Palm Sunday 2013 talk

1 Apr

Luke 19:28-40
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you, ” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

So, it’s Palm Sunday,

or rather to the Jews in this story it is the Sunday before Passover. It is a time when they remember being saved by God from Pharaoh by the killing of the first born of those who didn’t mark their doors with the blood of a lamb.

Ok, so there’s a group of people who are looking forward to a big festival with a massive family meal in less than a week’s time.

And then this great teacher enters in on a donkey. And being good Jews they all remember the writings of the prophets, particularly Zechariah, who wrote in chapter 9 verse 9:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So they know people have been suggesting Jesus is something big and now He comes riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah said would happen with the returning king. And so what do they do?

In verse 36 it says:
As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

(Here I got a group to take a coat from a selection I had brought in and throw them down on the ground)

But this is Palm Sunday, so something is missing in this reading. The account in Luke doesn’t mention anything about palm branches. Neither do the readings in Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark do, however, mention branches being laid down. And John’s gospel names the branches as palm branches.
(I used the group who threw the coats down to wave the flags, as we didn’t have palm branches, and shout “Hosanna”)
So there we have a re-enactment of Palm Sunday. How do think everyone in Jerusalem is feeling now that Jesus has come along on a donkey?

So how did it get from all that cheering, shouting hosanna and waving to what happens on Good Friday when they all shout “Crucify”?

Well, in order to get there we need to go back a bit, about 200 years to 166 BC. It is a time of great upheaval in Israel as their recent rulers, the Greeks, have told the Jews that they have to start worshipping the Greek gods. As you can imagine, some of the Jews are not happy about this and they rebel against Greece and, under the leadership of Judas Maccabee, they win their independence. They celebrate by taking palm branches to the re dedication of the temple and they became a sign of Jewish nationalism, which also links with the thought that Judas Maccabee might be the promised saviour for the Jews. Certainly he got rid of those who were stopping them from worshipping God. So they wave their palm branches in victory.
We move a few years forwards now, about 24 AD, and we find that Israel has been conquered by Rome. And whilst they are still free to worship God, the Jews are still a rebellious bunch. In fact they get so rebellious that they deface some Roman coins, stamping a palm branch symbol over the Roman markings.

So we return now to the crowd cheering Jesus and we can now see something a bit different from how it may have seemed.
(I asked the group from earlier back up and got them to bring their palm crosses)
You see, this

is how you are supposed to hold it.

But sometimes we go from this

To this

Upside down cross

Which can look like this

And all of a sudden we see that maybe I got it right without even knowing it as a child.

(I then ask the group to hold their crosses as swords, raise them up in the air and shout “Here comes the king!”)

And when waved while cheering for a king or in victory it can sometimes look like this

Doesn’t look pretty does it!

So what we see has happened is that the Jews see Jesus riding into Jerusalem and think that they are about to kick the Romans out and be free to worship God without any interference, and we know that they are thinking purely a military saviour by the palm branches being waved and laid on the floor in front of Jesus. They are completely clueless as to God’s plans and so, when Jesus merely agitates against the Jewish leadership with his actions in the temple and His teachings that infuriate the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, they see Jesus is not the man they were expecting and, rather than seeing if God was going to do things differently to how they wanted it they reject Jesus and their cheers become jeers on Good Friday.

And why was this? Because they were more interested in their own desires than seeking God’s.

Have you read my blog over lent? If not, I have been putting a link on the Ascension Facebook page every day as I have been reading and meditating on Psalm 139. And while I was preparing for today I remembered 2 verses in the psalm that are relevant here.
Verses 17 and 24.
In verse 17 we see David telling us just how much God’s thoughts are worth. They are so precious that he cannot put a value on them. And then in verse 24 he asks that God lead him “in the way everlasting”. Or, as another translation puts it, “guide me down Your path forever”. David gives up his own desires because he values God above all others. And he asks that God help him keep to living as God desires all of us to live.

This is what the Jews had forgotten, what they were missing as Jesus entered Jerusalem. They should have been looking for what God wanted to do, not waiting to see if He would do what they wanted Him to do. And they should have been asking that God helped them to do as He wanted them to do, rather than doing what they wanted.

And the same is true for us today. It s quite interesting reading the confession today as it started by talking about when we are impatient. We should be looking to what God wants, in His time, valuing that above what we want and asking Him to help us live out that life He calls us to live. If not, our voice joins with the crowd on Good Friday that shouted “Crucify!”


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Archbishop Cranmer

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