7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Mark 11: 7-10
Everyone knows about Palm Sunday, don’t they? In many churches, real donkeys are paraded through the streets to the church, whilst people wave various bits of vegetation. A lovely day for the children. But do many people understand what the meaning is of Palm Sunday?
Some modern scholars* consider that the events of Palm Sunday were pre-planned by Jesus, and that this is demonstrated by him sending two disciples to collect the donkey from inside the City gates. Later, as Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey from the north, Pontius Pilate is also entering Jerusalem from the west, at the head of a huge military procession, in a show of force designed to head off anticipated trouble at the Jewish Festival of Passover, which was about to be celebrated.
Jesus may have planned his entry into Jerusalem as a deliberate act of defiance, maybe even as a contemporary political demonstration. And, what is more, he wasn’t just demonstrating against the Roman authorities, but also against the Jewish High Priest and Temple authorities, who were seen as collaborators of the hated Romans. Basically, what Jesus was saying, in the true tradition of Old Testament prophets, was that God’s ways had been abandoned by the ruling elite. By choosing a donkey, he was saying that God’s way is the way of peace and justice, in contrast with the ruling elites’ and Roman ways of oppression, injustice and exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s a very modern message.
It’s perhaps a challenge to us to think of Christianity as a subversive, disruptive, seditious, or revolutionary concept, and to think of Jesus as a revolutionary leader. But what might it mean for our faith and for the international Christian Church if this was indeed one of the messages that Jesus intended?
If we say to ourselves ‘Yes, the world is full of trickery, deceit, corruption and lack of moral values, but the Church has been in decline for decades, is now regarded almost with derision by some people; so what can we possibly do to change things?’, then are we following Christ’s Palm Sunday example? What might this say about our faith?
The Palm Sunday challenge to us is to resist accepting the world as it is; to resist acquiescence; to show the world that there is a better way. Then maybe, despite our all too apparent weaknesses, we can start to work towards that moment that we ask for almost every time we pray ‘Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth’. @
And what impact might Christianity have, if people refused to accept the world as it is? One of the wonders of Christianity is that if people only understood what it was, what the ‘Kingdom of God’ actually meant, then it could become a major force for the kind of change that so many feel is necessary.
And it’s partly for that reason that I feel that it’s such a mistake to lock up the churches (a decision, incidentally, taken by the Church of England and not the Government, who only wanted services stopped). People are allowed to leave their homes to buy food, but not, apparently, to seek spiritual food at this most holy time of the year. I would far rather see the Church of England as a seditious body, arguing for a different way, in Christ’s tradition!
Heavenly Father, make us bold when the world is scared. Help us to reflect your values in the world and not just to follow the herd.
*For example, see Borg, M. and Crossan, J.D The Last Week, SPCK London, 2008
@See my two earlier blog posts from July 2019 about the values of Christianity