Sermon Jesus Christ Is Coming to Town
Good morning. I was looking at some pictures on Facebook the other day, when I came across a picture from a couple years ago, with a few of my fraternity brothers. It was taken after the funeral of another one of our brothers, Mark. It’s a bittersweet picture. It was a sad day, but it was great to be with some old friends. My fraternity gave me a rich set of relationships.
I have this one fraternity brother, I’ll call him Pino, but that’s not his real name. Anyhow, Pino would listen to a single song, over and over again. One summer he dated a girl with red hair. He played and sang Neil Young’s song, “Cinnamon Girl,” until we yelled at him to shut up.
Pino is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. One December he started playing and singing Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” nonstop. If you were talking to him, and you asked him a question, any question, especially if the question began with “why?” Pino would sing, in his best Springsteen voice, “because: SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN!”
I mean, that could be the response to any question, any comment, you name it. At first it was funny. And then it was a little less funny. Then it became annoying. And after a couple more weeks, it became really annoying. But Pino didn’t stop. Finally, it got funny again. It was just so ridiculous that we couldn’t help ourselves—we were waiting for it. And there was no explanation for why it was funny. You just had to know Pino. The joke worked because we knew Pino and we loved him—it wasn’t funny if you didn’t know him, if you weren’t in relationship with him.
Relationship is at the heart of this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, which also presents us with something ridiculous: the image of the messiah, the King of Israel, riding on a donkey. It’s part of the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, which made him an object for scorn and ridicule. The idea that a savior would be crucified was ridiculous to the people who waved palm branches and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looked like a military parade, or the parody of a military parade. I imagine some of you have heard this explanation before, and it’s accurate. The parade and the palm branches on the ground were the sort of welcome that would be given to a conquering general or a Roman governor who was coming on a state visit. But instead of riding a great warhorse, Jesus comes on a donkey. Instead of leading a revolt against Roman rule, Jesus meets his fate on a cross. The people who shout “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday also shout “Crucify!” at the trial. And Jesus’ broken body is lifted high on a cross, to demonstrate the power of the Roman Empire.
This story is ridiculous!
The same Jesus who could turn water into wine and raise Lazarus from the dead couldn’t raise an army to run the Romans out of Judea. That’s ridiculous!
The same Jesus who met the Samaritan woman at the well and instantly knew everything about her life couldn’t avoid his own arrest and trial. Ridiculous!