We know that, for centuries, the people of Israel had been under foreign rulers. But they’d never stopped hoping. At each point of their history there’s this drumbeat of expectation – that one day, God would send a Messiah – a Christos (anointed one) – who would be their Yashua (Saviour) to win their freedom!
While still one nation (around 1000 BCE) we see this longing expressed, e.g. through Psalms of David – as they prayed for a ‘One who would vindicate the afflicted and bring deliverance to Gods people – not only a king but an everlasting Priest…’[i] After they split in two (around 930 BCE) prophets Elijah, Elisha, Jonah spoke in the same way to the North before they fell to the Assyrians (in 720 BCE). While, in the south prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah spoke to the pp of Judah until it too fell in 587 BCE. 5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jer.23:5) …and so the longing continued! During their 70 years of exile in Babylon, Daniel spoke to them of a vision he had: I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Dan.7:13,14)
Their hope was that in God’s good timing there would come a ONE who would finally get rid of all that oppressed them, and they would be free – ESPECIALLY POLITICALLY FREE!
Once they were allowed to return to their land under Persian authority Zechariah continued, stressing that it would be soon now! “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 a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9)
That Messianic hope and expectation is the KEY for understanding today’s text.
Jesus and the disciples had walked all the way from up north in Galilee. But for just these last two miles He wanted to ride into the city on a young donkey ‘The foal of an ass’. Jesus wanted the people of Jerusalem to recognize that here at last was their long awaited Messiah! The One who was to be bringing them their long-awaited freedom! Later, we know that Jesus[ii] specifically identified himself as the fulfilment of all those earlier OT prophecies – where after his resurrection he eats with those two strangers on the Emmaus Rd: “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! …And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets…. They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he …explained the Scriptures to us?”
And so, as he rode into the city on that first Palm Sunday, could this be the Messiah? The people celebrated by spreading their cloaks on the road and praising God in loud voices SANNA SANININA! SANNA SAN-A-NINA! ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Jesus was coming into a world that was singing His praises! We must notice how, in just a week: the same people here shouting ‘HOSANNA’ would soon be yelling CRUCIFY!!!
If you were there that Palm Sunday, I wonder who you would have been? With whom do we most identify in this text on this Palm Sunday?
There’s the crowd who were clearly welcoming Jesus as their liberator from political oppression. ‘Hosanna’ meaning “save us!” It was apparently common to spread garments in the path of princes and kings, especially at their coronation. Those people were cheering because they thought Jesus had come to destroy the tyranny of the Romans who ruled them. They were welcoming Jesus as they would any political liberator. They turned against him when they discovered he was not about political revolution so much as spiritual renewal. …not riots as righteous living. Could that be us? Are we that fickle: faithful on our terms but murderous when our expectations, hopes, theology is challenged? You bet that’s us/ the worst of us…
And then there’s the reaction of the Pharisees. The religious conservatives of their time who believed it was their God-given responsibility to keep the faith of their fathers – down to the letter. They were certainly aware of the HUGE implications of Jesus’ entry on a donkey and so they were obviously hugely unnerved. Given the highly charged atmosphere of thousands of pilgrims pouring into Jerusalem for the annual festival of the Passover, they knew the risk of Jesus doing such an intentionally conspicuous act! They had probably worked out an arrangement with the powers of Imperial Rome. They did not need irreligious fanatics like this rabble-rousing Nazarene to disrupt the fragile alliance that they had so carefully constructed.
Palm Sunday does not exist in isolation: …we are at the beginning of Holy Week, when we remember Christ’s passion, death & resurrection- this one week that changed the world.
Our limited agendas are not the issue! No longer are we to understand our grasping at self-serving, fear-driven power to form the essence of who we are! It’s Christ’s cross and empty tomb that empowers the release of ego and our embrace of resurrection New Life. It’s a letting go, and a rediscovery, taking up. But for today, this scripture draws us back to that first Palm Sunday event, or rather, it brings the event of that first Palm Sunday right here into where we are!
And so – during this time of Covid-19 challenge – with a world reeling at the effects of a hugely unpredictable global pandemic – a world where there is just so much uncertainty and fear, a world where we are all being utterly shaken and reset, somehow…
ASIDE: You know the power of a hard reboot – when so much of our IT world’s problems are solved by a simple unplugging of our devices, perhaps even the removal of the battery for 10 seconds – a hard restart…?It feels like that’s what’s happening…
By embracing our vulnerability and sharing actual care for one another it seems we are becoming SO more in touch with what matters most – and SO more alive than we could ever be by blindly continuing our lives of reactive domination and bullying. Jesus Christ’s agenda is always about our self-emptying service and care for the other: it’s who he is & it’s what he does, in us, for us, for others through us. And it’s what resurrects our lives as we follow in his way…
And so I ask again: Just who are you in this Palm Sunday narrative? With whom do you most often, mostly identify?
- …perhaps it is part of that loud, fickle crowd: noisily praising Christ just before screaming for his death when He doesn’t quite fit our agenda?
- …or among those politically hyper-sensitive Pharisees: Much more concerned with preserving religious and social agendas & status… Maintaining the status quo… Not rocking the boat… than noticing & embracing Christ’s poured-out truth!
My guess is that we are at least each of those at different times. Thank God, that in Christ, as on that Palm Sunday, we are met right where we are, and if we allow, He still impacts us and uses us to make God’s difference.
Thank You Dear God, that Palm Sunday Christ comes even now into the messy, complicated, often conflicted Jerusalem of our lives – even with all of our own mixed up agendas – You still do make your difference known. Thank you for all the best of humanity which is being drawn from the pain of this global pandemic.
Joining with people of many faith traditions we pray the prayer of solidarity as led by Jewish Rabbi Reuven Bulka & Episcopal Archbishop Terrence Prendergast:
We gather together separated by life-saving distancing, but united more than ever in spirit;
We know we are in a war against COVID – 19 together, and the more together we are, the better and stronger we will emerge:
We know the challenges are enormous, yet so are the opportunities;
That whether we are in isolation with loved ones, or alone, we will have abundance of time;
We commit to using that time to the max, to help those in greater need in whatever way we can;
We know we all have the opportunity, and time, to be life savers and life enhancers;
We give thanks for those who are on the front line taking care of those who are not well;
We give thanks for the researchers who are working at breakneck speed to find cure and vaccine;
We give thanks for our leaders, federal, provincial and local, for their dedication to all of us;
We give thanks for the providers of our daily needs who go to work in spite of the risk;
We give thanks for those who have ramped up their ability to produce life-saving supplies.
We pray for the well-being of all our life savers; For those who are not well, that they recover fully;
For those enduring difficulty, that they may overcome their challenges.
We pray that a cure and vaccine will soon be available,
And that we all – family, friends, all Canadians, the entire world may be healed in body and spirit.
We ask you, O God, to bless our leaders, our front line care givers, our life savers and life enhancers.
We ask you, O God, to bless Canada, to bless the world, to bless everyone.
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] For example Psalm 2:7; Psalm 72; Psalm 110
[ii] Luke 24