Revd Richard Reade
Revd Anne Phillips
This year on 25th March, we celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Following recent tradition, on that day the story of Jesus´ entry into Jerusalem is read, palm crosses are blessed before being processed out of the church and into the world (Snow & heavy showers permitting!) and a dramatized account of Our Lord´s Passion is read. Depending on your point of view, it´s either a positive or a negative that no sermon is preached that morning. It does, however, present me with the opportunity to share a few reflections on the Palm Sunday story.
What is notable throughout the story is how much Jesus is in control of events. He chooses the moment to head to Jerusalem and isn´t forced by any outside forces. Reading between the lines, this was a well-planned and organised journey shown in the way that there was already a donkey prepared for Him to ride, obtained by saying the right password. It´s also seen further on in the Holy Week story when Jesus tells His disciples the signs to look out for in order to find the place where He would celebrate the Passover.
Jesus not only chose the timing of His arrival in Jerusalem in order to coincide with preparations for the Passover Festival, but He also chose the manner in which He was to arrive and its symbolic value. Jesus deliberately modelled the imagery associated with the prophecies of Zechariah 9:9 ["Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass."] and Isaiah 62:11 ["Behold your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him."]. In this way, Jesus overturned any expectation of the Messiah arriving at the head of a mighty army to throw out the occupying Roman authority. Jesus concept of being Messiah was based round a message of love, peace and inclusion, reminding those on the edges of their value in the eyes of God.
We are reminded, as we tread the path towards the Cross, of how easy it is for popular opinion to be swayed and distorted by those with power. One day the crowds are cheering ´Hosanna!´, a few days later they call out ´Crucify him!´. Jesus was challenging the religious authorities in the heart of the Holy City. Nothing was set in stone. Those who opposed Him and sought to get rid of Him were free to change their minds and alter their path. God doesn´t force human beings to do His will, for God respects our free will and that humanity is created in the Divine image.
Jesus, by taking the ´fight´ to the Temple, was challenging the religious authorities to accept His teachings and follow Him, or to reject Him and draw judgement on themselves. Palm Sunday is a key moment in the story of salvation history − we know how the story proceeded, but it didn´t have to go that way. As we reach Holy Week once more, let us take time to reflect on the immensity of God´s love for Creation, that God was prepared to submit to the worst humanity could inflict, in order to reveal the depths of love. How would we have felt if we had been in that crowd on Palm Sunday and would we have reacted any differently as part of the Good Friday crowd?