Philippians 2: 5-11
Matthew 21: 1-11
I haven't even proof-read this - but it all adds to the entertainment factor!
Very rough first draft:
What does power look like? This is fascinating time in the world’s history to ask that question on Palm Sunday.
We have seen amazing scenes from the Middle East & North Africa over the last 3 months or so. People kept subdued for many years by the evil and oppression of tyrants, suddenly starting to believe in “people power”, and calling for change and the bringing in of a democracy.
In Egypt, the people packed into Tahrir square and would not leave until there was change.. and eventually Mubarak resigned; in Libya rebels continue to fight for control of towns and call for Colonel Gaddafi to relinquish power; in Tunisia President Ben Ali fled the country 2 months ago but now protestors are saying there has been no real change; President Assad of Syria has formed a new government following the resignation of the previous government following protests; in Bahrain King Hamad acted to clear protestors out of the capital Manama & imposed a state of emergency; and we could also talk about Morocco, Yemen, Oman, Iran, and Algeria.
It seems that those who have previously held power for many years have suddenly faced mass protest. Why? It would take someone far more informed politically than me to answer that question in detail – but it seems that part of what has happened is the belief that people can make a difference – that if enough people are mobilised onto the street there is very little the authorities can really do against their own people. Power in many of these countries largely belongs to the one who controls the armed forces, but if enough groundswell of public opinion can be generated, then even the powerful can be overcome by ‘people power’.
I wonder how different it was in 1st century Jerusalem? Herod may have been the ‘client ruler’ or puppet king at the time of Jesus birth, but his political power had now passed to his three far less effective sons, whilst a Roman governor – Pontius Pilate – had been put in place. Pilate, who ruled Judea, had control of the armed forces of the empire, or at least his share of them. He was ultimately responsible for law & order – and used this power to put down any attempt at riot or defiance with great violence. Crucifixion was the public method of humiliation and execution for any rebels who might want to rally a protest, as well as being a terrible warning to thieves and bandits.
The historian Josephus mentions over a dozen rebel bandit figures, like ‘Judas the Galilean’ and ‘The Egyptian’. Each rebellion and its ensuing wave of crucifixions, brought an increasing sense of political unrest, until eventually, after Jesus death in AD 66 there would be a huge revolt resulting in the destruction of the Temple as a means of crushing all Jewish political hopes.
So what does Jesus do on Palm Sunday?
He could, I suppose have tried to rally the 1st century equivalent of ‘people power’ – to whip up the zealots that we know he had in his group of disciples to get together gangs of those intent on political change, maybe even to find a way of arming some of the Jews against the Roman soldiers who patrolled the streets. Instead Jesus places himself firmly in the place of the promised Messiah – riding the donkey promised by Zechariah, entering David’s city of Jerusalem, acclaimed by crowds. He looks every inch the Messiah of God – but then he refuses to save the people by any show of military power.
He will say very clearly to Pilate at his trial “my kingdom is not of this world”.
At one level, the crowd on Palm Sunday know what Jesus is doing – they don’t cry ‘Romans out!’ or ‘Judea must be free’, they cry ‘Hosanna’ – Lord, save us. Jesus is the promised Messiah from God, the one who will bring life and hope and salvation for his people, and through them, for the world.
What the crowds can’t grasp, because it is totally unprecedented, is that to display the saving power of God, Jesus will submit to suffering and death. This act, that would seem like the end of any ordinary rebellion, and the death of all hope, brings Jesus’ followers face to face with real power.
Jesus receives the acclaim of the crowds, he owns the title of Messiah, and he shows them a new way of displaying power. his is not earthly power, people power or political power, it is much more powerful than that.
Jesus dies in humility and submission and terrible pain. But the power of the Jewish authorities to convict him and the power of the Roman soldiers to kill him is no match for the power of God Almighty.
The power of God will have the last word, when Jesus is raised from death to show once and for all to whom the power belongs.
To God belongs all the power and glory – and such amazing love that Jesus will let human hands take him and crucify him, to show once and for all that the power of God’s love is the greatest power in heaven or on earth or under the earth.
That love offers us bread & wine here as a way of receiving God’s love in Christ. Eat & drink & be thankful.
And to God be all the glory now & forever. Amen.