Thursday, 21 July 2011

Matthew 21.1-11 [Palm Sunday 28/03/2010]

                                                                Palm Sunday 2010 – St. Alban’s
[Given on the opening and dedication of a new social area and disabled toilet facilities at the back of the church - the church itself, like many rural churches, has dwindling numbers and a small but faithful (elderly) congregation]

                                                  Matthew 21.1-11

                Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
     and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

This next week, Holy Week, is the most important week of the Christian year, and in terms of chocolaty goodness, possibly the most important for us all.  Lent seems to have dragged on and on, and I know that I have eaten far more chocolate than I intended to.  And yet in all the humiliation of the crucifixion, and all the glorification of the resurrection, it is easy to over look this first day, a day that passes us by every year, often with only a token palm cross to remind us it ever happened.

Yet the message that Palm Sunday teaches us, how it challenges us, and how it enlightens us, is just as powerful as those of the week to come.  In the reading we just had, we were retold that story we all know, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey. But that iconic image is not where the story begins, it begins on the dusty road as Jesus and his disciples head to Jerusalem.

Jesus has been heading towards Jerusalem for some time now, and has on three occasions told his disciples fairly directly that he will die there.  Jesus knows what he must do, he knows that this final journey is God’s plan, God’s plan prophesied through many prophets and cast in stone hundreds of years before he was born in Bethlehem.  Everything in the entire Old Testament had been looking forward to this moment.

And so, to fulfil the prophesy of Zechariah, Jesus, the true King; will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, on the colt of a donkey.  Indeed, King Solomon himself had ridden into Gihon on a donkey to be crowned by Zadok the Priest!  But first he must find said donkey, and to this end he sends two of his disciples to the nearby village and gives them precise instructions.  The disciples go to the village, and just as Jesus said, they find the donkey tied up and the colt. So the disciples begin to untie the donkey, when suddenly the owner comes upon the commotion and confronts them.  We may not think much of a donkey, but back then a Donkey and it’s colt could be a person’s livelihood, and here the disciples are simply taking them without asking, stealing as it were these valuable animals.  But then the disciples say that the Lord - meaning God - has need of them.  And the owner allows them to go on their way with his animals. 

 I wonder how we today would react if someone casually strode into our driveway, broke into our car and was about to drive away when they simply told us that ‘the Lord’ needed it.  Would we simply let them go, or would we shout at them and call the police?  I also wonder how we would react if we were told by the Lord to take a car!  Thankfully, I doubt that either of these things shall ever come upon us.

Moving on we find Jesus about to enter Jerusalem surrounded by cheering crowds shouting ‘Hosanna’ which literally means ‘Save us!’ or ‘Help us we pray!’ The crowd are waving palm branches, and this is not insignificant.  In the ancient world the waving of palm branches was a symbol of victory, and was found during Triumphs – the great parades that conquering generals and emperors held through the streets following victories.  Yet within a week all seems to be turned on its head – the cries of ‘Hosanna’ become cries of ‘crucify him,’ the donkey becomes a cross, and the palm branches become sharp nails. 

     But the crowds also laid their cloaks upon the road, so the feet of Jesus and his noble beast of burden would not touch the dirty ground.  Stripping branches from trees costs nothing, and when there were no throat sweets, cries of praise cost nothing but a sore throat.  But throwing your cloak upon the dirty floor to be trampled upon by a donkey and it’s colt and then tarnished by the feet of Jesus’ many followers – one would well expect to lose their cloak, and that does cost something.  I wonder if we would have thrown our coats upon the floor if we were there.  I wonder if having just gone shopping and buying a nice new expensive coat, we would throw it on the floor for a person we hardly knew. 

And so, having found a donkey that was given on pure faith, and ridden like a king to the cheers of the crowds waving palms of victory and crying for Him to save them even as he trod their cloaks into the mud, Jesus finally enters Jerusalem, Zion, the City of God.  Prophecy was fulfilled, and for Jesus the worst week imaginable was about to begin.

But what are we here to take from this?  What does all of this, a quaint story, mean for us today?  How does all of this challenge us each and every day?

First we must look to the man who owned the donkey.  On faith, because he was told, by strangers, that God had asked for his livelihood, he simply gave them away.  This challenges us to search ourselves, to ask ourselves if we, as children of God, give to God what He asks.  He may ask something small, a spare minute of your time for you to just stop and tell Him all about your day.  He may ask you to serve others, to care for them in sickness, to teach them, to love them.  He may ask you, as he has myself and many others, to become a minister in His church, or to serve His community in another way.  We all must take up our cross and follow Him, and I pray that we all, myself included, have faith and do not give in to the whispers of selfishness, but give ourselves with all our unique talents and gifts, to the service of God.

Secondly we must look to the people who threw their cloaks on the ground before the Saviour.  In this we are challenged to reassess our core values.  What is most important to us, is it our own image, our own warmth and happiness, or is it the glory of God?  Do we spend our lives and all we have on glorifying ourselves, or on glorifying God?  Have we laid down our many layers of protection and placed them as a carpet that God might come to us?  It is difficult to put the glory of God and the work of God before our own desires and ways of life, and we all, myself included, are challenged by this most difficult see-saw.

But the story tells us much more.  It makes perfectly clear who God is, it shows His character and His love – God is good, humble, loving, and God is King.  Christ came as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  But He did not ride in with an army of angels, sat upon a white stallion.  He did not build Himself a mighty palace or a Temple of such immense size and splendour that we could not imagine it.  Rather we see that He is King and Lord because He did not build a palace and ride in as a conqueror.  Christ did not build a temple of stone, Ivory and Gold.  Instead He built a community; He built our salvation, and our communion. Christ Himself is the Temple, and we are His body.  Though we are sinners, though we ignore, offend, and reject God – daily - still He is always King, He is always Lord, He is always the one who gave His own life on a cross that we might be made one with Him, He is the King who died to create a people, the Lord who rose to destroy death, and the God who loved so much that he opened the way to Him for us!

And it is here that we must reflect on today’s dedication.  As a community we have given freely to God our time and love and resources to build this area.  As a community we have laid down our cloaks and put God first, put his Church first, put each other and the community first.   And we have sung His praise and glorified Him in this achievement.  All of this we have done and I know that it is good.  We have a space to celebrate our community and friendship, a space for recreation and recuperation.  What a gift this is, and I am very glad that I could be here today.  I was baptised here and have time and time again found God, often in unexpected places here.  Here is a community we can be proud of, for to the glory of God and in His love we have accomplished what has often seemed impossible – we are still here! 

God is indeed good, and as with all things, we must bear in mind, that Christ died, and Christ rose again. Likewise His Church can never, ever, die, but will always rise again to new life.


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