Welcome to the Red Carpet

Inspired by Matthew 21:1-17

Welcome to Holy Week my friends. This is the week of the church year that our Journey with Christ to the cross and the empty tomb intensifies. We have been reading stories from this last week of Jesus’ life for about a month now, but things are going to get really real, really fast for Jesus after today’s celebration of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As a quick reminder or in case anyone doesn’t know the significance of this day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on this day and though that sounds pretty ordinary to our eyes, it was a bold statement in Jesus’ day. You see, riding into a city on a donkey was what royalty did in a parade on the way to their coronation.

And if you think Jesus wouldn’t be that bold think again, Matthew paints this as a well thought out and planned event by Jesus himself. He knew what he was doing. Why he did it is a whole other question. Was he just being snarky? Was this just another example of the bad mood he was in? Or was it something deeper? Was he intentionally trying to get the ball rolling on his inevitable execution, sort of a let’s just get this over with kind of thing? I mean, the charge hanging over his head while he hung on the cross was the claim that he was the king of the Jews, it was the smoking gun they were looking for. It’s really hard to say why Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem that way, but he did, and that has left us with lots to ponder.

And what I’m pondering today is the concept of welcome. In fact, we will be pondering this all week. The sermon titles for the whole week are: Welcome to the Red Carpet, which is today’s; Welcome to the Table, for Maundy Thursday; Welcome to the Dark, for Good Friday; Welcome to the Light, for the Vigil of Easter; and Welcome to the New You, for Easter Sunday.

Full disclosure: I haven’t finished writing those sermons yet. So, the Holy Spirit might have a whole different plan in mind, so if you show up to our Holy Week services and this is not what I talk about, by all means, take it up with the Holy Spirit, she is the one in charge here! I think the reason that welcome is on my mind right now is because it’s been on a lot of our minds for quite some time. So much so in fact that we adopted a welcome statement that we are now learning how to live into. Maybe we can think of this as the Year of Welcome for Bethlehem.

However, for this week, rather than focusing solely on how we welcome or don’t welcome, I’d like to focus on God’s welcome, through Christ, as demonstrated during the events of Holy Week and Easter, beginning with today, Palm Sunday. So, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, in all his royalness, and the crowds greet him, welcome him, by laying their clothes on the ground in front of him, along with palm branches. So basically, they rolled out the red carpet for him. And here’s the surprising thing about this, he doesn’t correct them when they do that. Knowing Jesus the way we do, you’d expect him to take his usual ultra-humble road and say, “No, no, I’m but a humble servant, not royalty. Put away all this fanfare.” But he doesn’t say that! Remember, he’s the one that ordered that donkey in the first place.

Now, here’s what I find significant about all that. This is at the end of Jesus’ life, his last week on Earth, and depending on your beliefs about Jesus, it’s probably safe to assume that he knew this was his last week on Earth. And as such, he has had the gift of time to live into his role as the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen one, his majesty. And so, in this royal ride into Jerusalem, he owns all of that, boldly, right in the face of any Roman royalty and leadership there. Was it a risky move? Yes. They were fuming at the sight of him! And it’s what ultimately got him killed. So it begs the question again, why did he do it? Why risk his life that way? Was it really just to show up his enemies, the ones whom he knew were plotting to kill him? Was he really just trying to speed things along? Is that what was behind his red carpet entrance? And what’s so welcoming about that anyway?

So, let’s switch gears here for a minute. I took a class at CalLu last year for continuing education. It was a weeklong class and each day we had a different professor teach us on a different topic. And like most classes, it was made up of a variety of different personalities among us students. But this class proved to be a challenging one for the professors who taught it as well as for some of us students. To make a long story short, the class had more than its fair share of students that kept taking us down tangents, or who just monopolized the class’s time.

Teacher after teacher failed at keeping us on track. Then, we had a teacher who was somehow able to do just that. It was like watching a master at work in his craft as he kept us on the right path and gently but assertively kept those monopolizers at bay. Ironically, he was teaching leadership skills that day. And honestly, watching him lead in action was probably more useful than anything he said. Those of us who had been frustrated up to that point were all of a sudden relieved, at peace, and more focused than we had been all week.

Have you ever had an experience like that? Whether you are a leader or a follower, we all know the benefits of having a strong leader in your midst, of having someone who was just in charge that you trusted and felt safe with. My dad has played that kind of role in my life. When he was around you just knew everything was going to be ok, you knew he was in charge, and more important than that, you had confidence that he “knew” what he was doing. Now, in hindsight, especially after having been a parent for 22 years now, I can say with confidence that he did not always know what he was doing! But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? The real magic was in the confidence and trust and comfort that he was able to conjure within me when I was around him, especially when I had no idea what I was doing.

Jesus will welcome us in a variety of different ways as we will see this week, but on this day, Palm Sunday, Jesus welcomes us with Jesus’ royalty. Not to flaunt it in our faces, or to lord it over us, but to say, “I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing. I’m in control here.” How comforting is that? Jesus is like that ultimate parent who you always feel safe with, or that ultimate teacher who always is in control of the class. Jesus fills the role of one in charge whom you couldn’t have more confidence in! And that trust, and confidence, and comfort, welcomes us into Christ’s presence with an assuredness that we can have with no one else.

Jesus is royalty of a kind that you can trust, completely. And you know why else this was so important for Jesus to express? Because in the coming days, it will not look like he’s in control and it will not look like he knows what he’s doing. Jesus knew that he needed to be many different things to different people at different times in their life. And on this day, Jesus showed us that he can be that trustworthy servant-king when we need him to be. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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