Sit Up
John 12:12-16

by | Mar 24, 2024

PRAYER: God of new life, of new possibilities, stir us from our slumber, alert us that we may rise to the challenge you place before us. Break us free that we may sit up and take notice of the opportunities around us to serve you. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

I know this will come as a complete shock to you, but there have been times in my life that my sense of humor has actually gotten me in trouble. I know. I know. Please contain the utter shock you are undoubtedly feeling at this moment. There is definitely an art to knowing when your humor will and will not be appreciated.
At one of my former jobs, the company I worked for often had these useless townhall meetings that were completely good for nothing. But the upper management loved to bring everyone together so that they could share completely useless information that had nothing to do with the actual job I had to do. At these meetings, there were always some people from middle management levels who would… well, the polite way of putting this is that they were the little teacher’s pet who sat in the front row and nodded on cue, clapped loudest, and basically embarrassed themselves. There’s a very-much less polite way of phrasing that, and I will leave it to your imagination to figure that out… but after one of these meetings, I handed some of the folks from the front row a box of Kleenex. Yeah, that was not appreciated… My boss sat up and took notice of that, he did not like it.
A lot has been written about Jesus coming into Jerusalem in this procession that we read about today. Some of the gospels call it a triumphant procession. The gospel of John is uncharacteristically short on this subject, but it does describe the crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” This is an important distinction with respect to what’s going to happen towards the end of the week. Because some of the officials from the occupying Roman government, did not appreciate hearing this ne’er-do-well rabbi being referred to as the King of Israel. That actually counts as treason. Remember that the temple leaders who wanted to get Jesus out of the picture did not have the authority to have him crucified, but a treason charge worked in their favor. A lot of folks sat up and took notice of Jesus being called King of Israel.
Make no mistake: Jesus coming into Jerusalem as he did, with his motley crew of palm waving followers got a lot of people to sit up and take notice. New Testament scholar and theologian Marcus Borg pointed out a very important thing about this palm procession — its entrance would have been the same day or earlier that Pontius Pilate entered, who made trips to Jerusalem during high and holy days in the Jewish calendar from his ocean palace in Caesarea Phillipi. Now Pilate wasn’t doing this out of respect — it was far likelier that Pilate visited Jerusalem during times like this because of his fear of a rebellion.
So imagine on the one side of Jerusalem, Pilate is marching into the city with a display of military might. Jesus enters on the other side, his followers waving palm branches calling him the king of Israel. On one side of town, the titular son of God processing in, and on the other side of town, the actual son of God. On the one side, you have the high drama, the powerful, the high and mighty. And on the other hand, you have a lowly teacher sitting on a humble little colt with the poor and occupied populace walking alongside him. While Pilate’s parade comes through the city breathing power and dominance, fear and subjugation, Jesus’ comes with people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”
Jesus’ entrance could be seen as satire. It could also be seen as a threat. It could even be seen as both. Jesus surely knew – and I’m sure that many in the crowd knew as well that his entrance into Jerusalem was flirting with danger if the wrong people sat up and took notice of it.
Upon sitting up, what do you suppose they would have seen? I think if we sit up and take notice of Jesus’ performance in this procession, we would receive a very clear message: that there are more, and even greater powers than the military ones that put on displays like this. Jesus demonstrated that a weaponless colt-riding rabbi surrounded by palm-waving people had more power than Pilate and Herod and all of the priests who clung to power in Jerusalem during this time.
Think about Jesus’ entrance like a piece of performance art. Art can often be an act of protest or specifically designed to stir people by reflecting the culture around it. It is not unlike another piece of art made about 10 years ago which is entitled José y Maria. It is a modern take on Joseph and Mary’s journey into Bethlehem. If you look carefully at the image, you will see about a dozen biblical references including the graffiti on the phone booth referencing Ezekiel 34 which says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” What could that be referencing? Notice the way the “Save More” sign behind Maria’s head looks a bit like a halo, and the way the letter S is blocked, so it looks like it might actually say “Ave Maria”. On the ground, there is a newspaper with two ads, one for Glad and one for Tide.
The important thing about this piece is that it depicts two people in a situation that – in many corners of our own culture – will serve to anger people and challenge them to look squarely on our own culture’s callous disregard for people in this position.
Jesus’ entrance was an act that was guaranteed to anger some people and challenge some to even recognize the disregard that the Roman occupiers had for the Jewish people. From Jesus’ standpoint then, I’m not sure if we really often take stock of how much courage Jesus had when he sat up on a colt as if it were a war horse. Jesus knew what was coming. He had to know, yet still, he courageously sat up on this colt that brought him into Jerusalem while people called him the King of Israel. Sometimes when we have to prepare to do something that puts us on display in a way that might lead to conflict or pain, even if it is the right thing for us to do, it can be difficult to stay sitting upright — especially when everything in us makes us want to hide or freezes us in place, keeping us from taking action in the first place.
This passage reminds us that we follow one who kept his upright posture even while committing an act of political satire that likely would contribute to his later torture and death. If Jesus didn’t sit upright and boldly, I don’t think those “powers that be” themselves would have sat up to notice. Courage is a gift from God. It doesn’t come passively; it is a choice we make. We gulp down our fear, and we step forward or sit upright, and we speak.
The first time I was involved in starting any kind of food ministry was about 12/13 years ago. My first impression – my first attempt at a model of what that food ministry should look like was, in retrospect, naïve and overly simplistic. There are people who need food, we give it to them, and hunger is solved. Keeping my head down and ignoring the realities of what it means to address hunger was a luxury that would have made that ministry completely useless. It sounded great on paper, but within our context, it didn’t actually help anyone. It took time and required me to sit up and take notice of the injustice behind food deserts in this world, and the realities of poverty before we could be more in line with what Jesus was demonstrating in his ministry.
One of the most difficult pieces of our faith journey involves sitting up and taking notice of the injustice of the world and then working to eradicate it in ways that honor that first Palm Sunday parade. Doing so involves not just sitting up ourselves, but also engaging others to do the same, to break out of our comfort zones and see beyond the black and white of a particular issue to understand it on a deeper level, gaining a better understanding of context and solutions.
In this final week before the resurrection, I want to invite you to sit up and take notice of a social justice issue that is meaningful to you. Spend time in prayer over the next week or two and listen for the Spirit’s call in your life for what you can sit up and take notice of. Pray over this and then, pray some more. Maybe the Spirit is speaking to you about working on a new food ministry, or perhaps on addressing poverty. Maybe the Spirit is elbowing you in the direction of a prison ministry or towards working on environmentalism, or healthcare. This past week, while I was sitting with Anna during her chemo treatment, we heard about how some people will come into the cancer center and pay everybody’s copay for an entire day… What if the church started a ministry in which healthcare costs were addressed? There is a church in Somerset County that has the most extraordinary ministry of health-care equipment. If you need a wheelchair or walker, or some other piece of healthcare equipment, this church will loan it to you, no questions asked, for as long as you need it. Anna’s red walker that she affectionately calls her “little red corvette” came from there, and when we’re done with it, we’ll return it for the next person. That ministry started because somebody sat up and took notice.
When you’ve heard the Spirit’s gentle nudge, and you feel led to look deeper into what we can do as a church, then talk to me, bring it to the table and let’s talk about how we, as individuals certainly, but especially as a church can bring together the call to sit up and take notice, and gain a broader understanding, not just of a particular social justice issue, but more broadly, the intersectionality of all of these issues. Let me be very clear about this: I am not encouraging you to go onto social media and fall down some rabbit hole of researching half-baked conspiracy theories about healthcare or whatever you feel strongly about. I AM encouraging you to find that social justice issue that speaks to your heart and pray over it, pondering – as a matter of faith – where the God who loves, the God who sent the son to teach about lifting up the marginalized, to feed the hungry and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… that God… would have you go.
Jesus sat up when he could have easily made a more quiet entrance into the city during Passover. He did not wilt under the heat of being noticed for his stand on behalf of the poor, the sick, the people yearning to be free, and he invites us to assume the same stance – to sit up. And as you ponder and consider where you will sit up and take notice, Jesus will be with you, the Holy Spirit will enable you. And God will never let you go.
To God be the glory.