Palm Sunday

 

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
                   sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Isaiah 50.4-9a

     The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
         to know the word that sustains the weary.
     He wakens me morning by morning,
         wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
     The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
         and I have not been rebellious;
         I have not drawn back.
     I offered my back to those who beat me,
         my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
     I did not hide my face
         from mocking and spitting.
     Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
         I will not be disgraced.
     Therefore have I set my face like flint,
         and I know I will not be put to shame.
     He who vindicates me is near.
         Who then will bring charges against me?
         Let us face each other!
     Who is my accuser?
         Let him confront me!
     It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
         Who is he who will condemn me?

Philippians 2.5-11

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

     Who, being in very nature God,
         did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
     but made himself nothing,
         taking the very nature of a servant,
         being made in human likeness.
     And being found in appearance as a man,
         he humbled himself
         and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
     Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
         and gave him the name that is above every name,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
         in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
         to the glory of God the Father.

 

Mark 11.1-11

 

As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just 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 doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Reflection for Palm Sunday by Rodney Fox

 

Today, Palm Sunday, is probably the most enigmatic day in the Christian year because this morning we remember how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed and cheered by the crowd, who greeted him with joy, waving branches of palm and celebrating him as a leader, even perhaps as a king.  And yet, of course, we know that later in the week that same crowd will turn on him and demand his death, that one of his chosen followers will betray him, and that the rest will run away and leave him to face torture and death alone.  So, let us transport ourselves back in time and try to understand how and why that happened.

 

Although Jesus had several times over the previous days tried to tell his followers what was about to happen and how, like a seed, he would have to die in order that new life could be born, it was a big message to tell and to receive.  The gospels make it clear that those who heard what he said really didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  It is probable that they were still thinking that Jesus was going to usher in a new earthly kingdom.  It seems daft to us who look back with the benefit of hindsight and know that the kingdom that Jesus would institute wasn’t an earthly kingdom at all but something much more significant – a world-wide and inter-generational kingdom of people, like us, who accept Jesus as their Lord and the inspiration for their lives now and in the world to come.  But for those who lived under the rule of the Roman army of occupation, the idea of an inspirational leader who might head an uprising to eject the Romans and restore Israel’s sovereignty over its own affairs was something that they had been dreaming of all their lives.  Which wasn’t so potty after all – but it was a million miles from what Jesus was trying to talk to them about.

 

I guess that the question that bothers us as we look back on those events, is why did Jesus allow people, especially his closest disciples, to believe mistakenly that he might be going to lead a rebellion against the Roman army of occupation?  Why didn’t he make it clearer that the new kingdom that he had come to usher in was one built on love, and sacrifice, and service, not one built on armed rebellion – a spiritual kingdom rather than an earthly one, founded in a willing acceptance of the rule of God and not on the enforced acceptance of a human ruler? 

 

There can be no doubt that if Jesus, great teacher and communicator that he was, had been determined that the disciples should understand exactly what was going to happen before it actually did, he would have found ways of getting his message across to them.  So, we must assume that he deliberately allowed misunderstanding about the nature of his mission to persist, telling them just enough for them to be able to make sense of things after they happened but not enough for them to understand fully what he was about to do beforehand.  Maybe it was because he didn’t want them to try to prevent him from suffering what he knew that he would have to – or maybe it was because he wanted them to discover and understand for themselves the contrast between the sort of Messiah that the people were expecting and the sort that he was determined to be.  

 

For Jesus, Palm Sunday recalls the moment when he finally committed himself to go to Jerusalem and face the cost of what he had come to do.  After this there could be no turning back, no other strategies to be considered.  For the disciples, this was a moment when they believed that everything was going their way and that Jesus was riding a wave of popularity that would carry him forward to achieve the changes and the kingship that he wanted. 

 

Hardly had he arrived in Jerusalem, however, before the mood began to change.  The religious authorities were determined that Jesus was a threat that they could no longer ignore and, when Judas, one of the chosen twelve, offered to help them to arrest Jesus when he was in a quiet place away from the crowd, they seized the opportunity.  Within a few hours, Jesus had been arrested, subjected to a travesty of a trial and the authorities were demanding the death penalty.  It was apparent to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, that there was no justification for such a sentence, but the Jewish authorities managed to assemble a mob to create a scene, shouting ‘Crucify, crucify him’, in order to pressurize Pilate into agreeing to their demand.  And weak man that he was, he acceded to their wish, washed his hands of responsibility, and condemned the innocent Jesus whilst pardoning the guilty Barabbas.

 

Why did the crowd prove so fickle?  Maybe they were bribed or threatened.  Maybe they just went with the flow for a bit of fun.  Maybe they were angry and disappointed that Jesus wasn’t going to be the revolutionary leader that they had hoped for.  We know from our own times how easily the mood of the crowd at a demonstration can shift from peaceful protest to angry, ugly and threatening.  Whatever it was, the potential threat to peace, law and order caused by the crowd persuaded Pilate to cave in and give a judgement that he knew to be both cowardly and unjust and which forever after would stand as an example of a shameful betrayal of trust.   

   

As for us, today is a moment to question ourselves whether we too are part of that crowd, ready to cheer when everything seems to be going well, and as we expected and hoped, but likely to run away when things get tough and more is asked of us than we anticipated having to give.  Palm Sunday shows us how fickle and disloyal human beings can be, how steadfast Jesus was as he set his face towards Jerusalem and crucifixion – and it challenges us to ask ourselves whether we really are ready to walk the way of the cross, to go where he leads.

 

As this Holy Week unfolds and we follow the events of Jesus’s passion, may we understand and be thankful for all the benefits that his suffering and love won for us, may we recognize and be grateful for all the pains and insults that he bore so steadfastly for us, and may we re-commit ourselves to strive to know him more clearly, to love him more dearly, and to follow him more nearly.     Amen
 

Post Communion Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation:
give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

Isaiah 50.4-9a ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Mark 11.1- ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Philippians 2.5-11 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (Palm Sunday) ©  1984 General Synod of the Church of Ireland
Collect (Palm Sunday) ©  The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)