Thought for the Week - Sunday 5th April 2020 (Palm Sunday)

St Peter’s Church Carlton Colville and St Andrew’s Church Mutford

Thought for the Week - Palm Sunday, April 5th 2020

Reading: Matthew 21:1-11 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’

This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:

‘Say to Daughter Zion,
    “See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’[a]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

‘Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!’, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’[c], ‘Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!’

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’11 The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Sermon

    What’s Palm Sunday without palms?  But there’s no mention of palms in Matthew’s Gospel.  Only an improvised red carpet of clothing and branches.  And we like to think of Jesus riding on a donkey – but Matthew tells us he sits on both a donkey and a colt!  Are we really expected to believe that he’s riding both at the same time? And we think of it as a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but it was a procession that began in Bethphage, a place we can’t locate, and it was hardly triumphal with the crowd shrieking ‘Save us’ ‘Help us’. And what of the crowd, which is called fickle when a few days later they cry, ‘Crucify’? But the crowd that flanks Jesus consists of the country yokels from tiny rural villages far away from the capital.  Their voices won’t be heard in Pilate’s courts on Good Friday, in the places where power and decision-making are exercised.  As always they will be silenced by the metropolitan elite.  But these common folk have experienced a presence so powerful, and a love so amazing, that they are willing to make the arduous journey and put their heads above the parapet, despite the risk.

Street Theatre

    It’s clear then that Jesus choreographed everything very deliberately.  So his procession begins at the Mount of Olives, the place linked to King David and where the Messiah is expected to appear and where leading Jews like President Peres are buried, so they’re first in the queue when the Messiah returns.  Jesus rides a donkey, which is associated with the coronation of kings at the same time as being a beast of burden, and which speaks of service.  Jesus isn’t riding a stallion, a war horse, as if he were leading troops into battle.  Jesus seems to be parodying those who rule by force and their vestiges of power, and pouring scorn on the idea of coercion as the means to get things done.  Jesus is engaging in street theatre, a surprise, comedic, satirical exercise in unmasking the futility of self-centred living.

 

A fateful challenge

    So what are we to make of it today?  Why in fact did Jesus go up to Jerusalem?  He went, first of all, as a pilgrim.  It was the Passover festival, when the nation celebrated God’s liberation from oppressors in Egypt and kept alive their hopes that God would act again, finally to rescue his people from Roman occupation.  There’s a swirl of expectation in the air, like a tinder box ready to ignite, with religious hotheads always ready to inflame a dangerous situation in the hope of a showdown with the authorities or an attempt to force God to show his hand.

    Jesus went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim, but it seems too that he went up to Jerusalem on that final, fateful journey to present his nation with one last challenge – to make a final bid to save them from the disastrous course on which they had embarked, politically and religiously.  Jesus didn’t seek death – in fact, right at the last he recoiled from it – but he did pursue with inflexible devotion a way of life that inevitably led to his death.  Jesus came into the world, went up to Jerusalem, to call Israel to prepare for the inauguration of God’s kingdom.  Being with Christ leads us into a topsy-turvy world that confounds and unsettles us, and on the first Palm Sunday he will convulse and shake the whole ruling establishment and force them to act.

Becoming King

    In his passion and death, Jesus becomes king.  God takes back authority.  He establishes his kingdom and saves and renews people. His death was the only way by which he could defeat the principalities and powers of the world.  There’s a cost for reversing the malign, pernicious forces of evil and it will be met by the death of the unique and incomparable Son of God.

Palm Sunday is the first day in a week in which Jesus became our rightful King.  He will be decked in royal purple, wearing a crown, albeit of thorns, enthroned on a cross.  And the greatest power on earth unwittingly proclaims him ‘King of the Jews’.  That’s the strange way in which God restores his sovereignty: suffering love, self-sacrifice, self-emptying.

‘Here might I stay and sing’

    So the man who will be hanging on a cross at the end of the week is God’s answer to the problems of the world; God’s rescue plan for our human plight? It can seem that our faith is hanging by a thread. But the thread is Jesus. And to come to know that he loves us and gave himself for us defies comprehension. So how can we keep Holy Week in a way that keeps company with Christ’s cross?

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine; Never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine. This is my friend in whose sweet praise, I all my days would gladly spend.

    Jesus went to the cross and made his way through death to something beyond life.  Let him take your hand, empty, weak and worn, and his journey will be yours too.

© Roger Spiller from ‘The Canterbury Preacher’s Companion 2020’

The Collect for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God,

who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ

to take upon him our flesh

and to suffer death upon the cross:

grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,

and also be made partakers of his resurrection;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Amen

 

Stay Safe

 

Mark x.

 



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