Scripture – Luke 19:29-44 – Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017
I say “tomato”; you say __(“tomahto”)___. I say “potato”; you say (“potahto”). I say “rotary”; you say (“roundabout”). Literally, I say “rotary”. I never heard of the word “roundabout” until I moved here to Mystic. In my neck of the woods, we refer to traffic circles as rotaries. And whether you call them roundabouts or rotaries, this thing, this situation, this traffic pattern right outside our door here, my friends, I’m afraid that it is neither. I think it’s just a monument in the middle of an intersection and we do our best to navigate it without crashing into each other.
Whatever you call them, traffic circles are a relatively new phenomenon in the history of humankind. The one near my house growing up, which enabled motorists to cross the old Boston-Providence Highway, also known as Route 1, from the old town center to the newly constructed subdivisions, was still novel enough by the time I started driving to offer teenagers opportunities for imitation centripetal force amusement rides by circling the rotary continuously at a high enough speed to keep all passengers pasted to one side of the car. (When we became bored with that little thrill, we drove to that new hamburger place on Route 1 with the golden arches in the parking lot.)
Now, clearly the procession of disciples before and behind Jesus as he enters Jerusalem did not encounter a roundabout the likes of with which we are familiar during the age of the automobile. In fact, you may notice the very straight and clear directions Jesus imparts to two of his disciples before the joyful praising parade. He precisely tells them to “go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” Jesus even anticipates the possible hiccup in accomplishing their task and tells them what to say if they are questioned. “Just say this: ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Those who have visited the area, tell us that from the descent of the Mount of Olives, the path Jesus followed from the east of the city, “there is a magnificent view of Jerusalem with the whole city fully displayed.” Most of us can relate to viewing and recognizing panoramic cityscapes, many of which can trigger a variety of emotions in us, especially if they hold special personal significance. An old photo of New York City, for instance, with the twin towers still standing; or the Space Needle sticking up in Seattle still reminiscent of the 1962 World’s Fair; for Bostonians, the Prudential and John Hancock Towers anchoring either end of the view from the Charles River. We view our cities and experience anything from nostalgia and a longing for home to memories of terror and for some a vague foreboding.
Jesus sees Jerusalem in our passage this morning and he cries. Scripture says “he wept over it”. Jerusalem has been popping up in the Gospel of Luke for weeks now during our season of Lent, beginning with the Sunday before Lent began with the Transfiguration in Chapter 9. Moses and Elijah and Jesus all together at the top of the mountain appearing “in glory and…speaking of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” We read later in the same chapter: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” And through the following chapters of the gospel, he is making his way there, traveling and teaching, healing and raising, responding and deflecting, especially when some Pharisees come to warn him to “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” After setting them straight as to his unchanging plans, Jesus laments over Jerusalem in Chapter 13: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your household is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
This morning we have arrived at that moment, “the whole multitude of the disciples … [praising] God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And as Jesus comes near to Jerusalem, he sees it and he weeps. And the words he utters tell us that for some it’s the end of the road. Literally, a dead end. Biblical scholars are pretty much in agreement that the reference to enemies blocking and surrounding and crushing to the ground refers to Rome’s complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, an event that the author of the gospel of Luke would have known about at the time of writing the gospel.
The words Jesus cries are of a chance gone by, an opportunity squandered: “If you…had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” One commentator from the Interpreter’s Bible offers this:
“Surely there had been revelation enough, patriarch and poet, prophet and priest. Surely there had been privilege enough, mercy and judgment, blessing and curse. But now, the half-finished dream of all that God has prepared for them that love him is broken off. The desolate reality takes its place.”
Jesus says, “Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. My dear friends, may God help us, how many times must we travel around the same rotary, the same roundabout, with our world history and our personal histories repeating and repeating themselves. Yes, it happens, our occasional recognition of the things that make for peace, seeing the exit on the right to finally lead us away from this never-ending merry-go-round, but then, just as quickly, we pass it, still circling, the way of peace again hidden from our eyes. Hidden by the notion of winning, hidden by the temptation of military might, hidden by the falsehood that abundance for us must mean scarcity for others.
Jesus weeps and regrets and mourns and warns, BUT the procession goes on. Again from commentary in the Interpreter’s Bible: “In the passage before us the long years of Israel’s history are piling up toward swift disaster; over the door into the future the very blindness of God’s own people has written “No Exit.” But the procession moves on through the gates into the narrow streets…What difference now? Why not leave them to their traffic? Is not the difference just this, that God goes on making his bid forever?”
Thanks be to God for the good news that Jesus kept going and when it was all over, rose again on the third day to show us that God, indeed, goes on making his bid forever. We don’t have to be destined for destruction. We can circle around the roundabout ad nauseam and God will continue to offer us a way to exit: to exit the circular thinking that gets us nowhere, to break off from our destructive habits, to finally pull over and stop our silence and shout out to our leaders to remind them of the ways of peace before it is too late for us.
Oh, for it to be as easy as Jesus’ unmistakably concrete directions before the procession! Go there. You will find. Say this. Come back. Oh to have that kind of specificity as we search for the exit off the roundabout! We know only that if we get in line behind that little colt gingerly stepping over the cloaks in the road to follow the man who sits atop, we, too, are surrendering to what lies ahead. It’s going to cost us our dizzying, yet comfortably familiar, going-around-in-circle lives. But, my friends, I guarantee that the traffic will disperse, the visibility will improve, the way will become clear and we will recognize again the things that make for peace – in our own individual lives and in our world. We will remember the time of our visitation from God and we will recognize God’s continuing presence in our midst, directing, guiding, showing us the way. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Thanks be to God! Amen.