Isaiah 50: 4-9. This reading prophesies the fate of Jesus whose sustaining words as a teacher will be rejected and scorned but He will stand firm and remain true to his God.
Philippians 2: 5-11. It is thought that these may be the words of an early Christian hymn used by Paul. It summarises his pre-existent status, his self-limiting to become human, and his exultation to universal Lordship.
Luke 19: 28-40. No palms or shouts of Hosanna in Luke’s version. They belong to a separate tradition but the essential elements of a procession into Jerusalem are there. This was a pre-planned and very deliberate act which sought to distinguish Jesus’ understanding of the values of the Kingdom of God compared with the Roman empire.
There were two processions that would have entered Jerusalem in the week before Passover.
The Jesus procession we heard about this morning and the one by Pontius Pilate. For you see Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem, he lived at Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, but he liked to be in Jerusalem for major Jewish festivals in order to show who was actually in control here – a show of force.
The procession from Caesarea to Jerusalem would have been a magnificent affair designed to demonstrate grandeur and force of arms. There would have been war horses, gleaming armour, heavily armed foot soldiers and cavalry. Banners proclaiming Roman imperial power and in the midst of it all, Pilate himself as the personal representation of Roman power. It was a spectacle designed to impress and instil fear and respect. They would have entered Jerusalem on the western side, the side that faced the coast.
On the Eastern side of the city, from the mount of Olives a very different procession took place. A man riding not on a war horse but a Donkey, a symbol of peace. Followers, instead of cowering in fear spread their cloaks on the ground before Him and in other gospel accounts palms, which is why we call this Palm Sunday. People were praising God joyfully and again in other accounts shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us”.
Significantly they said “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.
To proclaim that someone else is king rather than Caesar is regarded as treason, an act of sedition by the Romans.
Remember the sign that was nailed to the cross at his crucifixion – the reason for his crucifixion? “This is the King of the Jews”
Palm Sunday was setting the scene for everything that would take place that week, leading to his execution. By the way, crucifixion was not a normal punishment. It was used especially for sedition and the bodies hung there to act as a deterrent to anyone else who thought they might oppose Roman rule.
Palm Sunday is a clash of kingdoms.
The Kingdoms of this world represented here by Rome characterised by brute force, coercion and kept in power by military might, characterised by injustice and inequality, and the Kingdom of God, characterised by consent, love and Justice and freedom for all.
Jesus’ procession was pre-planned. The Donkey had been pre-arranged with a set of words agreed to procure it on the day. He knew what He was doing, and He also knew how it would end.
How the story develops and ends is what we call Holy Week leading up to the crucifixion on Friday.
The prophesy of Isaiah about the beatings, the insults and the spitting that He would have to endure wouldn’t have been far from his mind. He would endure it as a man, a human being (a Paul makes clear) and represents all the metaphorical and actual torments endured by all people everywhere as victims of the Kingdoms of this world.
This clash of Kingdoms, of ways of seeing and doing society and ways of relating to people, different ways of seeing power and understanding our place in the world is a clash that still reverberates today.
This clash of kingdoms informs all that we are as Christians. Whatever we are a part of, or support politically, whatever structures we are part of, we still pray as we were instructed to pray by Jesus,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.
When you pray the Lord’s prayer I wonder how many of us realise how subversive it is to pray those words. “Your Kingdom come”.
For Jesus’ whole content of his preaching was based on ushering in the Kingdom of God. In fact the very first account we have of his preaching – what you were likely to have heard if you went to hear him speak - in Mark’s gospel is summarised by Mark as “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”.
Those two processions are walking still. Do we abide by the rules of God or the received wisdom of the world?
The question hanging over all of us is today, which procession are we in? Who rules in our hearts? Who or what directs our actions?