Palm Sunday 2020 year A
Grace and peace to you today on Palm Sunday. I am John McCulloch the minister of St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias Church of Scotland.
Let us pray
Lord Jesus Christ,
on the first Palm Sunday
You entered Jerusalem where you were to die.
Enter our hearts we pray,
and subdue them to yourself.
And as your disciples blessed your coming
and spread garments and branches in your way,
make us ready to lay at your feet
all that we have and are,
that we too may bless your coming in the name of the Lord.
In today’s gospel reading from Matthew 21 Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the crowds line the streets pacing their garments and palm branches on the ground. Some ask the question ‘who is this?’ and in verse 11 the crowds respond ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee’.
The role of the prophet is always to call for an alternative reality to the one we see all around us. A prophet imagines that another world is possible, and then is prepared to live by that conviction, even if it leads to rejection, ridicule and death.
Jesus, both king and prophet embodies this as he enters Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. But he is not the only one entering the city at the start of Holy Week. As theologian James O Duke reminds us ‘Rome’s occupation forces and collaborators’ also enter the city, clothed in the trappings of military might and earthly power.
Jesus’ entry into our world always challenges its power and authority, and it does this, as our epistle reading from Philippians 2 reminds us, through self emptying:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus’s kingdom is established through self emptying love.
It is a kingdom founded upon humility.
It is a kingdom that shames the strong and the powerful through the weakness of the cross.
It is a kingdom where the prophet king rides into the midst of military occupation in complete non violence, to teach us a new way of being in the world.
In Psalm 118 :22 we read that The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
I don’t know where you find your self today.
Maybe you feel crushed down and rejected.
Maybe you feel alone and powerless in the face of what our world is living through.
Maybe you feel that you no longer have the strength to go on.
If you are in that place, Christ is there with you, not to remove the pain, not to magically turn everything around, but with you in the midst of your pain and unanswered questions.
It is a path he knows all too well, for when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he knew that he was heading to his death.
He knew that he would be in direct confrontation with the military empire.
He would soon know what it meant to be abandoned, alone, rejected and denied.
The crowds who welcomed him in shouting Hosanna to the son of David later that week would be shouting ‘crucify him’. Those who had placed their garments and palm branches on the ground to welcome him, had fled, rejected and denied him.
Instead of palm branches waving in the air, he would be crucified on a tree between two criminals. Instead of garments being laid on the ground, the soldiers would be casting lots to decide who would keep his garments, after he had been crucified. How rapidly things can change…
The words from Psalm 31 conjure up the suffering and abandonment that God was not exempt from. Verse 12 reads I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
God, in Jesus Christ, goes to the place of suffering and death, to bring about a great salvation. To free us from the cycles of violence and retribution, reminding us that God’s power is perfected in weakness, and his strength is measured in his out poured love.
And he calls us to take up our cross, and to follow him.
Only by following him and obeying his command, can we truly be free. Only in dying to our desires and embracing our complete dependence on him, can we find healing and grace.
In the midst of our suffering and distress, may we be able to join with the psalmist, and say
But I trust in you O Lord;
I say ‘you are my God’
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love’ (Psalm 31: 14-16)
Go in peace, into this holy week,
following in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour,
who calls us to empty ourselves of all but love.
And the blessing of God almighty, father son and Holy Spirit, be with you, and remain with you, now and forevermore