notre dame montreal


Sermon for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

This a great day which has an air of celebration about it. Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd cheer and we all shout Hosanna and wave our palms. But of course today is the day when we remember Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem to die and the events of the coming Holy Week which will take us through the journey of betrayal, denial, suffering and death.

I was surprised by the numbers of people who had gathered so quickly at Downing Street after Tony Blair was elected. It seemed like an amzing spontaneous  outpouring of public adulation, until I learned that they had in fact been arranged beforehand and put onto coaches. A trick copied from Margaret Thatcher and other leaders who wanted to give acceptance speeches to assembled crowds. There was more going on behind the scenes. 

Well in the story of Palm Sunday rest assured that Jesus does not just turn up to Jerusalem and get a spontaneous surprise crowd. There is more going on behind the scenes

So what has happened

The Pharisees are very angry and jealous because in John’s Gospel we hear that Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowds of people following Jesus has grown, so much so that the Pharisees say that
‘the whole world is following him.’
In John 12:18 we read
Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.
So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

This crowd makes its way to Jerusalem and news spreads. We are told that the great crowd that had come to Passover heard that Jesus was on his way. They were not put onto coaches but they were no doubt told where and when Jesus would arrive and they were waiting for him. It was a staged event and they took palms and went to meet him shouting hosanna. This was not a token crowd, this was a great crowd and make no mistake Jesus joins in the drama of it all. 

Jesus sets up the parade. He organises a donkey ride. No doubt there were disciples giving out the palm branches just like trade unions distributing banners at a political march. Jesus could have slipped into Jerusalem quietly in the back of a cart but he doesn’t he chooses to make a visible parade like entrance. 

Luke tells us that some of the Pharisees in the 'multitude' which had gathered told Jesus to rebuke the disciples, no doubt because they were egging everybody on. The response of Jesus was to say that if the people were silent the very stones on the ground would cry out !  In other words, 'no chance, I am making a point and you are not going to stop me.'  

The folks in Jerusalem were not strangers to great entrances into the city. The Romans did it and every year, the Roman governor of Judea would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west, specifically to be present in the city for Passover — the Jewish festival that swelled Jerusalem's population .

Can you imagine the display of imperial power with boots and horses and helmets and swords. One of the things which takes the breath awa on these events is the sound of the marching feet, the rhythmn is intimidating and so it was all designed to be. The governor would come to remind the people that Rome was in charge.  The Jews were remembering the Exodus and the defeat of the Egyptians but Rome was a different enemy and the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome; he was the Son of God. 

These military parades have a purpose

President Trump has just said that he wants a military parade. His inspiration is France’s Annual Bastille day which celebrates a turning point in the French revolution. The Pentagon says that it is exploring options for the president. They do not need to look too hard for inspiration. Military parades are very common and they are often presented as days of great celebration. But they are not an excuse for a party. They have a very serious purpose.  They are used by dictators to strike fear into civilians and enemies. By commemorating past victories they remind enemies of the power of the state and its leader.

1. North Korea regularly displays nuclear ballistic missiles and goose stepping soldiers. 'Rocket Man' as trump calles the leader states that applause is mandatory and it is to strike fear at home and abroad

2. In China it is common to the army flexing its military muscle with synchronised troops marching alongside tanks and military machines.  All of this is great political theatre but it makes a statement. In 2017 Presdient Xi Jinping joined in appearing in uniform in a militay vehicle, 90 years since the Peoples Liberation Army he appeared in uniform and it was a great way to bolster his power and guess what he has been just been confirmed as leader for another term . 

3. Russias annual victory day parade commemorates the defeat of the Nazis but it is also used to demonstrate its global ambitions. In 2017 for the first time air defence missile systems were painted in the white cammouflage colours of the arctic emphasising the country’s ambitions in oil rich regions.

Who knows why president trump wants to have a military showcase, he says he wants to thank the troops, but looking at how they are used elsewhere around the world and what leaders use them for, the plans might be more complex.

The point is this - don' think Jesus is any different.

He plans that he will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, he orchestrates the arrangements for it to be ready beforehand and there is an element of secrecy and code words to arrange the delivery of the donkey. This is every bit staged theatre as staged managed as President Xi or Kim Jong-un. So do not be surprised that the crowd around Jesus waved palms and shouted 'Hosanna'. I am sure that there were many preparations in place to make sure that they all knew what to say  'Hosanna' they cry  'Save us'

1. The shout Hosanna, ‘save us’ is taken from Psalm 118:25 sung to pilgrims who enter Jerusalem, so nothing too bad in that you might say. But this was a word used to address a king with a need  2 Sam 14:4, 2 Kings 6:26

2. Palm branches might sound fairly innocuous but read 1 Maccabees 13:51 2 Macc 10:7  14;4 and you see them as symbolic of a  victorious ruler,

3. If this does not convince you then listen to what the crowd shouts   'Blessed is the King of Israel'  - This is a political statement. This is now addressing Jesus as one who could be the answer to their nationalistic messianic hopes,

Remember in in John 6:15 after the feeding of the 5,000 we read that the crowd wanted then and there to make Jesus their king.

It is understandable that the people wanted a king who would break the rod of oppression, they were a downtrodden people, oppressed by Rome, economically beaten. They had no power over their own destiny, no future and apparently little hope and here is Jesus arriving in Jerusalem as Messiah. Just like the crowds who turn up al elections to cheer leaders who have promised change, these folks long for change. 

Jesus is now revealing himself as King. The problem is that his idea of what a king is and the crowds ideas of every different. Jesus of course does not ride a horse, no boots, no sword, no shiny shield. Jesus is rewriting the script.We are told that even the disciples did not properly realise all that was going on, but only afterwards did they 'realise' emnesthesan

John 12:16

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

It is no coincidence that this is the same word which is used to describe their  recollection and insight into the cleansing of the temple when Jesus said destroy the temple and I will rebuild it in three days (2:22)

From what we know of them elsewhere, they probably shared the nationalistic hopes of the crowd (for example, Acts 1:6).

Jesus joined in but he was doing something which people would only understand looking back. Afterwards the penny would drop. He rides the most unthreatening, most un-military mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.  But make no mistake Jesus was drawing on a rich, prophetic symbolism of the Jewish Bible in his choice of mount.  The prophet Zechariah predicted the ride of a king "on a colt, the foal of a donkey."  He would be the nonviolent king who'd "command peace to the nations."

Of course Palm Sunday is a challenge to us to be a part of this new kingdom, to be with Jesus as he rides the donkey, knowing that his kingdom is not of this world but it was a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of justice. It is great that we give out palms, but course they are palm crosses not palms branches as the crowd might have waved. Crosses because we know what is really going on unlike the crowds or even the disciples themselves. Jesus is not threatening the lives of others, he is laying down his life for us. This is God's way of showing power, to take control and defeat the evil in the world so that his children might be free.