Saturday, 4 April 2020

Palm Sunday 2020 The crowds in Jerusalem

Jean Francois and I were together, a typically grey overcast day but in the city the excitement was high, the crowds milling around outside the pubs, in the squares people selling programmes shirts and pennants. We had travelled from Paris and now were in Cardiff on the way to  Cardiff Arms Park for a five nations match between France and Wales: naturally the Welsh, passionate about singing and Rugby were in good voice and strong in numbers for this vital game between Gallic rivals: the whole city was alive with the prospect, conversation was about nothing else, the visiting French pursued by a cloud of Gallois smoke roamed through the pedestrian precincts equipped with flasks of Calvados proud and confident in l’equippe Francaise. As kick off time approached the atmosphere got hotter: The authorities became more visible mounted on huge police horses increasing their vigilance for the least of sparks that might ignite trouble.

So it must have been in Jerusalem that day as huge crowds gathered to celebrate the Passover festival, a time when expectations of God’s deliverance always reached fever heat among the pilgrims and when resentment of the Romans was a touch paper for nationalist passion.

And into all this came Jesus, throwing off the secrecy that had shielded his early ministry Jesus came.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 who the Jews have been waiting for. During his ministry he had given many signs, healing the blind, 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.

Jesus has stepped out, now he is in the public arena as never before at the centre of the Jewish world, his time has come and he proclaims himself in his arrival at this time of heightened sensitivity, sensation, suspicion and after all hope, as the expected one setting off the adulation of the crowd :

“Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest heaven” they chant, they spread their cloaks before him laying down palm fronds, the very accolade that Roman emperors would give to victors in their games. The excitement mounts, the crowd whispers to one another that he is here, the roars increase and the authorities mounted and vigilant cannot fail to take careful note.

Of course we now know that the crowd have the wrong idea about what will happen next. They expect a sacking of the establishment, the collapse of the oppressive Roman occupiers, the overthrow of this to their eyes modern day Pharaoh and for them to be saved from the deeply felt and hated tyranny of empire. But what happens next is not an assault on the Roman garrison or their seat of power.

Jesus instead will go to the Temple, the seat of the High priests power and once there he will overturn the tables of the traders, drive out the money lenders declaring that “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.”  Jesus is the promised  Messiah but not at all as the crowds expected, he has indeed come to save them but not from the Romans but as he demonstrates by going to the very heart of religious observance. He has come to save them and all of us from ourselves.


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