years old, and very experienced. This older fellow lived in Juneau year round which most of us summer work immigrants found highly interesting and a bit exotic. He not only trained us on all the tour routes we would be driving, local and long-distance, he also entertained us with stories only a resident Alaskan could know.
This man was a jack-of-all-trades who cobbled together his living from a variety of jobs throughout the year. Turns out his most favorite work was to plan parties. Today we’d call him an event planner. In fact he had earned a reputation around Juneau as a very creative party artist.
One time he planned a formal event. Canapes and champagne. Tuxes and gowns required. A grand piano. It sounds like nothing out of the ordinary, except that he threw the party in a high mountain meadow above Juneau. The piano was flown in by helicopter. All the guests had to hike up the mountain. In their formal wear. The party was a raging success. They danced all night and welcomed the dawn with singing. Keep it interesting, he said. That’s the key.
We were all ears when this man offered to share his most important party planning technique with us. He said that parties can be very elaborate like the one on the mountain. But the very best kind of parties happen when the venue is just slightly too small for the number of invited guests. This way people are forced to talk to one another. And that’s the key to a good party. Planned chaos. When you can’t move an inch without encountering another person. It’s loud and exciting and anything might happen. It’s even okay if things go a little wrong along the way.
So who knew that Jesus was such a good event planner? The triumphal entry into Jerusalem (as Palm Sunday is more formally called) plainly show that he was. Luke’s gospel presents Jesus as much more than a passive participant. The evidence for this is in the strangely awkward beginning verse, “After he said this…” So what was it that Jesus had just said?
The disciples, as they approached Jerusalem, were entertaining some conclusions about when and how the kingdom of God would come. In response Jesus told a parable about a kingdom with an ambitious nobleman-turned-unpopular-king and some servants who run the gamut from loyal to unworthy for whom things turn out very badly indeed. It’s like the parable of the talents but with odd twists which leave the listener uncertain about just who is good and who is bad.
The end result seems to be a warning. Whatever kingdom the followers of Jesus expected, it would be more surprising than the disciples could possibly imagine.
So back to the party. This unlikely transition actually supports Luke’s point about Jesus and what happened that day on the way into Jerusalem. And it might also be a point Jesus was making about God and the kingdom that is to come. God is up to something. Pay attention.
The evidence that the triumphal entry of Jesus was more than accidental or incidental continues. The story is told actually in two parts. The first part we just heard. Two disciples are sent on a mission to find a colt. They are told precisely where to look, and what to say when challenged by the owners of the colt. This sounds suspiciously pre-arranged. “The Lord needs it” sounds an awful lot like a password.
Because what kind of owner would let a stranger take a valuable young animal? It doesn’t make sense. When the colt was brought, the disciples helped Jesus up on the animal with the care and deference of loyal servants. What can be going on? If Jesus was using this event to give insight to his followers about the kingdom he was bringing, everything here is an attention getter.
Next, a crowd gathered. It was no random crowd, but one that appears to have been purposely called out. They all joined in a frenzy of garment spreading, (no palms in Luke’s story) creating a fine carpet of cloaks for the colt to walk upon as it carried the beloved teacher. The growing crowd lifted up their voices in praise of Jesus. Their king by acclamation, if not in political fact?
As they did so, others on the fringes of the crowd glowered and muttered defiantly against the noisy joy of the disciple band. Like two sides of a public march, one all chaotic and loudly chanting, the other tight lipped and defensive. Which is the right side? The other side did not dare criticize Jesus himself but tried to take control of the event. “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” But Jesus told them that even if it were possible, the very stones would tell this story.
The triumphal entry is paralleled in the gospel text that today takes the place of our usual Lord’s Supper liturgy. We’ll hear as Jesus wraps up many days of teaching in Jerusalem by again sending two disciples – Peter and John this time – with instructions to find a particular man to lead them to a particular owner of a house. There is a password again too. “Say to the owner of the house, where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”
Jesus the party planner. Who knew? Although his reckless hospitality should have been a clue. He gathered people from all over to a broad roadway where they sang and danced. He inspired them to spread out their party clothes in honor of a king and kingdom the glory of which they could not even begin to imagine.
And then he found a small room, upstairs and invited way too many people to meet him there. Friends and strangers and even the enemy who would betray him. You have to admit, as a party planner and host Jesus keeps it interesting.
From here the passion of Jesus unfolds. There will be chaos and tears and regrets. Despite the initial joy and singing, things go terribly wrong in ways that Isaiah foretold and Paul embraces as deeply inspiring. Insult and fear-mongering. Humility and obedience. After which the kingdom comes in ways that no one could possibly have imagined. Your invitation to the party has already been sent. Will you come? Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.