Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:54
Truly this man was the Son of God.
Palm Sunday can sometimes feel overlooked, overshadowed by the Gospel set for the day. We seem to rush from “Hosanna” to “crucify him” with rather undue haste, all in the space of less than a morning. “Sometimes they strew his way and his sweet praises sing, resounding all the day hosannas to their king. Then crucify is all their breath and for his death they thirst and cry.” In the words of the beautiful hymn. And then the next verse states the question of the century, Pilate’s question: “Why, what hath my Lord done?” What hath my Lord done? And we have to remember that those very people who are shouting and cheering at the man on the donkey coming to claim Jerusalem, are the same ones who bay for his blood barely a week later: within 5 days they go from adulation and worship, to murderous mob, of whom Pilate is so afraid he gives up Jesus to be crucified.
It is easy to condemn the crowd. To see them as particularly fickle, guilty. We’d never be like that, would we! Would we? What made these people change? Well, manipulation for one thing. Crowds can be easily manipulated, and the cries of hosanna can quickly be transformed into something else by clever, or popular words. Just look at the way the case against him is fabricated by challenging those things the people held dear: the temple, their beliefs. Jesus is accused of striking at the heart of everything they held dear. And then is mocked: who wants to praise someone who is declared a clown or a fraud. And we can be manipulated too, by popular thoughts and words, by only being given half the information on which to make a judgement. By being told lies instead of truth by those we should be able to trust. That crowd could quite easily have been us.
And that is why it is important to walk from the gates of Jerusalem waving our palms, through Holy Week – the cleansing of the temple, the discussions with the Pharisees, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the trials and crucifixion. Because Palm Sunday is not the end, it is only part of the journey to beyond the end. Palm Sunday is only part of the truth of Jesus. And if the crowd had thought, had really looked at the Messiah riding in under their banners and palm branches, they would have seen the truth of who Jesus is. They would have seen the truth of what power and glory really is. The Messiah entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Not on a war horse with an army, but on a donkey supported by a rag tag bunch of fishermen, tax collectors and assorted women. And yet his words of peace, of God’s love for all, his demands for justice reaching to those at the bottom of society, to the forgotten, the “underserving”, the lowly, are precisely where true hope and life can be found. It is living with us, being one of us, in all our humanity, in all the highs and lows of human life, in the gutter with the down and out, in the palace with those who claim power and glory, and with the ordinary in their homes and lives, this is where we find the Son of God. Teaching us to love one another: love your neighbour as yourself, tend the sheep, those in need: visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, protect the alien/asylum seeker, reach out a hand to those society shuns. And it is this message of a power that lives among us, a glory shown in love for all people, that threatens the ones who think they have the power, the glory. They fear sharing power, diminishing their glory. Just as we can fear sharing our positions of power, of status.
Jesus enters today on a donkey, and asks us to open our eyes to his message of hope and love to all, for all. That all are worthy of love, of justice, of an equal sharing of God’s gifts. That God’s love cannot be hoarded, but needs, demands, to be shared amongst all, spread out into the world, through acts of kindness, love and advocacy for those who cannot speak, who are kept silent. “Why what hath my lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run he gave the blind their sight.”
However, we can get stuck on the first few lines of the hymn: “My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me.” And yes, that love is shown to us. But not just to us: “Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.” And it is the sharing of that love with the loveless that proves the challenge, both then and now. The challenge to the status quo, to the value, worth, we place on ourselves compared with the value, worth, in which we see others. Jesus valued all, saw all as worthy, and came that all may have life in all its fullness. All. The love on the cross cannot be contained, it cannot be claimed for one group, one person, just for “me”. It is a love seen in the cross itself: he opened wide his arms for us on the cross. For us. For all.
So how are we to respond? How will we respond? Will we walk with Christ the way of the cross, to the foot of Golgotha? And wait for the outpouring of love? And watch for hope that morning brings? Will we stand and open our hearts to the love that pours from his head, his hands, his feet: the sorrow and love that flow mingling down. And respond with love to God, to our neighbour, to all God’s people, all people? Will we join the song of love unknown?
Reverend Jackie Sellin