“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!’
In the midst of these challenging times it’s difficult to remember what day of the week it is let alone which season of the year we’re travelling through - but today is definitely Palm Sunday! On Palm Sunday we recall how Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem while the people spread their garments in His way and waved branches from the palm trees by way of welcome. The children in the Temple shouted “Hosanna!” and even the very stones of the city, it seemed, would cry out in welcome too.
St. Matthew 21: 9.
Palm Sunday seemed to be a happy ending for Jesus - but it was not to be. The joy turned to pain, the jubilation to dismay and anger. The cries of welcome to the Son of David become shouts of “Crucify Him!” We like to think that we would not have reacted that way - but I wonder! Surely many of those people who celebrated the coming of Jesus the “Messiah” were just ordinary people like you and me? And when Jesus came, and wanted to challenge the way they had been doing things, like;
Change the Temple;
Or question how they understood what they believed; well, they didn’t like that!
The events of Holy Week confront us all with our own expectations of life and faith, our own hopes, fears and doubts; They show us where we have had faith in ourselves and in our own human structures, instead of in God; And they call us to change, to a new understanding of how God works in our lives.
On Palm Sunday Jesus came unprotected, without the comfort of a family at home, without an escort of armed guards or a place to lay His head:He entered Jerusalem without a big political organization to back Him up. He entered simply, clothed in the Spirit; Protected only by the anti-weapon of a palm branch; which was shade rather than sword.
But out of that weakness and humility death and despair were extinguished.
Out of the emptiness of human flesh God restored hope.
Like the people of Jerusalem we also long for a Saviour - and like the people of Jerusalem, we, too, can be disappointed with Jesus.
The people of Jerusalem longed for a saviour who would lead them to victory over the Romans by any means possible.
What they got was a Messiah who insisted that victory was not the way to establish peace.
What they got was a Messiah who insisted that they love their enemies, forgo the sword and seek justice rather than a military solution.
Jesus was not the sort of “Messiah” they were looking for - and so the people turned on Him!
This Jesus of Nazareth is an “Inconvenient Messiah”, because, even though the crowds had their way; Even though His insistence that violence is not the answer, was met with horrific violence; but not even a horrible, lonely, brutal death like His could kill this “Inconvenient Messiah’s” belief that violence is not the answer.
We share the great hope of Jesus the anointed One, because we are made of the same mortal flesh. We died with Jesus in the waters of baptism, and we rise with Him as well having been invited into this journey with Him, this blood-red, passionate journey of sacrifice, making holy this as yet unhealed world.
Jesus’ life and death point to a way of life that meats violence with love; That seeks justice in order to find peace; that values the least and the lost; that puts people before profit; and teaches anyone who will listen that life is to be lived with a spirit of love and generosity that echo’s the grace of our Creator;
But Jesus’ way is not our way - His teachings are idealistic, demanding and life changing.
So if our ways are to have their day, we have no choice but to demand His crucifixion over and over again, year after year, Holy Week after un-Holy Week. Because we like our lives and we like our stuff! So, we continue to consume all that we can, including and, especially, the myths that hold our world in place. Some of us have learned that we can have our cake and eat it too.
We can have Jesus for our Messiah just as long as we continue to twist His teaching into that old bargain that the theologians of old dreamed up.
If we deny everything we have learned about creation, and cling to the notion that we humans were once created perfect; and, because “evil” somehow came into creation, we fell from grace, and made our Creator so angry that we were banished from the perfect garden; and they only way back is if someone pays the price for our disobedience;
And Jesus, that beautiful, perfect, if somewhat naive Rabbi of old, is the perfect sacrifice for our sin;
If we can just suspend our intellect long enough to buy into that cosmic bargain, then we can go on ignoring Jesus’ inconvenient teachings, and Jesus will not have died in vain, because God will surely forgive us for Christ’s sake.
But all these generations later, Jesus’ teachings refuse to die - because Jesus, who, during His public ministry, consistently spoke and acted in the very person of God, is still teaching us to save ourselves.
For we were not born perfect creatures who fell from grace; We were born imperfect creatures still evolving into our full humanity. Our evolution lies before us, we can continue down the pathway of destruction or we can follow Jesus down a more difficult pathway.
We can turn around, repent of our ways, and follow this “Inconvenient Messiah” onwards toward the path that calls us to live fully now; That means being open to all the wonders and all the possibilities of loving extravagantly and becoming all that we were created to be;
Like the generations who have gone before us, we may still long for the kind of Messiah who rides in on a white horse to save us from ourselves.
But, in Jesus, we have a different kind of Messiah; We have a Saviour who rides in on a humble donkey, and points us toward another way of being in the world;
A Saviour who insists that we follow the wisdom of peace through justice; generosity over greed, selflessness over selfishness; mercy over vengeance; hope over fear, and above all love over hate.
Jesus, the “Inconvenient Messiah” says, “Follow me and you will save yourselves!”
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and we will, indeed, have a spirit-filled Easter; but we will do so, this one year, from the social distancing of our own homes. While it’s extremely disappointing not to be able to gather in person, we join our experience with those Christians throughout history who have proclaimed the resurrection in bunkers and in secret, in small family groups - and alone in monastic cells.
Remember, too, that God is always visiting us; He comes to us - this is the message of Palm Sunday! God wants us to experience Him and have an encounter with Him. Christ will rise, indeed, and the world needs us to proclaim the promise of new life now more than ever – and we will do this in a spirit of joy!
Our common situation today is a form of revelation and, through this time of tears and trial, we’re forming a bond of human solidarity. We’re learning about the thing that makes each of us not only an “I” but part of the greater collective “We!” This “greater collective” forms part of us as we willingly sacrifice our freedom and “lock down” in these days and weeks to protect the wellbeing of our communities. This “greater collective” can be seen in those frontline NHS staff, social workers, emergency responders, delivery drivers, carers, power-workers, broadband service providers, and all the rest, who are quietly getting on with their jobs of keeping us safe and provided for.
None of their faces are likely to feature on posters on children’s bedroom walls or sticker albums, but their heroic service will have a knock-on effect on a whole generation growing up.
I recently asked my four year old granddaughter what she wanted to be when she grew up – and she said “five”!
I’m hoping one day she might include in her ambitions a desire to serve those in need - perhaps one day she’ll follow her mother into a career in nursing?
So we’re travelling with Jesus through Holy Week at this time of keeping social distance. This year apart doesn’t mean we can’t be together because we can be “together alone”. In Christian religious practise this paradox is familiar; because as individuals we often say “I believe” - but we all say it together!
This season of Lent has been a timely reminder of our common humanity - and, in these Lenten weeks we have all given up things - and not always through choice!
It takes faith to follow Jesus and we are called to do that - but it takes Palm Sunday faith - to go ahead into the unfamiliar, knowing that the road leads us through the events of Holy Week… for we well know that going into the unknown doesn’t always mean fun and adventure.
Faith is a risk, and nowhere do we feel that more acutely than in the events of Holy Week. But let us not shy away from faith because there is nowhere that Jesus sends us and no dimension of human experience that Jesus did not share in - that’s another message of Holy Week.
This Easter story that we all share, assures us that we can face and overcome all the trials and tribulations of this frightening time because we know that, in the end, we, the followers of Jesus embody resurrection and new life, and; As the fourteenth century Christian mystic, Mother Julian said,
“All shall be well
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.”
A Moment of Prayer
Lord, as we remember how Christ the King entered Jerusalem to the sound of joyful shouts, increase our faith and listen to our prayers, so that we may praise You every day, by living always in Him.
For Jesus lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Go now and follow the crowd
as it leads out to the cross;
And, even as the world grows dark,
do not lose hope.
Because God is with us.
And God will be with us.
Whatever happens - we are not alone.
The blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit—
Be among you, and remain with you;
In this Holy Week
and for evermore.