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"Six Days" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-17

Six days. From celebratory, cheering crowds to humiliation and abandonment. Six days. From that crowd spreading their cloaks on the ground as if he’s royalty to a simple, clean linen shroud in which his broken body is wrapped. Six days from riding into Jerusalem straight and strong to being carried into Joseph of Arimathea’s “new tomb” with its “great stone” rolled over the entrance.

It all happens in six days.

This remarkable life we’re still trying to figure out two millennia later. This example of faith we continue to emulate this morning. This confusing man who speaks in parables and argues with the religious elite and eats with exactly the wrong sort of people – his light that burns so brightly is extinguished in six days.

On this joyful morning I feel the tension of this passage, the precipice Jesus is riding. What’s most striking about this entrance into Jerusalem is how finite it is because in a matter of hours the same crowd that this morning is shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” will be shouting “Let him be crucified!”

One of my earliest church memories is the Easter pageant our church in Waco, Texas put on when I was a kid. It was quite the production…Waco Hall…entire church choir…dozens of “actors” animals…and lots of children…did this every other year…all hands on deck. Both my parents were involved…my mom did hair and makeup and sang in choir…my dad did some acting…one year I got to be on stage with my mom and turn “Jesus’” - the long-haired youth minister named David - sandals around so he could step into them after he was baptized.

But the best thing I was ever allowed to do was run down the aisles of Waco Hall waving a palm frond and yelling, “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!” It was a delightful, naughty treat to be able to run and yell indoors, particularly for something church related as this was usually strictly forbidden. And was genuinely excited to get to announce Jesus to the audience.

Standing here this morning I wish I felt that same level of excitement. But what keeps reverberating in my head is “six days, six days, it only took six days” for everything to change.

Scholars continue to question Jesus’ awareness of what’s to come in these six precious, precarious days. Did he know he riding to his death? Did he already suspect that one of his coming encounters with the religious elite would be his last? We’ll never know, but we can be certain Jesus intended to make a statement with his entrance into Jerusalem.

Jesus sends his disciples to fetch “a donkey tied, and a colt with her” which sounds odd despite being a fulfillment of prophecy from Zachariah 9. Is Jesus planning to ride both animals at the same time? But as commentator Andrew Prior points out, “the centurions coming into Rome all had their remounts – their spare horse in case the main mount went lame,”[1] so Jesus is towing “his own remount. And it’s only a foal!” So not only is Jesus' main mount a low-status working animal that’s considered peaceful and a far cry from the “war horse which was the normal animal for a King to ride,”[2] his remount is a baby.

Despite his lowly method of travel, Jesus receives a king’s welcome as he rides into Jerusalem. People lay their cloaks on the ground as they would for royalty. They shout “Hosanna!” “Hosanna to the Son of David!” which literally means “Save us Son of David!” “This was the Jerusalem equivalent of a ticker tape parade, or a coronation cavalcade,”[3] and it’s possible that beyond causing people inside the city to ask “Who is this?”, Jesus’ procession also draws a little attention away from another procession on the other side of the city. At the same time Jesus is coming into Jerusalem from the Galilee gate – a “back gate” if you will, Pilate is entering the city through the Jaffa Gate and he’s riding a war horse and being accompanied by a thousand or so Roman soldiers brought into the city to make sure Passover doesn’t get out of hand.

With the eyes of the city still on him, Jesus goes directly to the temple. Then, as Matthew tells us, he drives “out all who sold and bought in the temple…” He flips over the money changers' tables and the pigeon sellers' seats. He shouts at them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” But this outburst and active dismantling of the temple’s highly profitable sacrifice system isn’t enough to keep the people away. People continue to come to Jesus for healing right there in the temple. Children continue to cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and the chief priests and scribes become indigent.

“Do you hear what these are saying?” they ask Jesus, but you wonder if they aren’t really wondering, “Do you know what you're doing, rabble-rouser? Do you see the unnecessary attention you’re calling to yourself and to the temple? Who are you to turn over tables and drive business people out of the temple? Who are you to heal people in this holy place? Who are you that people ask you save them and call you “the Son of David? Who do you think you are?”

My friends, the Good News this morning is that in seven days this question of who Jesus is will be answered. When we gather again next Sunday, we will celebrate an answer that words can never fully express. An answer that’s better summarized by action and the shocking joy of a stone rolled away from an empty tomb. This “Triumphal Entry” as we so often describe Jesus' actions on Palm Sunday are the beginning of six whirlwind days. Six days in which Jesus refuses to back down or act as people expect. Six days in which he tells story foretells his coming death, is anointed by a woman whose name we’ll never know, shares the most beautiful meal with his friends, is betrayed, prays desperately to God, is arrested, unfairly tried, mocked, scourged, spit on, hit, and eventually crucified.

As you know, these are a rough six days. Every year they force us to consider betrayal and death, corruption, and the dismantling of the status quo. If it wasn’t already clear, the next six days will make it plain that Jesus is a radical who cares nothing for kingship and power. Who dismantles principalities and powers not through violence, but peace. Who sees and loves those people we’d rather not acknowledge or struggle to know how to help. If we walk through these six days with Jesus we will not come out unscathed. We will not come out the same. But we will come out in the quiet stillness of a world transformed. A world that will never be the same.

It all happens in seven days.

[1] Andrew Prior, “Tell the Story: Matthew 21: 1-11” from

[2] David Ewart, “Holy Textures: Matthew 21: 1-11” from

[3] Prior, Ibid.

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