Palm Sunday

הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א Hosanna!—Save us; grant us victory: Palm Sunday 2015

For the Liturgy of the Palms: Mark 11.1-11, Ps 118.1-2

Passion Sunday Readings: Isa 50.4-9a, Ps 31.9-18, Phil 2.5-11, Mark 14.1—15.27

In Papunya there’s a very special donkey. Its body is a big metal drum and it has steel tubing legs that go down to a platform with wheels for it to roll on. I think its neck is a car spring, and it’s got a metal head with ears. This donkey lives all year outside Papunya church, usually lying on its side near the bell tower. But I hope and trust that this morning, the donkey of Papunya church will be having its moment of glory.

I wonder who will be riding it—being Jesus. I wonder which Hosanna song Pastor Graham will get everyone to sing; what sort of branches they’ll be waving—mulga? And I wonder how many people it will take to help that donkey and its rider across the red sand on its journey into the church. It’ll be such a wild, wonderful time for everyone there.

I remember as a small child how very special Palm Sunday was. I can’t think of a bigger day in the church during my childhood. It was gloriously, delightfully, noisily out of control. And when I first saw Papunya Church’s donkey, it flooded back to me—how we used to celebrate this day.

I imagine it was like the first Palm Sunday for the crowd when Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem; all those wildly hopeful people with no idea of Good Friday or Easter. They were living in the hope and joy of the moment, just like I used to, those many Palm Sundays ago. I was too young to make the sad connection with the coming tragedy. And in my church, we didn’t go inside and read the Passion Gospel like we have today. So there was no nasty shock of being suddenly dragged down from the glorious hope of triumph one moment to the utter tragedy of the Cross the next. Palm Sunday stood alone.

But things are different now. In the past half hour, we’ve all experienced the tragic fall from ecstasy to agony that Jesus and his loved ones will endure over the coming week. And the way we’ve just read it, we’ve owned we are all participants in this tragedy. We, the very people who outside just cried Hosanna—save us, we pray; grant us victory!—here inside, we’re still part of the crowd; but now the cry has turned to harsh judgement; Crucify him!

This is bewildering—and it has to be. We are the Palm Sunday crowd that cries out to be saved—cries out to be led to victory over whatever enslaves us—cries out to the best looking hope at the time. But we’re also a crowd which turns against any leader who looks like they’re falling from favour; in fact, a crowd capable of crucifying such a fallen leader.

Would it have been different if we were the custodians of the Jerusalem temple? What would we have done in their place, watching from atop the walls as the slow, jubilant procession came down the Mount of Olives and crossed the Kidron Valley into our sphere of influence; into our power? Probably the same as they did.

But surely we’re not like them—or are we? During Lent, we’ve realized we’re not as pure as we might imagine.

If we let Holy Week do its work in us, we’ll know we can’t carry our burdens alone; we’ll come face to face with our deepest needs. And in the middle of that realisation, we’ll find Jesus responding to us with compassionate love—calling us to keep walking with him, no matter where he leads. Bishop Tim would say, we’ll be challenged personally, but not individually. We’re in this together; and most of all with Jesus. To imagine Holy Week is just about individual soul-searching is to miss the point that it’s about relationship; how we love and are loved by God and how we love our neighbour as our self. That’s personal, but it’s not individual; we are not islands; we belong.

So Holy Week confronts us with failings and challenges we may never have known about. But it also enables us to meet them, reminding us that we’ve been entrusted with priceless gifts. If we receive these gifts, we walk with Jesus. These gifts; what are they? On Maundy Thursday, we’ll receive three of them:

  • the gift of Holy Communion which shows we are bound forever in love to Jesus and to each other,
  • the gift of Servant Leadership … each of us shows the love of Jesus in the humble act of washing our neighbours’ feet and having our neighbours wash our feet,
  • and the gift of the New Commandment—Love one another as I have loved you—the gift which shows how we’re called to belong to everyone by living as Jesus did.

And on Good Friday, we remember we’ve received the most precious gift of all: the life of Jesus Christ, offered in sheer love, to make possible the salvation—the redemption—the rescue—the liberation—the divine embrace—the belonging—of you, of me, and of the whole creation.

Let’s prepare to receive these gifts which God has offered to make us whole together. Amen