Palm Sunday – with branches waving, people moving not just sitting in the pews – singing ‘All glory praise and honour to thee redeemer King’, suggests a carnival flavour to the day, and in many ways it was like that. Certainly the Gospel writers present it in that fashion. But we also know the darker side of the story as the week unfolds from that glorious height of joy, to the utter disbelief and horror of Good Friday.
However, Palm Sunday has also become – over time – a day of protest against injustice, where the churches have been in the forefront of challenging inhumanity and discrimination by peaceful protest through the streets of our cities. In democracy there will always need to be checks and balances to authority, and the church has an important role – not to be party political – but rather to affirm and encourage our politicians where affirmation is warranted but also to challenge policies that undermine our common humanity.
Like his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus was not afraid to challenge injustice and the corruption of power, and often people refer to the time when Jesus upturned the tables in the Temple as an indication of at least one dramatic action that Jesus took. However, all through his ministry, we see him responding to the very real needs of people let down by the system, pushed to the edge and marginalised. So he gets the name as someone who spends time with prostitutes and sinners the riff-raff of society.
The Palm Sunday demonstrations is but one expression of the Churches concern to challenge the abuse of power in different fields, and to remind us all that the Christian Faith is not just about our personal spirituality. It is about that but there will always be more to our faith – that will stretch us at times beyond our comfort zone – to grow into the fullness of God. And that fullness is about the wholeness not just of people, but of societies and the whole creation. Our Faith engages us in a very big vision and hope for the world.
Often in evangelical circles we hear the verse quoted, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ It’s a powerful verse but we often overlook the depth of its vision – it is a vision of the world, the whole creation made new. Yes, that does involve the transformation of individual people, people learning to stand up for the Gospel and live with integrity and courage in the face of injustice and cruelty, and to do so as people of faith, people who trust in the goodness and mercy of God.
As we enter Holy Week I invite you to join us for at least some of the services we have planned.