BIBLE READING: Luke 19:28-44
Did any of you notice anything missing in the gospel reading this morning? I suspect that some of you who are long-time church-goers have at least a couple of things you expect to hear about on Palm Sunday. Did any of you miss anything?
Well, there are two things that I expected to be in today's reading that weren't there. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark and John, you find that the crowds wave palm branches, and shout “hosanna!” Luke includes neither one of these details. In Luke, the multitude of disciples celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, spreading their garments on the ground in front of him to prepare the road for him and to honour him. Instead of welcoming Jesus with “hosanna in the highest,” the disciples cry out “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
What’s with this difference between Luke and the other three gospels? 'Hosanna' is Aramaic, and comes from a Hebrew word meaning 'save us' or 'deliver us'. This seems like a logical thing for a crowd in an occupied country to be shouting as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final week before his crucifixion and resurrection. We know that Luke had a copy of Mark when he wrote his gospel, so he could have kept the 'hosanna' – but he didn't. What was going on in Luke's head when he changed the 'hosanna' to 'blessed is the King'?
So... I looked up the Greek word for blessed – eulogeō. I looked to see where else Luke uses this word, and how he used it.
Early on in Luke's gospel, when Mary is pregnant with Jesus, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth sees Mary, she exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist, the one who was to prepare the people for Jesus' ministry. Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, had been made mute when he failed to believe that Elizabeth was to give birth to such a child. But he did believe and was again able to speak, he blessed God, and acknowledged with gratitude and excitement the role that his family was playing in God's plan for salvation.
Later, when Mary and Joseph go to have Jesus circumcised, the priest in the temple recognized Jesus as the Christ, and he blessed God and the family; he was so joyful to have seen his people's savior in his lifetime. According to Luke's gospel, no one blesses Jesus again until his entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate this morning.
Clearly, eulogeō is a special word for Luke. In the beginning of his gospel, people bless God or Jesus only when they recognize the importance of who Christ is. Luke was a great writer, and a careful one – and I don't think it's by accident that he changed the hosanna to eulogeō. In one way or another, the crowd of disciples gathered in Jerusalem recognize that there is something different about the person in the midst – so they use the same word that was used to celebrate Christ's birth some thirty years earlier.
Of course, the question for all of us is: what difference does it make? Why does it matter that Luke bothered to change this one little word?
Whether we're talking about the stories about the news of Jesus' birth or the story of his procession into Jerusalem, Luke is trying to tell us something important about how we can respond to the news that Christ is coming into our presence. The idea behind eulogeō, or blessing, is that we recognize that something good has come to us as a gift from God; it is not a gift that we made ourselves or that we deserved. Rather, we recognize that God is at work in our lives in a new way, and we respond out of gratitude, offering thanks and praise. This is a good way to live not just on Palm Sunday, but throughout the year.
This is the time in the life of the church when we celebrate Christ's suffering and his crucifixion, and then his resurrection. This time of the year when we remember Christ's Passion is a time when we are reminded of the length that God was willing to go to reach out us and to all creation, in order that we might be restored to the life that God intends for us. I'm sure that this act of grace means different things to different people, so I won't stand up here and presume to tell you how or why your life might be different because of Jesus' crucifixion or resurrection. But I do assume that you're here because you think it makes some sort of difference, that it matters to you in some important way.
As we enter this final week before Easter, I invite you to spend some time contemplating the new ways that God might be working in your life, restoring you to the love and grace that you were created for in the first place. I invite you to see God acting in your life in some way that you haven't noticed before, and I invite you to give thanks. For in living out of a sense of gratitude, we recognize that we did not invent all the goodness of the world, any more than we deserve it. Rather, our very lives and all that fills them comes to us a gift. Luke is right to remind us that, when we recognize God in our midst, we ought to celebrate, give thanks, and bless God.
Its worth knowing that Luke found three other uses for eulogeō. First, in the middle of Luke’s gospel, Jesus uses the word in a commandment to his followers. He commands them to love their enemies, and to bless those who curse them. I find it striking that the word used to describe the response that people had to the coming of the Christ is the same word that Jesus used to command us to have for our enemies. You can do with that what you’d like – but I hope we’ll all keep this idea in mind.
When Jesus fed the multitude, or broke bread with his disciples, he blesses the loaves before he shares them. This food is meant to sustain them not only physically but spiritually, and so he blessed it. And, just before he ascends into heaven, he blesses the disciples. Jesus nourishes us with bread, just as we are supposed to go out and feed the world with God's grace. At the beginning of the gospel, it is only the coming of Christ that warrants blessing. But by the end, Christ blesses the bread and the people who are supposed to be signs of his love.
We are on the way to Easter, a time when we are called to recognize and celebrate the grace that comes to us in Christ. May we experience a blessing of grace this morning, and may we go forth to be a blessing to our broken and hurting world.