Sunday, March 24, 2002

Making sense of those Palm Branches

(May this day be for you the first of a truly Holy Week!)

Blessing, distributing and holding palm branches and then processing around the church with them is not meant to be fun! It is both a solemn and a joyous event, but for us it has to be solemn before joyous.

Like the pilgrims on their way into Jerusalem for Passover, we hail Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David, and we, like them, cry out, “Hosanna [Save us, we beseech thee O Lord] to the Son of David. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the LORD.” We know that the palms we wave are ancient signs of victory and glory.

But there is a big difference in what each of us intends.

The crowds on the narrow winding road into Jerusalem looked for a king who would be their national liberator, freeing them from the yoke of the Roman empire. Their “Hosanna” was a prayer for victory, for a deliverer who would save them immediately from Roman occupation and make them a free people. So they make his way one of glory as they spread their garments and the branches on the way before him. They hardly notice that he is on an ass and not on a horse.

In contrast, as we go in procession on Palm Sunday we see Jesus as the king who embodies justice and mercy and who humbly brings peace with God and peace amongst men by the way of being God’s suffering Servant – by his suffering and death. To us his choice of an ass is a prophetic sign that he has rejected the war horse and chosen the symbol of peace. Our cry of “Hosanna” is for him to save us through his Cross at Calvary. And our joy is a profound inner affection of the soul which is related to the forgiveness of sins and a right relation with God the Father through Jesus the King/Christ.

Having entered Jerusalem, Jesus headed straight for the Temple ( a 30 acre site with the court of the Gentiles being the outer ring of a series of concentric zones). It was entirely nature and appropriate for the king of the Jews to go to the center of Jewish religion and thus the crowds are not surprised that he heads there and they follow him.

But once there, the cries of the crowd cease as they watch with amazement at what takes place. First of all, Jesus began a major operation of clearing the Court of the Gentiles of those Jewish merchants who were exchanging money and selling animals and birds for use in the Temple. As the King of justice, Jesus demonstrated that the Temple was being used for injustice and dramatically he made it clear with those with eyes to see that the days of the Temple as being the center of true Faith were about to end. A new Temple had arrived and Jesus himself was/is that Temple – all worship henceforth will be in through and with this Jesus, the Christ.

To demonstrate that the New Order and Era had arrived Jesus proceeded to heal the blind and the lame (those ceremonially unclean) within the Temple. Thereby he angered the priests who ran the Temple. But God was judging both the Temple and the Priesthood by the actions and words of his Messiah. Their time had come to an end for a new Temple (Jesus himself) and a new Priesthood (his disciples – see 1 Peter 2:5). And to celebrate this, the children present, sensing that they were witnessing a unique event and moment [and inwardly prompted by the Holy Ghost], began to cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” On behalf of all they were praying for salvation to come through this Person, this Jesus. The cries of the children angered the priests and so Jesus spoke to them plainly of what God was doing at this time. From the lips of children God the Father had ordained and brought forth praise – and this in stark contrast to the lack of praise in the priesthood.

We can imagine that the crowds who greeted, garlanded and praised Jesus on the way into the city were taken aback by what they witnessed in the Temple courts. He shattered their dreams of a deliverer and they began to see him as the enemy of the Jewish people and their hope. So they, and others, a few days later could cry out, “Crucify him!”

However, we can see that the solemn cleansing of the Temple and the chiding of its priests by the King of Peace was a prophetic declaration by Jesus -- in anticipation of Good Friday -- that the new covenant was about to be inaugurated and thus the old covenant, which had failed through the hardness of heart of the Jews and their leaders, was under the judgment of God.

Let us stay with Jesus daily through Holy Week with solemnity and inward joy.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon , Palm Sunday 2002

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