Palm Sunday 2019
Gospel Luke 19 vv 28 – 40
Preached at 10.45 by Bernard Moss
What on earth is going on here?
I suppose many of us have heard the Palm Sunday story so often that we tend to lose sight of the really powerful message it was intended to convey
We still have perhaps a Sunday school picture in our mind of palm branches, loads of people thronging to see this wonderful man sitting astride a donkey… adulation – adoration – a biblical 3 cheers for our longed for champion – all in stark and sudden contrast to what was to take place just a few agonising days later… when all left him and fled
It was I guess as close to a non-violent political protest as you could get, and there were certainly those who hoped that this would be the moment when the power of Rome would be overthrown – maybe just maybe that was what Judas was hoping for – set us free – let the Messiah set us free from this overbearing tyranny
And just as today, so then all those years ago, the powers-that-be were scared of civil unrest – if the protesters step out of line – if things begin to get out of control then using whatever means are available disperse the crowd – arrest the ringleaders – bring order back onto the streets.
The memory of Amritzah continues to haunt!
Oh yes – this old old story has such a contemporary feel to it – both from the protesters’ point of view and from the standpoint of the police committed to maintaining law and order
It has a contemporary feel to it still today as we grapple with the issue of how most effectively to challenge social injustice – how to protest against Government policy or current topics of concern such as global warming – how to make voices heard – how to effect change – as one leader of a current protest movement said just the other day, its only by being trouble makers that you get anything done. And Jesus no doubt was regarded as a trouble maker by the authorities of his day
But underneath all of this there lurks another deeply powerful question – a fundamental issue that I think this story of Palm Sunday was really all about – and indeed still is all about – underlying all the political questions and viewpoints – underlying all the sense of outrage and injustice, of oppression and savage cruelty, there lies the deepest issue of all – where is God in all of this?
Because in Jesus’ day there were clear answers to that question – not only where is God but what is God like?
And the religious leaders had clear answers – God is the God of our ancestors who brought us out of slavery – gave us our land – gave us the law which we need to obey to the letter – who helped us build as temple where his glory – his shekinah – dwelt – the people of God are called to be obedient to that law and the closer we adhere to it the close to God we will be.
And although Jesus honoured that tradition he was also very clear that this did not get to the very heart of what this relationship with God was all about
Yes God is holy – God is creator – God is just beyond our wildest imaginings –
if I ascend into the heavens thou are there – If I descend to the depths thou are there – if I go to the uttermost parts of the sea even there your right hand will hold me – so says the Psalmist 139
But and it is a big but – we cannot ever earn God’s love and mercy
This is something that is Gods sheer undeserved gift to us
And there is something about our human nature that needs to take this on board… that the sheer lovingkindness of God reaches out to us and draws us into himself
And Palm Sunday is if you like Jesus showing in his humility – in his understanding that God was fully within him in this earthly life.. that there was so much more to a religious faith than had been realised. People were being called into friendship with God : he and the father were one.
This scandalous proclamation was too much to bear.. as the reaction of the religious authorities showed as the week came to its tumultuous climax – no one knows God better than we do – let no one dare to claim otherwise.
But Jesus demonstrated the heart of true religion and also showed how damaging and at times dangerous untrue religion can be – the havoc it can wreak in people’s lives … the ways in which it can become oppressive judgemental and at time vicious
And Jesus faced all of this head on – and the fact that the Christian story has resurrection at its heart gives us hope that love and mercy, forgiveness and peace , justice and hope are God’s supreme gifts to us
In his recent book called The Table the bishop of Liverpool explores the heart of true religion based around the symbol of the Table and says
“My life is given to the hospitable table of the poor carpenter rather than to the classroom of clever and severe schoolmasters – I want to make my journey to the table which has room for me and forever. I want these thigs for my own sake and for the sake of those who have missed Jesus because all they can see is the bone dry valley of regulation which for them has capped and polluted the wellspring of life ( p.25)”
And that is our challenge too – of course there are guidelines for human living which we ignore at our peril
But as a church we are here most of all to point people to, and to live out, the sheer joy and delight of God’s friendship, undeserved yet brimming over
We are here to recognise that what God has done for us on the cross makes all this possible
And we are here to proclaim and celebrate the invitation to sit at table with our risen Lord, to enjoy his company and the glimpse the mystery of God at work in our lives.
Palm Sunday is a stark reminder to us of the danger of thinking we have sorted out who God is and what he is like God
As the bishop says – “the attractiveness of people of faith seems to be in inverse proportion to their sense that they have nailed down exactly what God is up to ( p 26)”
That is exactly what Jesus faced up to in Holy week
And as he invited his friends to sit down at table with him, as be broke the bread and shared the wine , he said in effect This is what God is like – I am in your midst and I want you to be my friends.
What a glorious hope-filled invitation ! Thanks be to God.