Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Journey with Jesus (verses 1)
When I read the Gospel for today, the first thing that struck me was the travelling everyone in the story was able to do so freely. Jesus and the disciples were travelling from Jericho to Jerusalem, stopping in Bethphage with the expectation of meeting people. The large crowd that was able to gather in the streets of Jerusalem without thought, a mask or hand sanitizer!
I also remembered doing the drive from Jericho to Jerusalem on a trip to the Holy Land in 2015. Jericho is very flat but as you approach Jerusalem the terrain becomes very steep and hilly. I was in the comfort of an air conditioned mini-bus; on foot this would have been an incredibly long and steep uphill journey.
I think it is fair to say that many people are facing uphill journeys today in all aspects of life; in our families, friend groups, jobs, health, community and nation. Think for a moment about the uphill journeys you might be facing this morning. Have we asked Jesus to journey with us?
How did He Know? (verses 2&3)
I have always been intrigued how Jesus knew that the donkey would be in that place at just the exact moment it was needed. Jesus and the disciples had been travelling together and hadn’t been to Jerusalem for a while; yet Jesus knew that the donkey and colt would be there, tied up and never been ridden.
Think of something that no one knows about you. Maybe it’s a secret or habit or something happened that you are sure no one else knows about. Every moment of your life has been seen by God. He knows. There is no hiding.
Giving up the Donkey (verses 4-7)
I have also been fascinated by the donkey and colt owners. Who were they? If Jesus sent disciples ahead to the next village from Bethphage, it was likely to Bethany. Bethany means ‘the house of the poor’, it was sort of like a hospice where the sick, the poor and destitute could be cared for. It was a poor place! So, who lived there that could afford animals? No wonder the bystanders asked the disciples what they were doing!
The disciples faithfully gave the answer Jesus gave them. ‘The Lord needs them. And he will send them immediately.’ That was enough! The donkey and colt were readily handed over.
How readily do we hand over those things that the Lord asks of us? Do we drag our feet or simply refuse sometimes? These people in handing over the donkey and colt gave away something very precious to them.
The response of many people in our communities at this time is extraordinary and many donkeys are being handed over. May we continue to be so willing to hand over whatever is needed Jesus, but also our family, friends, church, neighbours and strangers alike in these coming weeks.
The Procession of the Palms (verse 8)
Jesus gets on his colt and starts the procession. This would have been a ridiculous site. Jesus was entering Jerusalem from the east side. The view from the Mount of Olives over Jerusalem is breath-taking; you stand a few hundred feet above the city, what remains of the Temple dominates the view. Below you are the Garden of Gethsemane and Kidron Valley. This was the view at the first Palm Sunday and is the same today. However, the east side was not the side of Jerusalem with any power or prestige. No king would think of entering from the east side.
A brief bit of historical research argues that two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; Jesus’ was not the only Triumphal Entry. Every year, the Roman governor of Judea (Pontius Pilate) would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west, specifically to be present in the city for Passover.
As Pilate clanged and crashed his imperial way into Jerusalem from the west, Jesus approached from the east, looking (by contrast) ragtag and absurd. His was the procession of the ridiculous, the powerless, and the explicitly vulnerable. There was no armour, brass or leather on the east side of Jerusalem. There was cloaks and palm branches – virtually worthless items spread before Jesus and his borrowed donkey.
If there was ever any question that Palm Sunday just sort of happened – Jesus has debunked that. This was a political statement by Jesus. He knew, had planned out what was to happen. It doesn’t feel very nice to wipe out the Sunday School image of a spontaneously jovial gathering coming together on the east-side of Jerusalem.
Save Us! (verses 9-10)
‘Hosanna’ means ‘save or saviour.’ It also has a sense of immediacy to it: ‘save now.’ The crowd was calling to be ‘saved in the name of the Lord’. If Jesus had been followed by the poor, the hungry and the destitute, those with nothing from the east side of Jerusalem; is all that more meaningful. Save now Jesus! Save me from my hunger, my poverty. We still make the same cry when we need God to save us. That same urgency is there.
This is a cry of salvation but also a plea for help during current difficulty. I suspect there are a lot of people crying out, pleading with God currently and with urgency to save. Save a loved one on a ventilator, save me from getting Coronavirus, save me from my loneliness, isolation, fears and anxieties.
We can take comfort and give thanks as in Psalm 118: ‘I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.’
Who is This? (verse 11)
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the city was in turmoil (remember 2 processions and a huge number of people) and people were asking ‘Who is this?’
The people in the crowd were not sure who Jesus was. Many people around us today have no idea who he is either. He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, full of mercy that endures forever. He is our salvation, our rescuer who arrives in humility into our poverty to save.
I believe that some of the people in Jerusalem recognized who Jesus was that day. Yet a week later they were calling out for his death. They got it right that one day. I want to recognize Jesus every day, be sure of my salvation every day. I need to know enduring mercy, love and goodness every day. I will have to risk some things for that – risk my doubts, risk rejection, call out Hosanna when I am in trouble.
That donkey ride cost Jesus everything that day in Jerusalem. Are we willing to risk everything for him?