Rev'd Richard Teal: April 2020
I live in the town of Driffield in East Yorkshire. This year at the Methodist Church where I am minister, our Palm Sunday service was going to take a different form. We were going to have a donkey. It had been booked. The Playgroup, staff and their families were going to join us. We had planned a short route for a Palm Sunday Procession. The Playgroup were going to make Palm leaves for us all the wave, and we were going to shout as we walked the word Hosanna. At the end of the Procession the donkey was going to lead us into Church where our worship would have continued. What a wonderful way to start Holy Week. People of all ages would have joined in. There would have been much noise as with any crowd and we would not have forgotten it. Indeed, the congregation were excited about it and the children were looking forward to making palm branches. This will now have to wait until next year. No donkey, no Procession, no waving of Palm branches, no shouting Hosanna, no crowd and no worship in the building, no people in the streets, quietness all around, indeed the picture could not have been different to what we had hoped for and planned for.
Well the story of Palm Sunday of Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by his disciples as the crowds gathered for the Feast of Passover, who flocked the streets to greet him and shout Hosanna, and throw Palm leaves and their cloaks on the ground, was a noisy, bustley active scene. But the meaning of that procession was not what the crowds had hoped for or longed for. They were waiting for a Warrior Messiah to overthrow the vast might of the dominating Roman Empire making them a great people and that is why they greeted Jesus in the way they did.
Normally when we think of an invasion, we tend to think of military might occupying whole countries, like Iraq invading Kuwait, Nazi Germany invading Norway, Rome invading Palestine. Indeed, history provides a litany of invasions where armies, have used their military might to subjugate and oppress a people who have no power to resist.
But the invasion of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday was different. It was a complete reversal of the violent invasions we know from history. By riding into the centre of power on his donkey, surrounded by this crowd, I think that Jesus is mocking the roman invaders and any other invaders, who cannot allow freedom of political expression or religion because for all their power they fear everything that challenges or questions their occupation.
As Jesus invaded Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, it was an ironic invasion in that it was not what they expected. Yes, indeed He is making a claim to a kind of kingly triumph, but his is a somewhat different kingdom and he is a strangely different kind of king.
The picture of Jesus on the donkey expresses the wholeness of his being. His thoughts, words, deeds and actions all come together in this act to tell the same story, and that story is the power of God's forgiving love.
If we claim to follow Jesus, the one who rode into Jerusalem on a symbolic donkey and not a war horse we must believe that love, not force, is God's mightiest weapon; that evil may seem rampant on the first Palm Sunday and it appears to increase as Holy Week moves forward, but evil is only the second strongest power in the universe. When we really believe that forgiving love and not force is God's mightiest weapon, then the sun's rays always break through the difficulties we find ourselves in and hope appears triumphant. Amen
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