It’s no good looking through today’s gospel reading for mention of palms – you won’t find them in Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Luke has the followers of Jesus placing their cloaks on the path before him – the palms are in John’s gospel – with another little mention of ‘branches’ in Mark.
And perhaps you were a bit puzzled to find yourself carrying not a palm branch but a branch of Christmas tree in the procession – and you don’t have to be eagle-eyed to spot that the cross here is made from the trunk of a Christmas tree, too.
So is it just time the vicar had a holiday? Quite possibly – but I wanted these Christmas tree branches to help us not only to celebrate Palm Sunday, as we wave them, but to remember our celebrations of Christmas.
Perhaps our Christmas tree branches can help us to rediscover the sense that I’m sure Jesus’ disciples had as the events of Holy Week unfolded – that this is not what we expected.
The same crowd crying ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord’ on Palm Sunday will be baying ‘crucify him’ on Good Friday.
Palm Sunday looks like victory…Good Friday looks like defeat…but the real victory is still to come on Easter Sunday. It is a little baffling. Just 3 months ago we remembered the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – and now we’ve fast-forwarded more than 30 years and arrived at the pinnacle of the whole point of Jesus’ existence: his death.
Jesus’ followers arrive at the city of Jerusalem waving their palm branches in joyful expectation of what Jesus has come to do – and they must have been utterly amazed by all that happens next.
The crowd with Jesus on Palm Sunday want to sing for joy about the coming of the Lord’s servant, Jesus, and they naturally use the words of a psalm (Psalm 118)
'Hosannah, LORD, hosannah!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'; In other words - Here comes the Lord’s servant, here comes the one through whom we have seen God acting, here comes the one who shows us that God is good.
They have seen God in action in Jesus, and they praise God with singing and shouting and psalms of joy – and probably with the waving of palm branches & strewing of clothing and palms.
The psalm speaks of the blessing of the one who walks in God’s way…and the followers of Jesus prepare the way for him to enter into the city as the one who walks in the way of the Lord.
But the events of the week to come will really surprise these enthusiasts for Jesus. The followers of Jesus on the day of his entry into Jerusalem were praising God for all that they had seen him do in Jesus – all his teaching and healing…yet they were not to know that the best was yet to come.
We sit here in the knowledge of what Jesus was to face – we sit knowing this is Holy Week, we sit facing the cross, reminding us of the horrors and cruelties to come on Good Friday.
It was not what the crowd were expecting. Jesus wasn’t in Jerusalem to accept the plaudits of the crowd, but to submit himself to the worst that human injustice and malice could do to him and yet to bear death on the cross out of love for the world.
‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ – but he will not be spared suffering and death, but will be brought through them to new life.
Following Jesus can bring unexpected challenge. It is demanding, the Way of Jesus which we walk is costly: it requires self-surrender, service of others, refusing to meet violence with violence. It is not an easy way: it is not only bedecked with cheerful spring flowers and fluffy Easter bunnies. It is lined with images of suffering, as surprising and as thought-provoking as a Christmas tree turned into a cross.
The Way is hard and costly – but it is the way to ultimate triumph, as we realise that the cost of Holy Week ends in the glory of Easter Sunday and the power of God to bring Jesus through suffering and death to resurrection.
Following Jesus is not the way of avoiding suffering and difficulty, but the way of getting through it – The Way is one both of challenge and of comfort.
And of course this is not entirely new and unexpected – we read in the psalms ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me’.
May we walk The Way through Holy Week with Jesus and know that we are never alone, and that he will lead us home.
Thanks be to God