Keith’s reflection for Palm Sunday

Mark 11: 9, “The people in front and those following behind began to shout, “Praise God!  God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord!  God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father!  Praise God!”

It was all prearranged of course; Jesus had told his friends exactly where they would find the donkey.  The procession might have seemed spontaneous – the way the pilgrims going the same way up to Jerusalem for the festival started cheering.  But Jesus knew his actions would fill them with wild hope.  They were, after all, his fellow countrymen from Galilee where he had healed and taught and made all kinds of marvelous things happen for the last three years.  The whole thing was clearly well planned, as you would expect with Jesus.

Jesus deliberately arranged for a trusted friend to lend him this young donkey.  Then, daringly, he mounted it and rode the last two miles via the Mount of Olives, and up in to the centre of the city.  To the excited crowd he was clearly proclaiming himself Messiah by acting out the prophesy of Zechariah: “Look, your King is coming to you, riding on an ass!”  They had been wondering whether he was the Champion they were longing for, and this set them alight!  They broke branches off the palm trees lining the road and waved them as they sang what we know as Psalm 118:

“The Lord is my strength and song and has become my salvation.  This is the Day of the Lord’s victory.  May God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  His love is eternal.  Hosanna!”

Last Sunday we all saw the way the peaceful demonstration in Bristol turned ugly, with so many policemen injured by a rent-a-mob bent on violence, and challenge to authority.  The authorities in Jerusalem must have similarly viewed Jesus’ procession as highly provocative and politically dangerous.  Passover was always a time when the Holy City became a tinder-box.  The Romans always reinforced their troops in the city then, to deal with civil disorder and incipient rebellion.  The influx of Jews there was highly likely to include more zealots with knives up their sleeves, ready to stab anyone they saw as a collaborator, and to start a riot against the authorities, keen to put a Jewish champion, their Messiah, in power.  Why didn’t Jesus’ demonstrators turn ugly?  Was it a healthy fear of all those Roman short-swords?  Or, was it the supreme character of Jesus?  I think it must have been the effect of his public influence over the last three years – and the donkey.

Jesus had the world at his feet that day.  He came in real power.  Throughout all this excitement Jesus stayed in control.  Deliberately he was entering the nation’s capital in popularity and power.  Clearly, he was proclaiming himself their Holy King, God’s promised deliverer acting as the prophets had foretold.  He was Man of the Moment.  He was Top Celebrity, riding on the crest of a great wave of public support and expectation.

But then, he blew his chance!  Whoever heard of a King riding in a procession on a little donkey?  What an image!  He should have chosen a majestic war horse.  It was really rather a ridiculous sight.  His dangling feet almost touched the ground either side. Bit by bit it dawned on them that he was throwing his power away.  Was the donkey a joke?  Was he really laughing at their dreams and hopes about having a King of their own?

Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day, deliberately choosing to become weak.  He knew he was riding to his death.  He rode into the Lion’s Den of his enemies.  Even while the crowd was going wild, he knew the awful truth, too awful for anyone else to face.  No one else could see that deep, not even his disciples.  He was coming to die – for them then, and for us now.

A mother will rush back into a burning house to rescue her children.  But God showed his love to you and me by dying for us while we were still his enemies, full of the sin and self-centredness that gives him so much pain. 

To rescue us and restore us, he chose to become helpless, and there is no more helpless experience anyone can go through than dying.  We cannot see beyond death.  We naturally avoid it as long as we can.  But Jesus knew it was the only way to carry out the work God his Heavenly Father had chosen him to do.  He had to give up all power and put himself helplessly into the hands of God.

That was the demonstration of being a real king.  Only he had faith to believe that his Father alone must bring about that peace.  But his Father could do that, only if Jesus chose to give up everything, even life itself.  Even he shrank from that awful, agonizing truth in the Garden of Gethsemane.  No wonder his closest followers were bewildered.  It was only afterwards that they saw that this was the only way for good to triumph over evil.

Are we traveling the same way as Jesus, this Palm Sunday?  Can we see God’s power at work, even though it seems silly and weak to others?  Let us see Jesus riding in with new eyes!  If we truly want him to triumph over the deep-rooted evil that has spread its tentacles through the world we live in today, we must use the same strategy.  We have to let his humility and courage, and trust in God’s loving power take full control of our lives.  Let him ride into your life as King – and bring you into his all-conquering Peace that lasts forever.

Amen

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