Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey with crowds cheering and waving branches, is a day full of festive joy and laughter. I can imagine children running through the crowd playing hide and seek or trying to get as close as they can to the man on the donkey, and picking up snatches of the song their parents are singing, ‘Hosanna hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…. Some of these may well have been pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, having walked for miles over several days. Passover, with its stories and songs of freedom from oppression, may well have fuelled their enthusiasm and longing for a Messiah to lead them out of their own oppression. They wanted to see the backs of Roman soldiers, and Roman taxes, but maybe also there was a deep spiritual longing for liberation as well. So Jesus comes along riding on a donkey and they pin all their political and social and religious hopes all tangled up together on him. That’s a lot to carry for anyone! Have you ever felt that you embody the expectations of others and feel you have to live up to those expectations?
I imagine also the disciples buoyed up by the enthusiasm of the crowd and feeling on the cusp of something new but not sure what. In the time I spent in Jerusalem the presence of soldiers carrying submachine guns standing around the Jaffa Gate, or the presence of a tank facing down toward the Temple mount on a Friday as men streamed out of the mosque after Friday prayers was deeply confronting, driving home the tensions that are so palpably real in the old city. I could easily understand the ancient people of Israel wanting to be free of an occupying force.
It is with this mix of hope and tension that Holy Week begins. And it is also there that we find the deep disconnect between the force and dominance of political and military power seeking to impose control and keep order we see in the figures of Pilate the Roman Governor and Caiaphas the Jewish High Priest, and the love, mercy and forgiveness embodied in the figure of Jesus choosing to enter Jerusalem humbly – on a beast of burden. It’s the contrast between two kinds of power – the power of might and the power of love – for love is indeed the most powerful force to unlock the hearts and minds of humanity and open to us to the promises of God. On the one hand we see the authorities fearful of revolution and seeing Passover as a potential flash point, and on the other the figure of Jesus who has come to heal, to release us from our fears, holding before us a way of justice and peace.
In Holy Week these themes are woven together incrementally as we move through the week, and I invite you to take the opportunity to come to at least some of our services. On Monday Kyle and Annie will lead a service on the Cleansing of the Temple at 7.30pm, Rev Faith will lead the Tuesday service at 7.30pm, and I will be leading the Tenebrae service on Wednesday at 7.30pm and the Maundy Thursday Holy Communion and foot washing on Thursday at 7.30pm in the Church. On Good Friday we will gather at 9.00am and on Holy Saturday at 12.00 noon for a simple service of prayer. Easter begins down at Riverside Park on the Maribyrnong River at 6.00am for the Dawn Vigil with our Anglican friends from Aberfeldie and then again at 10.00am for our Easter Day service at St John’s.
This is one of the most significant seasons in the Christian Calendar, and I look forward to sharing it with you. Come this Sunday ready to receive your palm cross and wave branches as we sing All glory, praise and honour to you, redeemer, king.