Your King is Coming To You
A Sermon preached by the Rev’d Jered Weber-Johnson
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
Saint Paul, MN
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey…”
In the fictitious African country of Wakanda, a kingdom so technologically advanced that they are able to cloak most of their existence from the rest of the world, a warrior is crowned king, and given powers to be a hero with untold physical strength and agility. Many of you might not know this story, but I’m willing to wager some of the kids joining us this morning will, as will some of those of us who are kids at heart. Through the powers of a rare herb, the king not only has the authority of his office, he becomes the unbeatable Black Panther. I love this story for so many reasons, not least of which is the ability of a leader to also be a hero, to fight crime, and help the world. In the Black Panther movie that came out only a couple of years ago, the story included perhaps the most sympathetic villain in any superhero movie to date. A son of Wakandan royalty, orphaned and abandoned in America, is radicalized when he comes to appreciate the full extent of the legacy of colonialism and racism, the impact it has had on the oppression of his home continent and of Africans in the diaspora. Killmonger makes it his life’s ambition to become a powerful warrior, with the sole aim of returning to Wakanda, to defeat the Black Panther and assume his place as King. He believes that with the power of Wakanda’s mighty armies and technologically advanced weaponry, he could arm the African diaspora and overthrow and mete vengeance on the world. Finally colonizers and those who have benefited from centuries of slavery and oppression would finally get theirs.
Who among us while perhaps cringing at the implied violence of such a scenario hasn’t thought more than once with a degree of joy about how nice it would be if the world’s villains finally got theirs? Who among us hasn’t wished to see a strong leader who could crush enemies and tip the scales of justice away from the oppressor and toward the oppressed?
And as the prophet said, “Look your king is coming to you…”
Such is the backdrop of the story today from the gospel of Matthew as Jesus rides into Jerusalem amidst a crowd hailing him as king. Matthew takes pains to connect the dots for his readers – tying Jesus in every way to the prophesied Messianic king, the warrior-savior who would come to liberate his oppressed people by the strength of his arm and the might of his sword. Each year preachers everywhere are quick, too, to fill in the historical context here – that Jesus’ procession likely echoed or matched a similar procession by the power of Rome, as the Governor of Judea entered Jerusalem at or near the same time, accompanied by legions and flanked by all the pageantry of Israel’s oppressor. The contrast is intentional – the two visions of kingdom and two visions of king. The first humble and vulnerable mounted on a donkey and accompanied by a nursing colt, the second a humbling show of strength as battalions roll into town, the ground trembling under the rolling chariot wheels and hearts trembling to the beat of soldiers marching. Some scholars argue that this contrast was not only intentional, it was an act of political theater, a mocking and shaming of the powers only possible when the two processions are witnessed side by side.
“Look your king is coming to you…”
Today we are asked to hold them side by side again, these two visions of kingdom. Our leaders still ask for ticker tape parades with tanks and guns. The oppressed are still oppressed. The marginalized are still on the margins. The economics of extraction by force are still how most kingdoms operate. And, we arrive again at Palm Sunday, when the church has traditionally enacted this procession all over again, shaming the powers of the world, contrasting the kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom of God, comparing the little kings of this world with the rightful king of glory, Jesus our Lord.
But, today the streets are empty. Both processions would be cancelled, and we are asked to begin Holy Week as we have lived every day thus far in our quarantine, by making a journey inward. We are asked now to turn to the only place we are able to gather, in our homes, in solitude. We have waived our paper palms or the branches we gathered. There is nothing exotic about this Palm Sunday – these are homely branches, this is familiar territory. And here, as every week we will pray “Thy kingdom come.” Thy kingdom, heralded with fragile paper palms and hosanna’s sung to the listening walls of our living rooms. Thy kingdom – a place where the strength of vulnerability is prized over the bravado of great men, where love conquers far more than any warrior. Thy kingdom, whose economy is generosity. Thy kingdom, where to worship you we have all chosen to stay home, showing our love of neighbor by a healthy distance from her.
Look your king is coming to you. Jesus is come to rule, bringing his decree of love, his challenge of grace, and his invitation to make these things manifest in our work and in our lives, that his reign might extend to the ends of the earth. Your king is coming to you. There is no throne to give him but your heart. There is no land for him to rule but where you stand. There are no oppressors to cast out but those who occupy the borders of your mind, no enemy to destroy but the ones that occupy the shadows of doubt and apathy in your head. The only liberating that can be done is in you. The only way his kingdom can come is by starting in each heart and each mind and each life that will welcome him.
One of my teachers in seminary was fond of reminding us that the Church is not the kingdom of God. But, thanks be, the kingdom of God has a Church. And, as we know all too well in these days when we cannot enter our houses of worship, the church is not a building – it is a people – it is you! So we pray, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in you and through you and with others who join with you, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy kingdom come, in you. Let us attend with care and deep reverence to the king who comes to us, in our solitude as well as in the crowd, who comes to whisper promises of eternal love, to invite us to acts of prayer, generosity, acts of tenderness and love for our neighbors, to grow in the knowledge and love of God, to be about his kingdom come, in us, in you, as it is in heaven.
Hear again the promise of scripture – “Look, your king is coming…to YOU!” In you. With you. Always. Let us follow him into the way that leads to eternal life. Let us follow him to the way that leads to life and liberation and love for all!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!