Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
In 1896 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company was having a difficult time with ticket sales. On top of the slump in ticket sales had these old locomotives that they did not always know what to do with them. Well, the rail line decided to task a man named William Crush to find ways to book sales and increase publicity.
Crush, perhaps inspired by his name, decided he wanted to sage a head on train crash. They sold tickets, built a special track, set up a carnival. All in all, it’s estimated that there were about 10,000 who came out to watch this spectacle of two trains crashing head on.
An account of this event reads:
At 5 sharp the dueling locomotives steamed slowly down the track and, like gladiators, stopped face-to-face in the middle for a “salute.” Then the engineers reversed gear, and the trains lumbered back up to their starting points. Telegraph signals ran back and forth:
Are you ready?
Crush raised his hat, the crowd roared and the trains started downhill. A sound “like the rattle of musketry” added drama as each locomotive set off a series of “track torpedoes”—tiny charges used by railroads as warning signals—that crews had fastened along the rails.
Test runs had predicted a terminal speed of 58 mph. “Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place,” the papers reported, “the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder and hundreds who had come miles to see found their hearts growing faint within them.”
“Words and kodacs [sic] are powerless,” said The Ferris (Texas) Wheel, “to picture the scene as the iron monsters dashed into each other.” Onlookers had only seconds to absorb the rare sight, the deafening sound, the terrific concussion. Then, as a few foolhardy souls rushed across the deadline, a horrific double explosion rent the air. (J.R. Sanders, http://www.historynet.com/crushs-locomotive-crash-was-a-monster-smash.htm).
Two massive machines headed into each other. Two incredible forces on an inevitable collision course.
When I think about a collision course, I can’t help but think about Palm Sunday. But collision found in Palm Sunday isn’t always what we focus on.
When I think about Palm Sunday growing up the image of collision is not something that comes to mind. Instead, what I think of is little children waiving palm branches and singing praises. I think about images of bright colors, crowds praising Jesus, loud music, celebration.
This is the image that we read in the scripture passage we read earlier in worship. An image of Jesus walking into the into the city of Jerusalem. Being welcomed by large crowd. Being welcomed by a large crowd that spreads their clothes on the road. And then they cut branches from tress to spread them on the road. They are excited. They are shouting “Hosanna,” which means save us. They are excited about this Jesus who has come to save them. “save us, Hosanna in the highest!”
This is a celebration. This savior has come into the world, and now he is entering Jerusalem with crowds full of excitement.
I remember as a child experiencing this joy of Palm Sunday then waiting until the next week to experience the joy and celebration of Easter. A joy, a celebration on Sunday followed by another joy and another celebration the following week. On Palm Sunday we celebrated Jesus entering Jerusalem, and on Easter we celebrated him rising from grave. Something surely happened in between these two celebrations. I mean, after all, why would Jesus need to rise from a grave if he had been welcomed with such joy in Jerusalem just a week prior?
Something must have happened between these two celebrations. A clue to what might have happened can be found in what is happening around this celebration of Palm Sunday. You see certain crowds were excited about Jesus being, but not everybody was. In fact, at this time the city full, and there was a lot going on. Following the crowds celebrating Jesus’ welcome Matthew continues the story saying:
10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The whole city isn’t there to welcome Jesus, but the whole city is stirred up. I don’t think the translation stirred up really captures the magnitude of the picture that Matthew is trying to convey. This word translated “stirred up” also means to shake, agitate, cause to tremble, or is used to describe people that are quaking in fear. It’s almost as if Matthew is describing a powder keg; a city about to explode.
Jesus coming to town is not just the only thing happening. You see, this is the time of the Jewish festival of Passover in the city. Usually there probably about 40,000 people living in Jerusalem. With this holiday, the city is busting at the seams—probably 200,000 pilgrims crowding into the city. There is not a bed left in the city. People are crammed into every corner. There are lines to get food. The water supply is stretched. The temple complex is teeming with activity.
And remember, these Jewish pilgrim are under control by the Roman government. And now you have 200,000 Jews gathered in one place. Surely the Roman government might be a little nervous about any activity. Perhaps riots will breakout. Perhaps uprising might begin.
When I we in Jerusalem a few years ago we were told a story of what might have really happened on that first Palm Sunday. In the Bible we read about Jesus entering the city and being met with a cheering crowd. But it wasn’t just Jesus entering the city. If you trace Jesus’ route, he entered the city from the East on a donkey. At the same time, the government was sending in reinforcements to make sure that this city in turmoil didn’t erupt into an uprising. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, enters the city from the West. Pilate rides into the city on war horse with a host of imperial cavalry and soldiers.
I feel at this time we should be playing the imperial march from Star Wars—you know, Darth Vader’s theme song.
Here Pilate enters the city, not with crowds crying Hosanna, but he enters the city to keep order and to make sure that these 200,000 poor pilgrims don’t cause trouble don’t stir revolt.
The entrance of Jesus from the East and the entrance of the Roman governor from West seem to be on a collision course—as if they are two trains bearing down on one another. Time is just ticking away before the collision.
And the collision would come.
There was a conspiracy underway to kill Jesus. Matthew tells us about this in ch 26:
3 Then the chief priests and elders of the people gathered in the courtyard of Caiaphas the high priest. 4 They were plotting to arrest Jesus by cunning tricks and to kill him. 5 But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the feast so there wouldn’t be an uproar among the people.
Those in charge are still worried about the people being in turmoil – all stirred up. So plot in secret, and trains draw closer and closer to collision. Jesus is arrested and in chapter 27 we read that:
Early in the morning all the chief priests and the elders of the people reached the decision to have Jesus put to death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate the governor.
You see, it is ultimately up to the military governor, Pilate. It is only Pilate who can make the decision about executing Jesus. The week began with cheers and joy, now Jesus is before a Roman governor, his life is on the line.
Pilate announced the death sentence, then we read in verse 27:
27 The governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s house, and they gathered the whole company[b] of soldiers around him. (that’s about 600 soldiers) 28 They stripped him and put a red military coat on him. 29 They twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand. Then they bowed down in front of him and mocked him, saying, “Hey! King of the Jews!” 30 After they spit on him, they took the stick and struck his head again and again. 31 When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the military coat and put his own clothes back on him. They led him away to crucify him.
The ultimate collision. Jesus, the prince of peace, collides with the death and destruction of this world. Jesus knows the ultimate pain that is faced by humans. Jesus knows the tears. Jesus knows the heartache. The reality of Palm Sunday is so much darker than celebration.
As a child, I thought about Palm Sunday as a minor celebration to prepare us for the big celebration of Easter. Palm Sunday as the pregame show for the Easter celebration. But Palm Sunday is really the start of a deadly collision that full darkness and sorrow.
Isn’t it so that sometimes the world seems to be so harsh to the good ones. Bad things happen to good people. Dreams are lost in the midst of life.
You know, over these past few weeks of Lent we have spent time looking at various practices to bring us closer to God. We recalled how Jesus walked in the wilderness, and how Lent was a time of spiritual wilderness to allow us to grow closer to God.
As Jesus faced his most difficult challenge, death on a cross, surely he had to be thankful that his life had been full of growing closer to the source of life, closer to the divine. Even when life feels like a collision course, and the weight of the world is bearing down on us, we have this hope that Jesus too has been there.
Over these next few moments, I want us to focus on the fact that Jesus has been there. Even though this day began celebration, it ends with a tragic collision. T
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.