Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Which procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Matthew 21.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.—Confucius

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first, I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

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Which procession will you go to? (Passion/Palm Sunday, Year B, 1 April 2012)

Which procession will you go to?

Readings
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Mark 11.1-11

 

It’s a very special day today. Of course, I’m talking about April Fool’s Day. We don’t know much about the origins of April Fool’s Day, but we all know about it. Perhaps some of you have been fooled already.

This year, Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day come together. And the way Jesus entered Jerusalem does look a little foolish, when you compare it to the other parade happening that day.

This other parade came into Jerusalem through the western gate of the city. This parade was the entrance of the governor, Pontius Pilate. He was accompanied by row upon row of armed soldiers in their leather armour. There were horses and battle standards and shiny brass. It was an impressive show.

Every time there was a major feast in the Jewish calendar, Pilate came in from the place he lived in, Caesarea Maritima, and he stayed in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. The population of Jerusalem was normally around 40 000, but there could be an extra 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. So Pilate made sure there was a show of Roman might, just to deter troublemakers.

The Gospels have nothing at all to say about this parade, the parade everyone in Jerusalem knew about. The Gospels tell of another parade that entered from the north side of the city, a ragtag affair with no weapons, no armour, nothing splendid at all. It must have looked pretty foolish. Yet while most people were coming to Jerusalem as pilgrims, Jesus was riding into the lion’s den. (For any Lord of the Rings fans, it’s like he’s riding straight into Mordor.)

So on one side of the city is glitz, glamour and naked power; on another is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t playing some April Fool trick. There’s a message, and the people would have got it.

They would remember a great hero of Israel, the warrior Simon Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem from oppression over 250 years before the days of Jesus. Listen to this account of the entry of the Jews into the city after their victory, and hear how familiar it is (1 Maccabees 13.51):

…the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

People remembered Simon proudly. He was a hero more like Robin Hood than Ned Kelly. Yet now, they had another conquering power with its foot on their throat. Rome was invincible. Here comes Jesus, mounting a counter-entry to Pilate, so they wave their palms and shout their praise. But Jesus is bringing not the way of the sword but the way of peace.

When Jesus comes the people shout,

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom
of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Soon, we shall say,

Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

These words that we say at our Communion services are taken straight from the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus is coming to town, to us, to our hearts, to stay. Something is happening here. But we know how the week ends. It ends on Friday, with a darkened sky. It ends with Jesus crying

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It seems to be a foolish dream.

Which parade would you go to? The one with the swords and the spears and the power, or the one with a man on a donkey who was riding to his death?

You know which one to go to.

 

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Passion/Palm Sunday (Year A, 17 April 2011)

Jesus: emptied of ‘all but love’

Readings
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 21.1-11

 Last week, we sang that wonderful hymn, And can it be. Recall these amazing words from verse 3:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Jesus ‘emptied himself of all but love’. As I’m saying these words, some of you will be hearing the tune in your heads.

Scholars think that the passage from Philippians we read today was originally a hymn, so the Philippians may have also heard the tune in their heads when Paul wrote these words:

Christ Jesus…emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

We have no idea of the tune today; it would sound like a kind of chant to our ears rather than a song. I’m sure it sounded nothing like the tune to And can it be, but the words certainly inspired Charles Wesley.

He left his Father’s throne above…
emptied himself of all but love…

That summarises the first half of Paul’s words very well indeed.

Paul isn’t trying to give us a stand-alone theological explication of the ‘being’ of Jesus. He has a very practical reason for speaking of the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus. Let’s look at why Paul introduces this hymn. He says,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

So the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus is a mind that has something to do with being emptied for others.

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Glory and shame

 

Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday


Matthew 21.1-11; 27.11-54

 

Remember Michael Parkinson, the Yorkshire-born retired talk show host? In his younger years, he was a cricketer, and thought about making a living playing cricket for Yorkshire—every Yorkshire lad’s dream. He was turned down, and the rest is as they say, history. Parkinson’s dad was a coal miner, and Parkie talked about his dad’s attitude to his work on TV. His dad said to him,

  “Tha’s med some right good brass in that job o’ thine, lad.”

    —“Yes, dad, I make a lot of money,” said Michael.

  “An’ yeh nivver even ’ave teh brek a sweat.”

    —“No, dad, I don’t break a drop of sweat.”

  “It’s a right grand job, int it?”

    —“Yes, thanks dad, it is.”

  “But it’s no’ a patch on playin’ fo’ Yorkshire, is it lad?”

    —“No dad, it’s not.”

I suspect that when Michael Parkinson looks at what journalists do to sports figures, he’s not sorry he didn’t became a cricketer. Take the way Andrew Symonds has been in the news that past few weeks. He used to be reminded constantly that he was born in Birmingham, England, that England A wanted him to play for them, and his loyalty to Australia was suspect. We’ve long forgotten that. More recently, he’s a good guy, defending his right not to be racially vilified; then he’s criticised for for his on-field attitude and for shouldering a streaker. 

Successful sports figures live under a media microscope. One week, they’re the public’s heroes; the next, they’re stabbed in the back.

Now, Jesus didn’t play for Yorkshire, more’s the pity. He didn’t even play for Nazareth. But he knew both adulation and rejection, he went from hero to zero, and in the space of less than a week. 

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