Palm Sunday

March 25, 2018

Summary

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “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!” (Mark 11:9,10 ESV)

I was surprised to read this week that yesterday – the Saturday before Palm Sunday – is called ‘Lazarus Saturday’. This just shows for starters that I’m not steeped at all in Eastern Orthodoxy! I had not heard before that yesterday had that name. Of course on hearing it, I nodded, it makes sense. It provides a context of the triumphal procession into Jerusalem. Matthew records Jesus healing two blind men (Matthew 20:29-34), Mark records the healing of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Luke records Jesus teaching the parable the ten minas – there’s a nobleman who goes to another country to receive a kingdom and he gives a mina each to ten servants to do business with while he’s away and on his return he wants to know how they’ve done (Luke 19:11-27), and John records the plot to kill Lazarus whose return to life was causing many Jews to believe in Jesus (John 12:9-11).

Whoever Jesus is – and it is hard to find a description that seems to fit – in fact it might be said that Jesus defies description – rabbi, miracle worker, Pharisee, Son of David – even the crowd in the procession don’t precisely name Jesus but rather link Jesus to God – ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ – and yes, Jesus is bringing about a new kingdom – finally – the Davidic Kingdom is being restored or restarted or coming again – ‘blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ – but whoever Jesus is – and labelling him is the key thing – he definitely has power or access to it – and the crowds are getting excited. Why?

They say why! Hosanna! Save us! Help us! Rescue us!

But ‘Hosanna’ also has a large dose of confidence and praise and adoration because you know that the one to whom you’re calling out for help has the power to do so. This is not a cry in the dark for help hoping someone will hear you. This is an appeal to someone who can help because he has the power to do so – he can heal, he can teach and judge – reward and punish, and he can even raise the dead. There is a confidence here – that help is at hand. And in their hands were leaves and branches – the palm leaf being one associated with liberation and cleansing and possibly recalling the Maccabean revolt against the oppressive Seleucids and the Maccabean cleansing of the temple in the 2nd century BC. And surely it isn’t too big of a jump for people to think that here is someone coming in the name of the Lord, linked to the kingdom of David, and so it is God himself finally doing another or second exodus – a rescue, a liberation? Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna from the highest!

Make no mistake. This procession and excitement is all about power. They all – we all – want help when things are tough and none more so then when we are dealing with health issues the outcome of which when help doesn’t come is death. We don’t want pain, frailty, darkness, humiliation, suffering on any level. Of course we can and do cope in such times but just stop for a moment and consider how you would feel – if hypothetically I had the power to restore you to full health – not magic reversal of aging – no, we’re still getting old – but if I had the power to make you – and keep you – the healthiest and fittest you can ever be with no aches and pains, cancers or strokes, bad backs or bad hearts, no dementia – and I – do – not – heal you, help you! How do you feel? Even momentarily? I wonder …

My guess is that there will be anything from furrowed brows to frustration to fury. You see, there are two issues with power – any power – and that is that it exists and more importantly how it is used. We’d prefer to have power over our lives and make things how we want them to be but when that can’t happen then we look for the powerful to use their power for us. Ok, so we’re not God – that can become evident – and if we’re not atheists – because that’s one response – there is no God if we’re
not God – but if there is a god then we want him to use his power for us – on our terms, as we want. This Jesus is powerful if he is anything and so use your power, man, to … and in this case make us powerful as a nation. The crowd claims this as a right – we are sons of David too – David is our father also – so since you’re also linked to David, you must help us because we are family. It is our right!

What do you do and think when the powerful don’t use their power as you would want them to?

The people outside Jerusalem are clamouring for Jesus and his power and his help. The people inside Jerusalem – the powerful elite – those who manage the power already in Jerusalem – will oppose Jesus and his power – they don’t want his help because, as they see it, it will destroy everything.

Mark records an anticlimax at the end of this day and the procession. ‘And [Jesus] entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve’ (Mark 11:11). Jesus goes into the temple precincts and looks around – a term used in Mark that often has the context of looking in anger or reprimand – but then he leaves. He will return and the power stakes will rise and accelerate – words and actions, moves and counter moves all in an increasing tension. You see Jerusalem is starting to fight for its survival and will act stronger and stronger – Jerusalem will even call in Rome to help – but make no mistake, Jesus is getting stronger and stronger too! And he is also fighting for Jerusalem’s survival and not just Jerusalem but also Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the Earth! His words are true and decisive, his power remains evident (consider the fig tree), and he remains in control – the King among his people battling the forces that have captured them. That is what this procession is about – power – kingship – and conflict battling the enemies that enslave – sin, death, fear, and also us who are both victims and perpetrators of the misuse of power.

Christianity itself in its history – and some denominations still push this – has sided with power on our terms, believing that we know what is the right thing to do. But that’s the whole point in Christianity – God turns everything on its head and says that the powerful don’t get served but rather serve. Jesus entered Jerusalem with the big picture known. Yes, he is the King coming to his coronation and battling all the strong men who would oppose him and he will do this by defeating death’s power – pulling the ultimate counter attack by dying and breaking sin and death’s hold over him and those who are linked to him.

It means that this God knows what he is doing. Jesus is powerful in ways we cannot conceive, and he uses his power – yes he does! – he uses his power greatly to save and rescue us in his humanity by dying for us. (There’s more to this story!) But for today we contemplate this Jesus, this King, this procession and where it is heading and we cry out in praise – not so much that Jesus is powerful – even though he is; not so much that he is our King – even though he is that and more – he is God! Rather we cry out in praise because this King, this procession and where it is heading, this Jesus is good – he is good to us – and that means he can be trusted – he actually can – even if – even when! – especially when we just don’t understand what is happening in life. This good King teaches us through words, water, bread and wine to be careful of power – not to be afraid of it and not use it if you have it – but rather to use it only to serve others.

That’s how God uses his power and in Jesus Christ, this King, we discover that this God is good and can be trusted.

Bible References

  • Mark 11:9 - 10
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