Palm Sunday

Introducing Holy Week

There are two parts of our liturgy today: the palm procession, and the gospel reading. It is the start of our Holy-Week-long pilgrimage to the cross. The palms are the start of it, the gospel is the road map for it.

In the palm ceremony, there’s a lot of talk about power, and glory, and victory, and the peace that goes with winning. There were lots of people who took these terms very positively, very magnificently.

One group came from Imperial Rome: it had aspirations of conquering the whole world with its army, and giving the whole world the peace of Rome – the pax Romana. It was Western imperialism at its best.

It was like thick cloud everywhere…

Another group came from Israel: it believed it was destined to overthrow Rome as it had overthrown Egypt a long time before, when it passed over and through the Red Sea and established Jerusalem. It was like many minority states now in the middle east – politically, socially, militarily.

Rome was like a storm sweeping in from the West.
Israel was like an overheated pressure system brewing up in the East, and wanting to face the storm and win.

There was another minority within Israel itself, who believed there was a third factor in all this. The third factor was God, who had assured Israel through its prophets that God would return and change everything for everyone. But God never said how it would happen. God had a habit of doing strange and unexpected things. It was a dangerous time (the Passover high holiday) in a dangerous place (Jerusalem) and a dangerous God (Yahweh).

God was the trigger of the storm.

All three groups wanted power, and glory, and victory, and the peace that goes with winning. Right now, right here. When the hostility of the Roman might, and the anger of the Israelite minority, and the unpredictability of God met. It was the eye of the storm. All you need for a storm was there. A storm system on the roll, resistance to it mounting, and an unpredictability that triggered it…

There was a procession in Jerusalem that day – a Jewish one, with Jewish disciples of Jesus leading it. Occupy Jerusalem! They were singing, and saying out loud that they were going to make Jesus their leader, and that the power and the glory and the victory and the peace that comes with winning were his. They were on the way to ‘occupy’ Jerusalem and its temple (at its Wall ‘street’ – the temple is the treasury). Strange, we still sing their songs in our liturgy….we still have that dream inside us.

But there was one person there who did not join in this song. He was not singing, he was in tears. He was in tears because he knew this dream had to die. He was in tears because he knew this kingdom was not going to come. He was in tears because he was not that sort of leader or Messiah. He was in tears because his God was not that sort of God. He was in tears because the real God, of powerlessness, and littleness, and non-violence, was in their midst, and they did not know the day of his visitation. He was in tears because – although they hailed him and hosanna-ed him – they did not know him for who he really was, the son of the real God, very like the real God, very powerless, and little and non-violent. How long have I been with you and still you do not know me?

The storm struck, it struck him. The storm struck him down. The story is in the gospel, no better than in the gospel of Mark we read today. We enter into this story all through this holy week. We stay with him, until he is the loser in it all, dead on his cross.

Put your hymnbooks away – the palms and the psalms can wait somewhere. Mark is going to take us to a tomb where there is no one, and like the women there at Easter, we will know a fear we have never known before, until the sun rises to a new and different and cloudless morning…

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