Sunday, 29 March 2015

Palm Sunday

Today’s service opens with the welcome of a king among us. It is a parade. You might remember these kinds of scenes on TV, or maybe you have been a part of them. The queen is visiting and there are people lining both sides of the road. They are smiling and yelling and waving flags and holding up banners.
But, this is a little bit different. The people are expecting not just any royalty, they are expecting the Messiah- The long awaited king that would bring about a golden age for Israel. He is a king that is backed by God Himself. For an oppressed people under the boot of the occupying Roman forces and guided by corrupt leadership, this is beyond exciting. This is salvation. The people are so excited they take off their cloaks and spread them along the ground as a sign of loyalty and dedication (2 Kings 9:13). They also waved palm branches and placed them on the ground to welcome him into the city with the equivalent of a red carpet (1 Mac 13:51; 2 Mac 10:7).  They shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”. The word “Hosanna” comes from the Hebrew of Psalm 118:25- “Save us, we pray…”. In Jesus’ day it had become a shout of joy and adoration.  
This parade is also a bit different because instead of riding in a bullet-proof limousine, this king is riding a Vespa. You would expect a king to ride a war horse, but this king rides a donkey. It is a sign that this is a humble king. But this is also how Solomon, the son of David, rode to where he would be anointed king (1 Kings 1:32-40). Jesus riding the donkey was also a way of referring to Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey…”. Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem and the Temple as the long awaited messianic king- the son of David- the Saviour.
We begin today with celebration. We sing joyful songs. Like the crowds we read about in our Gospel, we wave palm branches as we welcome our King.  … But then suddenly we get to the Gospel reading and we feel like we have been tricked. We come for a party and we suddenly find ourselves at a funeral. The crowds that welcomed Jesus as their king suddenly turn on him. Their shouts of “Hosanna” turn into shouts of “crucify”. ...  We find ourselves in the lamp lit room as Jesus’ feet are anointed with perfume. We peak around the corner watching Judas make a backroom deal to betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies. We sit around the table as they celebrate the Passover meal where he declares the bread to be his body and the wine to be his blood. We watch Peter deny him as the rooster crows. We hear Jesus pray his unanswered prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before he is arrested. We peer in the window as Jesus stands before the council as they manufacture a case against him worthy of death. And we watch him handed over to Pilate and the Roman Empire.  Our shouts of “Hosanna” suddenly imply shouts of “Crucify”, for we are the crowd.  He is killed on a brutal cross, and we see ourselves as the crowd shouting for his death, or as disciples that have abandoned him. Today is all of holy week summed up in one day. During the services of Holy Week we follow Jesus as he inches closer and closer to the cross, but today we see it all at once.     
It seems possible that the crowds turned on Jesus because he didn’t meet their expectations of the messiah. They wanted a king and a conqueror, but they wanted a human king like David. They wanted him to lead an army and take their land back from the Roman Empire. The social elite were threatened by Jesus and started a smear campaign against him.  It’s possible that Judas turned on him because he wasn’t who he thought he was either. Jesus wouldn’t fit into their expectations.
We often try to fit Jesus into a box we are comfortable with.  I had a friend who was pretty critical of the church and Christians, but he seemed to like Jesus so I asked him once what he thought Jesus was like. He replied that he thought he was a good guy, not judgmental, pretty down to earth, humble, normal, decent, polite, nice, appalled at religion, and easy to talk to. My friend, for the most part, was describing himself.  We all have a natural tendency to want to emphasize the parts of Jesus we like and de-emphasize the parts we don’t like.  When we do this what we are doing is re-creating Jesus in our own image, and that is a false Jesus. If he truly is going to be “Lord” of our life, then we will be matching our lives to him and his standards, not making him match our lives and our standards.  We have a particularly strong tendency to do this because we live in an individualistic and consumerist society so we are used to having things our way.  If Jesus doesn’t fit our expectations, we will be tempted to reject him, or raise up a false Jesus more to our liking, but one without life- a straw Jesus.              
            C.S. Lewis once said that when he was a child he would have a toothache. But, he wouldn’t want to tell his mother. All he really wanted was a Tylenol to alleviate the pain, but he knew that if he told his mother he had a toothache, she would bring him to the dentist. He just wanted the pain to go away, but the dentist would drill into his tooth to fix it. Not only that, but he would poke around in his mouth to look at teeth that weren’t even bothering him yet. 
            For Lewis, God is like the dentist. We want parts of God, but not other parts. We might turn to God because we want Him to deal with our loneliness, or sadness, cowardice, bad temper, or addiction. He will likely cure it, but he won’t stop there. He will start poking around and start fixing other bits, even if you don’t think it’s broken and don’t really want it fixed. You can resist him, of course, but if you don’t he is going to complete the job he started. He wants to make you into something new. There is a cost to becoming Christian- It has to change you. The Messiah is coming to fix the world, but he will fix you along with it. Jesus presents himself to us. He may not be exactly what we think we want or expect, but Jesus gives us what we actually need.   

Our Messiah is humble enough to allow us to accept him or deny him. He won’t force himself on us. He will present himself to us, and we are free to accept him or deny him. We can welcome him as king, or crucify him as a fraud. God was willing to gently ride a donkey and ask for our acceptance, not command it. Jesus teaches us the depth of God’s love for us by allowing us to kill him on a cross. He was so gentle that he even allowed us to reject him, and crucify him. And even after all that, he wouldn’t let it stop him. He will not give up on us. He used even our rejection of him, his own crucifixion, to show the unbelievable depth of his love for us.  We would love to forget about Good Friday- it’s not a part of the story that feels nice, but if we are going to accept Jesus we need to walk into Good Friday with him as well.  


  1. The crowd that accompanied Jesus as they approached Jerusalem was celebrating this king (who they expected to take over Jerusalem). Usually we picture a triumphal entry of Jerusalem welcoming him as well. But in Mt. 21:10-11 the celebration stopped at the gates of the city. When Jesus actually entered Jerusalem, the whole city was "stirred" ("shaken," as in an earthquake, the same word used in Mt. 2:3 when King Herod and all Jerusalem heard the news of the wise men about a new king being born). In contrast to the crowd that came from outside the city, Jerusalem confronted them with a question: "Who is this?" (21:10). And now an intimidated crowd answered: "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee."

    So the resistance later in the week in Jerusalem began even when Jesus entered on Palm Sunday.

    1. Thank you for the reply.
      I guess I have a hard time imagining such a stark difference between the crowd leading up to (and entering) Jerusalem and the crowd in Jerusalem itself.
      Based on my reading it seems like there was some level of usual welcome for pilgrims coming into the city for Passover. There was likely a ritualized welcome and standard greeting for the coming pilgrims. Jesus' presence arriving on the donkey would have likely reved up the intensity, which would have caused some in the city to ask questions.
      To me it seems that there was a mixed crowd. There were many who were welcoming him, but some who still weren't sure what was going on and started asking questions. I agree with you that there were also some that were not so happy to see Jesus arrive in the city. So the city was shaken because what was happening was intense and important. Jesus arrives with a crowd of supporters who believe he is the Messiah, but he is now in close proximity to his enemies who want to kill him. This, mixed with the intensity of Passover made for a powder keg ready to explode.

      as you referenced, the Greek word is related to the word for earthquake (seismos). It is also used when Jesus calms the storm (Mat 8), and at the resurrection (Matt 27), for example. Matthew usually talks about "shaking" when something important is happening.


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