25 March 2018 – Looking a Little Further Down the Road

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale 

I love today’s readings

This is a Psalm used in procession to worship at the temple. It’s about walking up the hill towards the temple mount. It’s about being part of the procession.

The Psalm is subtitled, A Song of Victory and has a clear messianic reference in those words Jesus used of himself,

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.

This tells of the adversity of life turning into blessing. From rejection to chief cornerstone. Imagine the stone-mason saying, “Nah. We don’t need that. Chuck it on the pile. We’ll use it for infill.” And after a while, saying to his apprentice, “Hang on. That bit we threw out just now. With a few whacks, it will be perfect for securing this part of the wall. Bring it here. I think this is our cornerstone!”

Out of adversity blooms the blessing of God!

The Gospel reading is subtitled, Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and describes those momentous events on what we now call Palm Sunday.

The disciples, lining the road and yelling Hosanna in the highest heaven! were as much political demonstrators as they were religious zealots. Do you see yourself watching, or do you see yourself as a disciple in Jesus’ footsteps? The difference can be telling.

So when the Jews recalled the prophecy of Zechariah 9: 9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey, they were thinking as much politically as they were religiously.

Waving palm branches was an overtly political act of defiance. One of the sons of Judas Maccabeus, who had rebelled against his Greek overlords, had minted coins bearing the symbol of a palm branch. This was a strong political declaration hearkening back to the time of the Maccabees. We have a remnant of that today in the Jewish Maccabi Games.

What a roller coaster for Jesus and his disciples! But then he experiences a great reversal. He comes into Jerusalem to great acclaim and riding on a donkey in fulfilment of the prophecy, foreshadowing the triumph of the Messiah, but within a week is cruelly killed and his followers scattered.

Where are you now? If you were one of the disciples do you suddenly switch from being a participator to being a spectator?

And yet out of Jesus’ death came great victory over Satan, and over the hopelessness of humankind. While hanging on that cross the most loving man the earth has ever seen is murdered both for claiming to be God and for presenting something of a threat to the violent values of Rome.

And his death turns into THE victory of history. Someone once wrote how Satan grinned in triumph as Jesus took his last breath, only to howl in agonised defeat as it dawned upon him what God had just achieved in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Out of adversity blooms the blessing of God!

Paul tells the Corinthians that 12 When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; 13but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.

Something about not finding Titus there put the wind up Paul and he travels on to Macedonia. But Paul, looking defeated – most unlike Paul that, isn’t it? – moves on and then he realises something. 14 But thanks be to God, he says, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.

The triumphal procession he’s referring to is of course that well-known phenomenon of a Roman General returning from a successful campaign where he leads all that he has captured in a parade to show it off to his supporters.

Where are you now? Are you a citizen of Rome, watching as the procession goes by? Or are you a slave he has captured and is dragging along to the fate of a new owner? Perhaps you’re one of his travel-worn soldiers? Does this tell you anything about where you are now in life?

Paul comes to a quick understanding that his feelings have nothing to do with it. He is a Christian and wherever he goes with the message of Jesus, even though like a military leader he may face opposition, in Christ he prevails and spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.

Out of adversity blooms the blessing of God!

Sometimes we have to learn to look a little further down the road. Sometimes what we see only takes us to the first bend. Our faithful keeping on brings us to the bend, and round that corner, things can look very different.

God loves snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As Peter says, 5 who through faith are protected by God’s power for the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the authenticity of your faith—more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1: 5 – 7)

So don’t be surprised when your Palm Sundays turn into Good Fridays. Remember that they are indeed good, and that when you commit your way to God, he will bring you through it all.

Ours, in the words of Bob Dylan, is to keep on keeping on, because we do so in faith, and faithful perseverance brings its rewards.

Let us pray:

Dear God,
when we experience sudden disappointment,
when we wonder how things could have gone wrong so quickly,
when regret overwhelms us;
help us to pause, place our hand firmly in yours
and keep going in the sure knowledge that in Christ crucifixion is a prerequisite to resurrection,
and resurrection is our ultimate destiny.

Sometimes we need to look a little further down the road.

Readings for today:

  • Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
  • 2 Corinthians 2: 12 – 17
  • Mark 11: 1-11