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Palm Sunday

In so many ways, this scene at the gate of Jerusalem is familiar to our modern media managed culture. The arrival of a new leader and the attendant welcome of the crowds, whether they be outside Number Ten or anywhere else, is a picture we can easily imagine. I did look up the inauguration of Barak Obama on You Tube to refresh my ideas (I needed teenage help to do that of course; they have their uses!) and there indeed are the crowds in full adulation, expectant of great things to come, especially so, for here was an outsider, the first black president coming to the seat of power. At one moment they chant “Obama, Obama, Obama” and I feel sure that if they had palm fronds they would have been waving them.

All too familiar, is the media’s habit and love of building people up and knocking them down flat. What is so distasteful about this, is that everything good that went before is forgotten; think of Nick Clegg, less than a year ago he was a fresh breeze, the man of the people, the voice of honesty, whilst now the cartoon on the front of this week’s Private Eye is at the very best disrespectful if not completely rude. Somehow they knock people down so hard and so far that they fall quite below where they ever started, so that the process resembles not so much a roller coaster but more a big dipper when after a short sharp climb there is a long and seemingly endless fall.

So here is Jesus, an outsider, from the tiny village of Nazareth (can anything good from Nazareth?) coming into Jerusalem to be hailed as a king by the crowds, who are full of anticipation about what will happen next. Jesus, though, does know what will happen next, all of it and now at the beginning of Holy week; he begins to show his foreknowledge by the instructions given to the two disciples. “Go into the next village where you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her.” He knew that they would find the animals and the disciples, at this point, fully trusted that they would be there.

Notice the trouble that Jesus takes to make his kingship and his identity clear and not just that it is so but also the nature of that kingship. A donkey is an important symbol, it is a lowly animal, a slow creature one that is easy to approach, not lofty and distant as someone sat on a horse.  There are significant biblical precedents of rulers coming on donkeys as a sign of peace but most importantly the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9) is fulfilled in every detail.

Rejoice greatly O daughter Zion
Shout aloud O daughter Jerusalem
Lo your king comes to you
Triumphant and victorious is he
Humble and riding on a donkey
On a colt the foal of a donkey.

Jesus intends his entry to leave no doubt that he is coming as the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for. During his ministry, he had given many signs, healing the blind and the lame; driving out demons and, as we heard last week, raising Lazarus and now openly and symbolically he came to Jerusalem declaring boldly who he is.

And the crowd, at that moment at least, understood all this. Their words of welcome are taken directly from Psalm 118, the very psalm used to celebrate the Passover.  Verses 25 and 26 say:

         Save us we beseech thee O Lord (save us equals Hosanna)
         Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

And the crowd’s actions come from a long tradition and a biblically quoted one of spreading cloaks before Kings.

So Jesus wanted the people to know who he is.  He seems to be saying, “See I have done all these things and now see who I am.” It is as if he is crying out to the people “Look you have one last chance to accept me”

But, as we know, they did not and, from the peak of the big dipper, we plunge into the events of Holy week that will occupy our thoughts and prayers for the coming days.

Amen

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