Thoughts on Palm Sunday 2021

Normally on this day we would be in church processing with our palm crosses. Thisyear, again we find ourselves gathering virtually. We have been through a year that none of us could have imagined – a year that has seen so much loss, grief, fear and heartbreak. But also, it is a year in which we have seen real sacrifice, love, service and commitment. We have seen communities coming together, individuals giving so much that has inspired, and, thanks to the unstinted efforts of scientists and doctors and nurses, now in a place where many of us have been vaccinated already…and where we have new sense of hope as we go forward. 

 As I have moved through Lent I, and perhaps you too, have found that many of these things that we have seen, these emotions that we and  our world have struggled with,  have been echoed and resonated in the  journey towards Holy Week and through it. 

Reading        The Poet thinks about the Donkey by Mary Oliver

Jesus chose a donkey. As Mary Oliver describes him…small, dark and obedient. Not the triumphant procession of a great warrior who had won victory. The crowds would all have been familiar with the kind of triumphant entry that the Romans and Greek used…of great crowds of soldier with a proud and commanding Emperor decked out in royal robes riding on a great stallion or in a chariot with garlands and fanfares. But Jesus comes on a donkey into Jerusalem to make public His claim to be the Messiah and King of Israel in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy found in 

 Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

 Jesus is again announcing publicly what kind of Messiah, what kind of King He truly is. Not the war hero, covered in the spoils of war, but a humble servant. No great steed but a donkey, no royal robes but the cloaks of the ordinary people, not great fanfare of trumpets but the simply, joyful, psalm-echoing cry of Hosanna, no gold and spoils of war, but palm branches of peace. 

Jesus …as Paul reminds us in the letter to the Philippians, was humble. 

                  5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
                  6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Humility-not something we often think about and yet we have seen with our own eyes how a very humble…and what would appear insignificant microbe changed the world. World leaders and governments, military powers, economic giants, commercial forces have all been humbled by a simple microbe-that has forever changed the world-

But alongside all the sadness and grief, we have also seen the humbling commitment of so many on the front line-those working in hospitals and care homes, carers, teachers, food suppliers-not grandstanding or drawing attention to themselves but simply doing to what has to be done. Offering up, just as Jesus does here, love and service for all. 

And what about all those so humble but simple acts of kindness that we have all experienced-the call from a friend, a text message, a rainbow drawn by a child in a window, a candle lit as a sign of unity, a smile from behind a mask-or the extra mile gone by the delivery man from the supermarket, the message left on the doorstop, the inspiring example of men like Captain Tom whose walk up and down his garden…such an ordinary and humble thing…led to such amazing fundraising and inspired so many. 

And perhaps what we can begin to realise afresh on this day is just what power there is in humility-power to effect change through the ordinary, the simple, day of small things. That is echoed int John’s Gospel account of Palm Sunday when the Pharisees realise that this humble man on a donkey has truly won the hearts of those who are with him.

 “You see you can do nothing…look the world has gone after him!”

 Jesus shows us that true power lies not in great and powerful acts but in true humility and gentleness. Humility that he took in becoming one of us, humility in sharing our lives, our burdens, our sins…and not in a great sweep of power but in service, love and sacrifice…all epitomised by this act of riding on a humble donkey. 

   Reading       Palm Sunday by Marie Post

Something that has also resonated for me is the feeling of vulnerability that I am sure I am not alone in. We have become so much more aware of our own mortality over these last months as we have seen so many succumb to this virus. I think that our sense of who we are in our world has been challenged. Those assumptions of security and prosperity that certainly we in the west have been accustomed to have disappeared. I hope that we learn from this a little more of the uncertainty of life- that so many in our world have been living with who have never known the security of peace in their country, never had the assurance of food on the table, clean water, home and health. We are entering into what some commentators are calling…the solidarity of the shaken. We are alike vulnerable; we are all going to die.

When I look at Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem, I find myself again asking a question that I often have pondered. How did Jesus cope, how did he live, day after day, with the knowledge of what he was having to go through in his life? This poem draws attention to all those signs of his cross were there as he journeyed on Palm Sunday. But of course, it was not just then but throughout his life he knew what his end must be. How did he cope with knowing that in order to rescue this sorry mess of humanity he would die an agonising death on a cross, totally alone, facing the onslaught of all the powers of hell and sin? Where did he find the courage…the will, to just get up and keep going? 

And the answer comes back to me…. LOVE. 

Love for you, Love for me, love for the world, for the broken, wounded creation, for all generations. Love. That was what kept him true to the purpose that God had called him to. 

And what love it is…amazing love. 

Hallelujah-Love is not a victory march, but it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. 

It was indeed a broken poured out, sacrificial love…on Good Friday. But in that garden on Easter morn that love was resurrected, stronger than ever, more powerful than any other force in heaven and on earth…a love that nothing neither death nor hell can separate us from. It is the love of God. 

Can I, can you take courage from this? Can we be inspired to follow his example of humility and -like the donkey-keep going forward one step after another in his footsteps of love? 

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