Conquerors like to create a display as they ride into the major cities they have subdued. Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler – they make a big deal of the triumphal entry. It’s a show of force: foot soldiers marching in well-ordered ranks, regiments on horseback, in more contemporary times, tanks, and the commander riding proud and high, surrounded by his generals. It’s a statement that the regime has changed and the new authorities are coming in to take over.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem also announced a regime change. It announced the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, of course, it was substantially different from the usual parade.
Here is how the Messiah enters the holy city. He comes on a colt that has never been ridden – fulfilling an ancient prophesy. Instead of ranks of foot soldiers and mounted officers, he walks in the middle of a crowd of ordinary people, many of whom are outcasts or transgressors of religious law, all men and women whose hearts have been moved by his words and his healings. They lay their cloaks down in the road before him, creating a colorful fabric path between the Mount of Olives and the Temple. His followers announce him: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor, David!”
In some ways Jerusalem hardly registered the coming and going of the prophet, Jesus, with his little band of enthusiastic followers. It didn’t take long for the religious authorities to find him and demand his death. One of his closest friends betrayed him. Many of his disciples defected at the critical moment and began to call for his execution. He didn’t have the military strength to back his claim, keep people loyal, really make a splash at the capital.
And yet the ancient city of Jerusalem was forever changed by his presence there. Like a virus he lodged himself amid its stones and took root, and it has never expelled him. He was killed. The world went on, business as usual. But everything was different. He was resurrected. He did usher in the kingdom of God: a realm of the heart, of radical new understanding.
And today, how do we follow in the wake of that triumphal procession? With the glimmerings in our hearts of the regime change, the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, how do we proceed?
Its simple, inconsequential things that lodge, like a virus, in the stones of the city: loving God, worshiping and praying, loving people no matter who they are, admitting our wrongs in humility to the people they affect, living simply, giving alms. If we live this way we are perhaps largely forgettable. And yet the heart recognizes and remembers the Kingdom we are attempting to serve — forever.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado