April 10, 2022
Martin Elfert April 10 2022 Palm Sunday Luke 19:28-40 Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 Psalm 31:9-16 (Luke 22:14-23:56 – Passion Reading at the service’s conclusion)
Once upon a time there was a king.
Well, strictly speaking the king was not actually a king. He was a governor. But he liked to think of himself as a king. And who are we to argue? So a king we shall call him.
The king ruled over the Southeast corner of the empire. A part that the king’s colleagues could never seem to remember. Which annoyed the king.
When the king and his colleagues got together at conventions, they would say:
Where is that you’re stationed again, Paunch?
The king’s colleagues called him Paunch. Which they had since the days when they were in school together. Which the king did not like.
He tried to laugh it off.
Actually, he would say. Actually, these days I go by Pontius.
You’ll always be Paunch to us, his colleagues would laugh, punching the king in the arm a little harder than strictly seemed necessary. Where are you stationed again, Paunch?
And the King would sigh and explain.
It’s called Jerusalem. It’s really important to the empire. It’s such hard work, people are always wanting to see me, to have me solve their problems –
But by now the king’s colleagues were no longer listening. They had taken their wine and their hors d’oeuvres and they had gone elsewhere, smiling.
When the king got back to Jerusalem from the convention (which is where we find him today), after he had stopped grinding his teeth, he would cheer himself up by going to inspect his people. For these inspections the king would climb onto an impressive horse. And he would put on an impressive cape which flowed behind him as he rode the impressive horse. And he would wear impressive bronze breastplate which shone in the sun.
The people in Jerusalem, unlike his colleagues, understood and appreciated him.
The king rode past crowds of people while those people cheered. They loved him.
And if the king’s soldiers were pressing their spears into the people’s backs as they cheered, the king did not pay it much attention.
Sometimes the road before the king and his impressive horse would get muddy. And so the people would lay their cloaks on the ground so as to keep the horse’s royal hooves clean.
It was such a kind and loving gesture, the king thought.
And if the king’s soldiers were pressing their spears into the people’s backs as they laid their cloaks down, the king did not pay it much attention.
And if it was a really special occasion, if he was feeling really magnanimous, the king would stop his horse and address the people.
He would say. And his voice was as impressive as his horse, his cape, and his armour – if he did say so himself.
Who is it that is going to save you?
And the people replied:
You are! Hosanna!
(Hosanna being an ancient word that means save us.)
And then the people would shout:
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
It was such a nice thing to say.
And if the king’s soldiers were pressing their spears into the people’s backs as they said it, the king did not pay it much attention.
And then the king rode home. His impressive horse walking on the people’s cloaks, the impressive cape flowing behind him, the impressive armour shining in the sun.
The King said to himself,
I am impressive!
But something was nagging at the king.
As he stood in his fancy and shiny quarters looking at himself in his fancy and shiny mirror, a doubt began to flicker into view somewhere behind him.
Is it possible,
he said to his wife,
That people don’t actually like me very much?
He tried to put the thought out of his head. He knew it was ridiculous. I mean everybody said that they loved him, and who would lie about a thing like that?
But the doubt stuck around. And that night when he went to bed that night he dreamed a terrible dream. In the dream he rode the horse wearing the cloak and the armour through the streets of the city. But when he looked out at the people he saw not deference nor love nor shouts of Hosanna. But rather he saw the faces of his colleagues.
There was laughter in his colleagues’ eyes. It was not a kind sort of laughter.
One of his colleagues looked at him and shouted:
Nice horse, Paunch!
The king half woke up then, throwing off the bedsheets. It was so hot.
Later on, almost the morning now, there was another dream.
About a man who healed and cast out demons and told stories and fed people and forgave and changed water into wine.
The king had a feeling he could not name encountering this man.
And when the king awoke early the next day, he knew what he would do.
In folk tales and adventure stories, there often comes a moment when a member of the royal family, living in the castle, decides to take off their crown and their finery and put on the clothes of a commoner and sneak out to see what life is like for everyone else.
That morning, the king decided to do that very thing. When he got up, he did not put on the bronze armour nor did he put on the cape nor did he ride his horse to his office where he had a day full of meetings to decide who would be released and who would be crucified. Instead, he went down to the room where the servants kept their clothes. And he found an old pair of sandals and an old hat, which he pulled low over his eyes, and an old cloak.
And then he snuck out.
His own fairytale.
The sun was just rising, the city just waking up, then, the call of the birds being joined by the call of the people making their way to work, opening their stores to begin the day. The king was nervous, at first, nervous that people would recognise him. But without his horse and his cape and his armour, no one did. No one was used to seeing him so low down on the ground.
And so the king began to relax. To drink in the smell of tea and fruit in baskets, to see the colours of cloth on tables, to hear music and bells and prayers dancing off of the walls. To stand in the midst of so many people, not a soldier in sight, not a court advisor in sight, no who wanted his signature in sight.
It was marvellous.
And then from the city gates came the sound of rushing excitement. The sound of jubilance and laughter. The crowd started flowing there, like water to the ocean. The king didn’t fight it. He didn’t want to.
He surrendered, flowing there with everyone else.
At first, he couldn’t see what was happening, who or what was on the road passing through the gate. And then he did.
It was the man from the dream.
The man rode as the king did, down the road through the people. But instead of being on an impressive horse, he rode on a donkey. And instead of having an impressive cape, he had a jacket that had seen sun and rain and hard work. And instead of having a breastplate, he had no armour at all.
The man from the dream was nothing like a king.
The man from the dream was unmistakably a king.
The crowd around the man from the dream began to cheer then. To shout,
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
They began to throw their cloaks on the ground before the donkey and before the man.
The king felt a surge of confusion then. Were they making fun of him? Was this some kind of joke? And if wasn’t a joke – if this man from the dream was the king, come to save them, and the people knew it – what did it mean that the people were doing and saying these things and yet no soldiers pressed spears into their backs?
But then the confusion passed and the king felt himself again move like water, drawn into the joy of the moment. He laughed, dazzled by the beauty of it all. He realised that he too was cheering.
He took off his cloak and threw it on the ground. And if anyone recognised him, he cared not.
And then their eyes met, the two of them, the man from the dream, the king. There was no one between them, here in the crowd it was as though they were alone. And a feeling came over the king. A feeling that he has not experienced in years, maybe not since he was a child. Was it joy? Or peace? Or possibility?
He looked the man from the dream and he said:
Hosanna, save us! Save us! Save me!
He realised that his cheeks were wet with tears.
The man from the dream spoke for the first time, spoke to him. He spoke the king’s name. He said:
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
And the king, overcome by wonder, whispered his question in return:
What is truth?
You and I, perhaps, have heard this story before. And so maybe we know how it ends, with the king and the man from the dream meeting again, with questions and answers and questions. With a cross.
But on this day, the day of the procession through the city gates, the king doesn’t know how the story will end. He knows that something has changed
He goes back to the palace, takes off the sandals, takes off the hat, take off the take off the cloak, now dirty with mud and the donkey’s hoof prints, hang it up on its hook (the servant who owns the cloak will spend the next week asking everyone, Who borrowed my cloak?) And the king will rejoin his wife – his wife who, also, has had a dream about the man whom the king met. They will wonder what will happen, who they are, now that they have met the man from the dream.
And together they will tell one another stories about burdens that are light and yokes that are easy, about kind who heals and casts out demons and forgives and feeds people, who water that turns into wine. About a king without an army or a cape or armour, a king who serves a kingdom of love. For a moment, this moment, they will wonder if things could be different.