Some moments are, well, momentous. Why do we do weddings? Why rings? Why unity candles? Why end with a kiss? There are a lot of symbols mixed up with this occasion. Symbols intended to add significance; weight. Some think weddings have become obsolete; mere ceremony without real meaning. Why not just set up house together? If your heart is committed, then why worry about a piece of paper or legalities or ceremonies? Why spend so much effort and money on a moment? Why wrap it up with symbols? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think beginning a life together should have some weight; some symbol wrapped significance; some show of effort and commitment. But I am not really talking about weddings. When Jesus entered Jerusalem the last time it was more than a mere pilgrimage to the holy city. It was a momentous moment all weighted with significance.
Luke 19:29-40 is the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem in triumph. About two miles east of Jerusalem, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, there were two villages: Bethphage and Bethany. We don’t know anything about Bethphage other than it means “house of unripe figs.” Jesus sends two of his disciples to one of the villages (Matthew only has Bethphage – so probably there). He sent two most likely to meet the witness requirements (Deuteronomy 19:15). These two are told that, upon entering the village, they will find a donkey tied up. They are to untie it and bring it to Jesus. If they are questioned they are to say, “The Lord has need of it.” Were they apprehensive? Did it feel a little weird untying the donkey? It happened exactly like Jesus said it would. The masters of the donkey ask, they say the words, and the masters loan out the donkey to the lord’s need.
But what is happening here. In Genesis 49:11, as Israel is blessing Judah, he said, “He ties his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine.” In Zechariah 9:9 there is a prophesy of the coming of the king of Israel humble and mounted on a donkey. Before Jesus, Judaism was already linking these passages and giving them messianic importance. That the donkey had never been ridden before has several links with the virgin birth and the tomb that had not be used. Unuse); or to carry the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 6:7). This is not a random quirky thing. This is symbolism full of weight. Some think that this was prearranged by Jesus. Maybe. It was important enough to make arrangements in advance. But Luke does present Jesus as having unexplained knowledge. The masters of the donkey are willing to loan out their donkey because Jesus has authority; whether agreed upon in advance or not.
Then there is this shift from Jesus orchestrating his uncanny knowledge of events; of his setting of the scene with significant symbolism, to the disciples initiating a response. They put clothes on the donkey, probably because there were no trappings, but it may have also been about honor. Then they also lay their garments along the path. This is reminiscent of 2 Kings 9:13 when they put their garments on the steps for the newly anointed king Jehu. When the Roman emperor came for a visit, it was common to scatter flowers or branches along the road as a welcome. My guess is that they understand the significance and respond in kind. The weight of the moment demanded something.
And when they crest the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem comes into view, they erupt with unabashed praise. Luke describes the participants as the whole crowd of disciples. It was a large crowd of people who understood the weight of what was happening. They burst out singing Psalm 118:26. Either Luke of the crowd add “king” into the song. I think it likely the crowd threw it in. It was at the heart of their expectation, after all. This was the coming of the king; coming in the name of the Lord. The original hymn was sung to welcome pilgrims coming to worship in the temple. It gained more weight in this moment. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest is similar to the song of praise by the angels at the birth of Christ. There is no reason to ascribe an understanding of true messianic peace to the disciples. They sang out their understanding. As do we all. Some Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples. Jesus responds by saying the moment was momentous enough that if they were silent the very stones would cry out.
This moment has weight to it. Because of this, more was necessary than merely walking into the city. Significant symbols swim here. This is not just another pilgrimage. This is the coming of the king. And maybe our coming into the kingdom should also be weighted with symbols. Like death, burial and new life.