Every year on Palm Sunday we notice something strange and disturbing - on Sunday the crowds came out to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of ‘Hosanna,’ on Thursday they were baying for his blood, and on Friday they got what they wanted. Only a few stayed with him to Thursday night, only one or two went all the way to the cross with him. For all the rest, crowds and followers, it was all too much.
It seems that the crowds on Palm Sunday were confident that Jesus was God’s Messiah, his chosen anointed one who was coming as a new king. Jesus was from David’s family, and he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a very royal thing to do. They were right as far as it went.
But what they had not grasped is what we know if we have followed the story of Jesus right through the gospels, and especially through John’s Gospel, as we have been doing for the past few months in our worship. As Matt made clear in his sermon this morning, John’s gospel is a bit like a new Genesis. From the beginning he shows us that Jesus is God, that he is involved in God’s Creation, and that he has become a fully human being – ‘he took flesh and lived among us.’ That was the bit that the crowds on Palm Sunday could not grasp. They did not see that the man on the donkey was God, God fully present in a human being. And, as the week went on, it all became too much for them to contemplate. How could God’s Messiah die so dreadfully on a cross? How could God himself fail to restore David’s kingdom and throw out the Roman invaders who had sullied the holiness of their land and its capital? It was all too much, so they swung from one extreme of adulation to the other, a bit like football crowds who rejoice when their team win a tense game 1-0, but who think the whole team – and especially the manager – are rubbish when they lose an equally tense game!
Holy Week gives us the time to contemplate what is actually happening in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. This is God, God the Son riding into Jerusalem; here is God showing the world what he is like in a fully human being; here is God showing us what he is like as Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus showing us God’s glory, as John puts it, as he suffers for the sins of the whole world. This is what God is like. The events of Holy Week take us deeply into the character of God. That may be too much for some people to grasp, with the result that they reject the idea of the God of the Cross, but we have the time, especially this year, to encounter afresh this God, the God of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the God of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Take time this week to encounter God and get to grips with the enormity of that first Holy Week.
Collect for Palm Sunday:
True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah: grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory.