Today’s text first made me think of Jimmy V. Maybe it was because it is the height of basketball season, and last Sunday ESPN debuted this fantastic documentary on Coach Valvano and his 1983 National Championship team at NC State, beating Wake Forest, then Ralph Sampson and Virginia, and then Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins and Carolina to make the NCAA tournament. I stayed up later than I should have watching the stories of games gone by, of the relationships of those guys, of their beloved coach, this legendary personality, dying of cancer 10 years later. Just before his death, exhausted from treatment, Valvano flew to New York to the ESPY sports awards, to receive the Arthur Ashe Award for courage. Most folks didn’t think he could get there. He was helped up the stairs to receive it, and gave a riveting speech on the gift of life, of perseverance and hope.1 Among other things he said that each day you should do three things: laugh, think, and cry, "you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy," he says. If you do that, Jimmy V. says, "That’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day. You do that 7 days a week you’re going to have something special."
Because I noticed something this week that I had never noticed before about this text. I noticed the tears. Jesus is weeping, crying, as he enters the city. That is why I extended the lesson this week – verse 41 says it: "As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it…" I checked the Greek with some friends to be sure and, regardless of actual time frame, in some significant part of the "Triumphal Entry" in Luke, Jesus is weeping. And I was shocked that I had never noticed it before, on this day of celebration. Luke’s telling such a different feel than what we learned growing up in Sunday School. First, there are no palms.2 Fred Craddock argues that palms or tree branches belonged to parades and festivals with nationalistic overtones, and Luke wants this event to carry no such implications.3
Second, we get very little of Jesus’ entry itself. Luke takes time before he moves us there, right after Jesus invites himself to a tax collector named Zaccheaus’ house, right after a parable about a noblemen and his slaves, calling the disciples to be good stewards of the gifts they are given, no matter how long they have to wait for the kingdom. Then, quite plainly, Luke sets the scene on the Mount of Olives, near a couple of villages, about 2 miles from the city. He sends two disciples ahead, telling them exactly what would happen. They find the colt as described and, when the owner asks why they are taking it, give their line: "The Lord needs it." They bring it to Jesus, laying their cloaks on the colt, then on the road as He rides. Things move more slowly, carefully scripted, the disciples empowered to play their part.
As they get closer to the city things warm up. Remember, according to verse 41 the tears are welling in his eyes. I wonder if the folks along the side of the road notice the poignancy of this scene? Coats are laid, then a multitude of disciples – not huge throngs in the city, but a good number who were already His followers. In breaks the joy, Luke says, in a loud voice, echoing psalm 118: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" Some of the Pharisees tell him to calm everyone down, and Jesus tells then, no. It is not possible now, he says, God’s plan is being worked out, and there is nothing anyone can do.
Then, in the very next verse, Luke throws things off. We usually stop at verse 40, where [Amy/Rachel] finished. But we added 41-44 today because all part of the same scene. "As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it…" Luke is moving us into the heart of this most Holy of weeks. He looks at the city, full of love, and weeps for it, for its people, for the things they do not see. But now, he seems to say, it’s too late. The die has been cast. And – remember by the time Luke writes it is after the year 70 CE, when the city and its temple have been destroyed – he laments. Over what could have been. Over the great hopes He had for the people. When God was right in front of them, and they couldn’t see.
Because there are too many things in this world worth shedding tears over. I bet you’re carrying around some pain right now, unseen to most, of someone you love who is hurt or sick, in treatment or in need of it, addicted and alone. Living with a broken relationship or broken dream, something you weren’t able to do, expectations you can’t fill, things you want for your spouse or your kids that might not be in the cards. And it hurts. It is worth grieving the years and years of war, of the 4,409 US military dead and 31,926 wounded in Iraqi, and add perhaps 100,000 additional civilian deaths in just that one country.4 Monday before last 5 more of our troops died in Afghanistan: Steven Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa; Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, La.; Sara M. Knutson, 27, of Eldersburg, Md.; Marc A. Scialdo, 31, of Naples, Fla.; Zachary L. Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, Fla.5 From children in Newtown to the homeless on our streets to our leaders who seem in a state of paralysis. We weep for the millions of empty stomachs as we walk the CROP Walk last week, we weep for emptiness in our souls. In my more honest moments I wonder. I get angry. The doubt creeps in and, I must admit, some weeks I know I have to stand up here and I am not filled with hope and joy. I wonder what God is doing, and why God doesn’t break in and fix stuff down here. Come on, God. What are you doing? And I get great comfort from Jesus’ tears that day, full of grief and also with love, filled with Christ’s deep investment in that holy city, in those people, in the world. That is at the heart of the incarnation. God came to earth because God was invested in us, in this world – not away, apart, detached. But here with us, in the dirt and the mud, and we get scared and fall in love and cheer with the crowds. Maybe Jesus, even as He wept for the city, was filled with hope for what He knew his death would accomplish, the reconciliation of the world.
And then it all came together on Thursday morning, about 10:30am. Well, someone needed a c-section early than us, and we got bumped, and then the waiting, and our son was born at 1:03pm on Thursday. And the juggling and the joy, trying to remember what to do with this small, screaming, wrinkly thing that depends on you for everything. We finally got settled after the flurry of wonderful visitors and, about 9pm, there was a knock on our door. And it was 3 friends of Carrie’s from a parent advisory board at Duke, from all around the region who give of their time to work with doctors and nurses and parents to think about how we can best care for folks in crisis. All of these gifted women had kids who had major health problems, open heart surgery, seizures, one had a beautiful son who had died. Folks whose lives had had their share of tears. And they tip-toed in, leaning in over the crib, hands cupping their mouths, tears welling in all of our eyes, over the gift of life. And it makes you wonder. No, it makes you convinced, that in the midst of all of the pain and suffering that surrounds, God might still be at work in this world. Slowly, carefully, crafting redemption.
So maybe, even as we grieve the suffering of the world, Luke reminds us of the intimate and deliberate workings of God. Bit by bit, as we wrap our arms around each other, as we put together a meal for a friend, as we get handed a brand new baby, and told, "Here is your son." And while much of the world will break our heart, we can live with a deep confidence. Jesus will endure much pain again this week, from the whip and the nail and the spear. But Easter morning will come, the world will never be the same, and our tears will be tears of joy. What a day it will be. What a day it will be.
All praise be to God. Amen
1. You really should watch the whole thing – Jimmy’s 1993 ESPY Speech (YouTube)
2. I am grateful to the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner for this point in her paper for The Well, 2012, Montreat.
3. Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p 227.
4. Very disputed numbers – Casualties of the Iraq War (Wikipedia)
5. DOD Identifies Army Casualties (U.S. Department of Defense)