Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Palm Sunday 2008

Year A Palm Sunday 2008

Matthew 21.1-11

What did they think they were doing?

As we hear again the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, as we imagine the crowds pressing against him, the shouts, the palm trees being stripped of leaves, cloaks laid on the ground. As we imagine the air ringing with the sound of acclamation ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. As we see this rag tag collection of ordinary people, along with prostitutes, tax-collectors, fishermen, labourers, fanatics, religious types following this odd figure seated upon a donkey, a beast of burden. As we wonder at the adulation of the crowd and the song of people we should ask ourselves – what did they think they were doing?

Jesus came into Jerusalem, we are told, on this wave of popular support. But they were an odd group to have considered taking on an occupying army, if that is indeed what they expected to do. I mean, if they were declaring Jesus king, as the inference of their words seems to do, they weren’t really equipped to deal with the Roman soliders that would be quick to put down such an insurrection.

Many seem to have been caught up in the moment. They just let things get away with them, perhaps. Wow, there’s something going on lets join in – perhaps no more thought than that, no consideration of the consequences of what would happen if the Romans took umbradge – just going with the flow, enjoying the moment, doing what everyone else is doing.

Others perhaps had a desire for change, Jerusalem was a powder keg waiting to explode. There was massive dissatisfaction with the Roman invasion, and with the puppet king Herod and with the religious authorities who seemed intent on keeping the status quo, an uneasy balance always being held, trying not to upset the apple cart and cause the Romans to undertake drastic military action.

Maybe some believed that the Jewish authorities had too much invested in the way things were, that the power of the Sanhedrin and the scribes and the pharisees was tied up with the structures Rome had imposed. There would almost certainly have been a contingent in Jerusalem as Jesus entered the city who saw the religious leaders as corrupt, concerned more with the niceties of religious observance than the true message, as they saw it, of liberation from oppression and the independence of the state of Israel, God’s chosen people.

And perhaps also there were those who believed in this strange, enigmatic, disturbing person whom they proclaimed king, the one who they believed was God’s chosen one, come to take his rightful place as part of David’s line, to declare himself king and rule over God’s people – calling them back to faithfulness and the message of truth proclaimed in scripture and through the prophets.

But still we come back to the question – what on earth did they think they were doing? What did they expect to happen after this triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Did they think they’d go along with things and see what happened, or was there some bigger picture they saw this all fitting into?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that the crowds, probably made up of very similar people, were very different just a few days later when Jesus was found outside at the judgement bench on the stone pavement – or gabbatha – and was being shown to the crowds. When Pilate asked them if they wished for Jesus to be released, they called out for a murderer, one involved in sedition and rebellion, a man called Judas Barabbas. Instead of crying out for the one they called the Son of David, they called for his death by crucifixion. And as he was led out to die he was humiliated, spat upon, laughed at and pitied in various measure by those who had proclaimed him king just a few days previous.

We can speculate as to why this change, as to what expected in the first place on that first Palm Sunday. We can consider the fickle nature of crowds, and what it is that makes men and women act with a mob mentality. We can consider the expectations and hopes and fears of those pilgrims in Jerusalem for Passover who seemed to change their opinion of Jesus so quickly from adulation to condemnation. All these questions and more come from today’s story.

But perhaps the real question comes back to us.

After this season of Lent where we have been encouraged to take time to reflect, to open ourselves to God’s vision and his light shed upon our lives, we should ask ourselves what exactly it means to us to proclaim Jesus as Lord – which is what we do here week by week as we gather in worship.

What exactly do we think we are doing here?

Why do we come to Church? Why do we call ourselves Christians? What does it mean to say that Jesus is King?

Each one of us will have our own motivations, our own history, our own reasons. Just like the crowd on that first Palm Sunday we might be here for many different reasons.

Do we do Church out of habit? Are we just drawn along with the crowd or because its what we’ve always done?

Is it because we expect something more from the Church itself? To be the upholder or moral or certain political standards? To comfort us with a sense of certainty or solidity, trustworthiness or reliability?

Is it because we see in the Church the potential for change, to bring about a new way, to bring about new life and to live and proclaim the Gospel?

Is it because we follow Jesus? Because we seek to live by his values no matter what comes, to share his good news whatever the cost?

There are many good reasons to be a part of this worshipping community, to support this Church and to be a part of many hundreds of years of tradition and history that have been a part of this life. To share in the prayers and the hymns which have made such a rich tapestry of faith over so many years. To be those who live by certain Gospel standards, of love and faith and truth and honesty and hope.

But in the end all that we do comes back to this calling to follow Christ. And to be faithful to Christ in all that we do and say and think and are.

This Holy Week may we see again our calling to be those that cry hosanna as Jesus enters our lives as king, and to remain with him through the betrayal, the pain and the suffering which he went through until we too share in his joyful resurrection. May we be those who come to share Christ. Amen.