Palm Sunday 5 April 2020
Now Jesus comes on public display. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, this Palm Sunday story was the only occasion that Jesus deliberately drew attention to himself. And so he fulfils the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion! Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem! Look your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ For three years during his public ministry people could make up their minds about Jesus, or leave making a decision until later. Now he forces them to do so. Jesus declares himself King, and everyone has to make up their minds. And that includes us.
One of the Psalms which was sung at the end of the Passover meal was Psalm 118 v25 “Save us Lord, save us! Give us success, O Lord! May God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! From the temple of the Lord we bless you.” As the Jews sang this they looked forward to a new deliverance from their enemies, like the one long ago in Egypt. The crowd saw in these words reference to the Messiah, the Coming one. This was their cry on that first Palm Sunday “Praise to David’s Son! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God!” (Matt 21:9)
The corresponding passage in John 12:13 says it explicitly, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!”
So what sort of King was Jesus? He was the King of Israel. The crowd interpreted this in terms of Jesus as being a political King, a soldier king, a conquering king. This was the type of Messiah they were expecting. One to save them from the hated Roman authorities. Jesus had heard of this political, nationalistic fervour that was being aroused. How did he react? He could go with the flow, ride in to Jerusalem on a horse, the symbol of war and of a warrior King. But no, Jesus made another choice and rode in as Zechariah had prophesied and rode in on a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace, of humility. Jesus was coming as King, but not the King they were expecting. He is the King of Israel, but he de-militarises their ideas about the King. He came as King of peace. The people didn’t understand this at the time, so they still greeted him like a political King.
And so Jesus came as King of Israel. But this King of Israel was the King of peace, of gentleness, of mercy, forgiveness, grace. It was a costly mission. As the hymn writer put it in ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’, – ‘in lowly pomp ride on to die.’ It is tragically ironic, that in the Holy Land today there is no peace. That many wars have been fought in the name of religion. Jesus came to bring peace, but the peace that Jesus came to bring was peace in our human hearts.
Yet, ironically again, Jesus also came as the King of division. That may surprise some of us. But we just have to think on to what happened a few days later on Good Friday. Many of the crowd who shouted their ‘hosannas’ on Palm Sunday shouted ‘Crucify him’ on Good Friday. They were fair-weather supporters. Jesus was not the King they were expecting after all. Jesus could have seized political power, worn a crown of gold studded with diamonds. Instead he wore a crown of thorns. The crowd turned on him. Jesus suffered the pain of rejection ‘crucify him, crucify him’ they cried. He had been betrayed by Judas, the disciples fell asleep. Acclamation for Jesus had turned to isolation.
In 21v10, “when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was thrown into an uproar. ‘Who is he?’ the people asked?” It is of course a question for each of us, and perhaps a question we need to ask ourselves as we enter different stages of our Christian journeys. Perhaps within the routine of the Christian year, a question to ask ourselves each Palm Sunday Perhaps especially this Palm Sunday when, due to our Church being closed due to the coronavirus, we cannot wave palm branches, nor palm crosses, nor walk in the Churchyard round the Church as we traditionally do.
The question about Jesus ‘Who is he?’ is one that continually offers us choices. As our circumstances change, perhaps bringing in a change in income; perhaps we have health problems which brings changes to us, perhaps we encounter bereavement which brings change to us. Or how do we react to the big ‘Why’ questions? Why has this happened to me, why suffering, why the coronavirus? Each change brings us choices.
What sort of King is Jesus to you today? In that crowd who welcomed Jesus and waved their palms and cried ‘Hosanna’ there were many who were fascinated by him but were not committed to him. In the crowd were opponents of his, they resisted everything he said. In that crowd were some who were indifferent, they were unaffected by him, despite all that he had done, despite the teaching and the love and the mercy and the miracles, it didn’t touch them, they were unaffected. But also in that crowd were some who were committed to letting Jesus be King of their lives whatever their circumstances. Which group are you in? Have you made up your minds as to what sort of King he is?
We know the story of course. The ‘Hosanna’s’ of Palm Sunday changed to the cry of ‘Crucify him’ on Good Friday. Perhaps we can interpret that as if to say it is sometimes easy to go with God in the times of blessing and victory and prayers answered the way we want them. It is not so easy to stay with God during the difficult times, the times of pain and rejection. Yet if we would share his Kingly triumph, we must be prepared to follow him in the way of the cross.
What sort of King is he to you? It is your choice. Colin Wood ———————-
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.
Read also the Liturgy of the Passion:
Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14 to 27:66