Date: April 10, 2022 Palm Sunday
Scripture Lessons: Luke 19:28-40 and Philippians 2:5-11
Sermon: Laying Down Our Cloaks
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
People in Jesus’ day knew about symbolic prophetic action. They knew the story of Jeremiah buying the field and putting the deed in an earthenware jar and burying it. They knew of Ezekiel eating the scroll. So in the Palm Sunday story, here was this prophet coming down the road on a donkey, a beast of burden. And a young donkey, not even trained for work or transportation. There was no domination or threat in this parade. It was a parade of peace.
In their book, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan tell of another parade. The Palm Sunday story takes place at the beginning of Passover week. At Passover thousands and thousands of Jews would come to Jerusalem for the celebration. So the Roman authorities made sure to have a large, public presence in Jerusalem as a sign of power and intimidation to keep the crowds in line. Crossan and Borg offer this description of what that parade may have been like: “Imagine the imperial processions’ arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.” [p. 3]
And in another part of town, a parade with a peasant class religious figure mounted on a donkey being ridden for the first time.
The people, the commoners, the everyday folk, who had heard of the prophet Jesus, were ready for a spectacle. They would see the irony in the donkey parade in contrast to the yearly Roman spectacle. No, they did not have late night TV or social media, but they got the drift. They understood the contrast. Threat, intimidation, force, domination, violence, subjugation in one parade. And peace, justice, prosperity, and security with no threat of violence or empire in the other.
And at the Jesus parade, the people take their symbolic action. They lay down their cloaks. And they wave palm branches. They take on their part of this drama of peace. They are willing participants. As is Jesus.
In the reading from Philippians that we heard today, we are told that the Messiah, Jesus, is of God. Of the heavenly realm. And found in human form, Jesus choses humility. Not the pomp and majesty displayed by a royal ruler claiming divinity. No. Jesus chooses humility. The way of humus. Of earth. He is down to earth. Among the people. And he chooses to lay down his life. It is not taken from him. He gives it. Knowing his life was under threat, Jesus parades down the street on the back of a beast of burden making a dramatic entry. He is not cowering in the corner, hiding. No, he chooses to lay down his life. To give it away. For love.
And the people who cheer him on, who shout praises, lay down their cloaks, their garments. In this, too, we see a symbolic action. Laying down that which defines them in the eyes of society. Laying down their attachment to comfort and status, if they had any. Laying down the illusion of independence. Laying down their role in the community that may define them. Giving it all up. Laying it all down. And claiming as their only attachment, their attachment to God, to Divine Love, to God’s dream for humanity.
And as we process in the sanctuary this morning and offer our praises, we ask ourselves, will we lay down our cloaks and leave them there at the altar? Will we, like Jesus, choose humility? Choose to lay down the status and privilege that separates us from others? Choose to offer up the trappings that create the illusion of superiority over others? Will we lay down all that separates and divides? Will we lay down our attachment to comfort and status? Will we lay down the illusion of self-sufficiency?
Will we lay down our lives? And accept the life given to us, as one more human being, of inestimable value to God, beloved, even without a cloak, especially without a cloak?
Later in the week, we are told of Jesus being given a borrowed cloak, to impersonate a king, an illusion, for which he is mocked. But the cloak will be taken off. And the naked body will hang on the cross. No illusions. No delusions. Humble. Laying down his life. With dignity expressed through self determination. They can take nothing from Jesus because he gives it. In peace. He is free. Jesus shows us the fullest and highest expression of our humanity. We give it away so that there is no need for hiding or protection or pretense or violence.
You know, the military asks people to lay down their lives each and every day. At the other parade. And people line up and sign up.
The gospel invites us to lay down our lives. To choose the way of self emptying, of humility, of servitude. This path is life-giving when it is chosen not when it is forced or imposed. To be part of the new life, the hope, the healing, and the community that Jesus embodies, we must choose to lay down our lives. To embrace life, meaning, purpose, and joy in solidarity, we must lay down our other lives. Like the donkey, we have been chosen by Jesus to be part of the parade of peace.
Will we lay down our cloaks as a symbolic action of our humility and the laying down, giving up, of our lives; the lives we construct according to the dictates of the society around us, and instead accept our place, our identity, our citizenship, in the reality of God? In the beloved community? In the realm of peace with justice and security for all? Will we accept true freedom?
This is our question for this Palm Sunday. This is our question for Holy Week. And this is the challenge for our lives. To lay down our cloaks. And make way for Jesus. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.