Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 19 – 29
A Song of Victory
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
2Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
19Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.*
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.*
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.*
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Luke 19: 28 – 40
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
The funny thing about Palm Sunday is we all know it’s going to end badly but we enjoy the moment while things are still in our favour.
Here Kingdom values are on display: the king is humble, riding (not on a war horse) but on a donkey. There is rejoicing, festivity and hope of salvation. We like to hang onto the idea that this is a foretaste of things to come when God returns to wind up the current dispensation, and indeed it is!
Palm Sunday brings an end to Lent. I like to think that there are two aspects to Lent
One aspect is an opportunity to look back and review what you are in terms of the story that challenges what you should be. You journey through the events with Jesus and in the process come to a realisation that
- repentance is probably a good start,
- self-denial won’t be too bad an approach either, and in fact
- being generous would just be the cherry on the top before you plunge into Holy Week.
It’s about a realisation of how selfish you’ve become and of sloughing off the things that hold your spiritual life down. It’s about being shriven – lovely word that – almost akin to the Maori word ‘muru’ – to strip. It’s about being pared down to your spiritual essentials.
The benefit of embracing this introspective approach is that you come to Holy Week with a sense of peaceful contrition, open to experience God afresh. There is a wonderful Psalm in which David says But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131: 2) We’ve had our tantrums. We’ve wrestled with our wilfulness, there is one tell-tale tear left on the cheek, and now we are subdued, and ready to co-operate with our God – a God whose discipline is extremely, inevitably and completely loving.
And that is what we discover in lent, the loving God. As the extraneous and not always helpful things that have insinuated themselves into our lives are dealt with, we become more spiritually sensitive to God. We realise that God has a great deal to do and he wants us involved.
So the first aspect of Lent is to do with our character, with being, while the second aspect has more to do with doing.
The other approach to lent, then, is a bit different. I think there are some clues to it in the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
Here we have less of a sense of our difference from God. We mobilize our desire to co-operate with God by being a listening person, a disciple – which means a follower. We are eager to please, excited, full of faith, with eyes, not so much on the past but on an exciting future, keen to carry out God’s bidding.
We’re enthusiastically joining in the divine parade.
Our thoughts are on the possibilities inherent in the arrival of the king, in joint ventures with the Saviour of the World. We look to God for the new things God is busy with. After all, this is a colt that has never been ridden.
We have an excited sense of significance as we partner with God because The Lord needs it as the disciples said to those who asked why they were taking the colt. Isn’t it fascinating that God needs us? It’s a joint venture.
God is never static, stuck in the predictable. This is where we rejoice with Isaiah as he hears God say 18“Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. 19“Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43: 18 – 19
The Lenten desert has been traversed. We now plunge into the river of God. We are swept along by God’s stream.
We bring our desire for action, for doing something, to God – they brought it to Jesus says our reading. In other words we don’t simply do things because they seem to be good things. We don’t want to get caught in the predictability of what the Scripture calls “dead works.” Hebrews 6: 1- Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.
The Lenten journey has dealt with the foundational aspects of the faith. This now is the life eager to take the next step and work with God.
Therefore this newness is not something we have dreamt up ourselves. It is brought to Jesus. It is initiated and controlled by Jesus. It is relational because it is done in tandem with Jesus.
And just as we read that the rejoicing disciples threw their cloaks onto the colt – in other words lavished their attention on that which was to carry the Messiah Project if you will, we read they set Jesus on it. This new, unrdden donkey project has Jesus on it!
When you’ve dealt with wilfulness, when you’ve counted yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6: 11), as Paul advised the church in Rome, you are all-consumingly aware that Jesus is in charge. And this thrills you. With the disciples on Palm Sunday you want to shout, Hosanna! Blessed is the king.
Now here’s a sobering thought. As my mother would say, “Life is not all beer and skittles.”
Even as we read in Verse 37,
37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice the mention of the Mount of Olives is a stark reminder to those of us reading today that fairly soon Jesus will be in the Garden of Gethsemane with three sleepy disciples, far from the cheering crowds, and facing the stark reality of his mission: death on the cross for the salvation of humankind.
But this is the clincher, even as we read it, we should be aware that, as Paul says to the Corinthian church , God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5: 21) – or, as he expressed it to the church in Rome, He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 3: 25)
Palm Sunday is a day of rejoicing, because even though the suffering of Christ lies ahead in our experience of Holy Week, that experience, that Lenten walking through the story as it played out in Palestine 2000 years or so ago, is simply a foundational reinforcement of what Christ has achieved on our behalf.
In real time, we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, baptised into Christ, and equipped with the Holy Spirit to do what our Gospel reading today called deeds of power.
We can’t be ever peering at the foundations! We make ourselves available to God to work with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to build the Body of Christ within the Kingdom of God.
There will always be religious Pharisees in the crowd saying, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ What’s this excited carry-on? What’s this religious enthusiasm?
And Jesus answers today as he answered then, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
So in conclusion:
- we look back and journey through Lent with Jesus as a spiritual exercise in order to affirm the foundations of our faith, and this includes the Lenten disciplines of repentance, prayer, fasting and giving. We emerge from this like a weaned child, our own desire to suckle at will thwarted, and now with a new comfort, disciplined, more mature
- our enhanced relationship with God in real time involves greater maturity as we seek to co-operate with the Lord, to look to the new, the Spirit-led, often the unpredictable as our sense of joy in the significance of co-working with God increases
- all this is possible because Christ has walked through the fire ahead of us. He has taken our guilt upon himself on the cross. And because what we are giving our lives towards is a project that is his – we have set Jesus upon this possibly unpredictable colt – the opposition that comes from the nay-sayers, the Pharisees, our own fears, our temptation to revert to a legalism that has us in control, not God: we can, with Jesus, say- ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
Let us pray:
O Jesus, our Saviour and Lord, enter this day our hearts as you entered Jerusalem long ago – to acclaim, not reluctance; to joy, not suspicion. Give us the courage to live lives that shout out your praise ; for you ,22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.