Friday, 27 March 2015

Palm Sunday

Mark 11: 1-11
All four gospels contain an account of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
There are crowds who shout ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who come in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the son of David!’.
There is the waving of branches – possibly palms – and in most accounts the use of cloaks to line the path, or cushion the animal Jesus is riding.
And there is the donkey – or colt – or possibly even both – but definitely not a war horse -  which Jesus rides.

It is Palm Sunday – and we might think we’ve heard the story too many times before for it to add to much to our celebrations of Holy Week.

So let’s look at what Mark, in particular, tells us.

Jesus enters the city from the East, from the Mount of Olives: the direction of the rising sun, and the direction from which the Messiah was expected to come.
He rides a colt  - again an act of the promised Messiah – and this is a young animal that has never been ridden before, which is why the cloaks are used to make a sort of saddle. This is not a well-equipped horse and rider, this is an act of humility and prophecy.

But what does Mark spend 6 of his 11 verses – over half the story – telling us?
Mark tells us how Jesus gets two of his disciples to go and get the colt from a village – with the strange sounding arrangement that if anyone tries to stop them they are to say “the Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately”.
They go – the colt is just where Jesus said it would be – they are indeed questioned – they give the reply Jesus told them to give – and they return with the colt.
Jesus rides the colt into Jerusalem to the excited shouts of the crowd ‘Hosanna – Lord, save us – Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.’

What are we meant to conclude from all this?
This is not just a spontaneous eruption of support for Jesus: this is a planned act by Jesus. He deliberately looks like the Messiah for whom everyone is waiting.
He rides a colt, he enters from the Mount of Olives, he arrives and goes straight to the temple.

He has planned to have the colt available – I don’t think we can have any other explanation for the whole business of what sounds a lot like a code phrase being used by his disciples.

And yet.. Jesus is not the Messiah in the way that the waiting and longing Jewish people expect.
He has already warned his disciples three times in Mark’s gospel that he will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and will be condemned to death.

Jesus will reveal himself as God’s anointed who has declared and brought in the kingdom of God. But he will pass through suffering to rule through victory over death: he will not use, or allow others to use, force and the sword to win an earthly kingdom.

In Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, God is doing something that resonates with the past and the promises of the future.  He is raising the expectations of the crowd that at last God is going to act to rid them of the oppression of the Roman rulers and the corruption of the religious leaders. God is going to act, the crowd can feel that and see that and are expecting that.
But God is going to act in a new way. The kingdom of God will come as God’s anointed gives himself up to death by torture, out of love for us all.
God is doing a new thing.

So what is our part, this Palm Sunday? What does God require of us?
We are called upon, this Holy Week, to be part of the celebrations – we should not be silent, but should shout and sing and clap and rejoice – for in Jesus we see that God is indeed acting – has acted – will act.
The kingdom of God is here with a place for all humanity – even all creation – under God’s new rule.

We are also called to listen obediently to what Jesus tells us to do. Listen for the plan Jesus has – listen to what he wants from us – don’t assume that we know in advance just how it is that God will act in our world.

The two disciples Jesus sent had no idea what was really going on in that triumphal march – but they played their part by being faithful to what Jesus told them to do.
They went where he sent them, they did what he asked them, they said what he told them to say.
They played their part in God’s plan, directed by Jesus, rather than carrying out their own ideas.

And finally I think we are called upon to enter Holy Week with a sense of awe and wonder. What is God doing? Where and how is the kingdom coming? How can we be part of the rule of God, part of the coming of justice and mercy for all people?

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

May we be given grace to see what the Lord is doing, listen to the one who is acting in God’s name,
and be part of the new life God wants to pour upon the whole earth.
In the name of Jesus.

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