On Palm Sunday we stand at the edge of Lent, looking toward Easter. Today, with our story from Luke’s Gospel, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem, the crowds sweep us into holy week.
In the story, the people line the street. The air is electric with excitement. The multitudes show up to welcome Jesus, to welcome him as their messiah. They know the prophecies about the one who will ride into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.
I’ll read a verse from one of those prophecies, from the book of Zachariah in the Old Testament—a passage that, I’m sure, occupies the popular imagination of the crowds in Jerusalem as they see Jesus: “Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! [For] your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zachariah 9:9).
This would be the day of their redemption, of their liberation, of their freedom. As Jesus passes through the streets, into Jerusalem, the city of David, the people shout, they chant, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38).
The people want peace. We want peace. The peace of heaven here on earth. That’s the theme of holy week—this hope for peace, for healing, for restoration, for a redeemed life. The question is always about how we get there, how we welcome peace into our world and into our lives.
This isn’t just about how to deal with violence. It’s also about the peace we build for ourselves and for our community—the peace we make around us with our friendships, with forming relationships that make for a good life, at work, at home, all of what we need for our emotional and psychological health, to live without the threat of harm, to feel fulfilled in our daily routines, in our work and play, in our care for others.
Peace names that desire we all have for a healthy life for ourselves and others—a world full of joy, communities without injustice. To long for peace is to hope for a kind of holism, a way of life made possible in a redeemed world that has to do with everything from the anxieties in our heads to the politics of our society.
This is the longing we see in the people who crowd the streets of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the hope we hear in their chants, when they shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of God! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Jesus will be their king who has come to establish peace, the peace of heaven in their world, God’s peace in their lives.
We know how the story goes, with the crucifixion of Jesus. Palm Sunday doesn’t begin his political triumph, his ascent to royal power. There is no coronation at the end of the week. Instead, soldiers take him up onto a cross, not a throne. Another failed messiah, according to the crowds. The end of the week culminates with a heartbreaking disappointment for the people who had hailed him as the one who would establish a reign of peace.
Jesus did not choose to be that kind of messiah, not that kind of leader, not that kind of savior. But he also didn’t rebuke the crowds for their hope. He doesn’t say that they’re wrong to think of what he’s up to, in terms of his movement. He doesn’t say that they were wrong, in terms of the community he had gathered during his years of ministry. Jesus doesn’t scold them for their longing for peace, he doesn’t tell them to tone down their hope. There is something good and true in those chants in the streets. Something holy in their desire for the peace of God.
All of us want a magical cure to our condition—a decisive solution to the troubles in our lives and the violence in the world. That’s what the people in the story, crowded along the streets—that’s what they want. And that’s what we want, all of us, in our own way, in situations big and small: a peace that would fix all the problems we have going on in ourselves or with relationships or on a systemic level.
But Jesus won’t do that for the crowd, he doesn’t solve their problems for them without them, he doesn’t fix everything without their own involvement. As we will soon discover at Easter, and after Easter with Pentecost, is that we need the Holy Spirit to work out peace in our lives and in the world.
After Easter, Jesus turns his followers toward each other, to find the Holy Spirit at work within their community, within their lives, working with them for the peace that they long for.
Jesus doesn’t make life easier by fixing everything for us. Faith in Jesus isn’t a shortcut to get the world we want. Instead, Jesus makes life easier because he shares with us his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God who stays with us, who strengths us, who surrounds us love and comforts us with peace.
Maybe “easier” isn’t the right word for what the Christian life is about—because we’re never done with cleaning up our own messes, in the church and in the world. Maybe it’s better to say that the Spirit of God lightens the load, because we’ve been given people to help us, the people of God to surround us, to care for us, to help us become the people we’ve been called to be.
We’ve been given each other, because God knows that we can’t do this thing called life alone. We need each other to help us figure out how to live into God’s peace. We need each other for the joy of God’s life with us—our fellowship is how we welcome the joy of God’s presence.
The Christian life is all about God’s Spirit who dwells with us, who lives in us, and who provides us with companions, with friendships, with the comfort and joy we find in a common life, in our fellowship with God and each other.
Here, with each other, we are working out the peace we long for—peace with each other, peace with our neighbors, peace with our enemies, peace with the people who we’ve hurt and who have hurt us. We are wounded people who need healing. We live in a wounded world that needs redemption. We’re there in the crowds in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and join their cries for the peace of heaven.
This coming week is holy week. A time to remember what happened before Easter Sunday. This Thursday we will remember Jesus’ last supper, when he washed the feet of his friends and told them to love each other. On Friday we will remember that his friends betrayed and abandoned him, leading to his crucifixion. Then, on Holy Saturday, we will remember the loneliness of the disciples, their despair, with Jesus dead and buried in a tomb.
All of holy week is a working out of the call we hear from the people on the streets on Palm Sunday, their call for the peace of heaven—And Jesus responds with his life. He will reveal what’s involved in the making of peace through his holy work of the love. The love of God in the life of Jesus—that’s what peace looks like.
The peace of heaven will be revealed in his vulnerable life, full of the only power that leads to peace: that is, the power of mercy, the love of God at work in the offer of forgiveness.
The joy of the Spirit happens at Easter, when Jesus returns to the friends who had let him down, who had left him to suffer alone, and offers them forgiveness.
But for now, today, for this week, we take time to recognize our need for peace, our longing for the peace of heaven.
This week we join the crowds, wounded people in a wounded world, crying out for God’s healing, praying for redemption.