You may not know, and I didn’t until someone pointed it out to me, that on Palm Sunday there were in fact two processions that entered Jerusalem that week for the Passover feast: first, the procession of Jesus and then second, the arrival procession of Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor. This is the story about the arrival of Jesus if you have never read it before: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. Mark 11
What is this story all about?
In the story of Palm Sunday, we see Jesus is asking us to make a choice: What kind of parade do we want to be part of in life and what kind of King will we follow? I like to think I would say I would have been in the parade with Jesus of course, but would I really have been?
The parade to the west: when Pilate entered the city, he’d have been on a big war-horse, with outriders of soldiers and a flashy display of wealth: maybe a harem of mistresses, certainly a good number of slaves, cartloads of food and wine and rugs and jewels.
The parade to the east: when Jesus entered the city, he was riding not on a great horse, but on a donkey, barely even a donkey in fact, but a young donkey a colt.
The parade to the west: when Pilate entered the city, the soldiers would have held high their polished shields, and the sun reflecting off them would have radiated power and might.
The parade to the east: when Jesus entered the city, the people held up branches torn off the trees and which were simple and cheap.
The parade to the west: when Pilate entered the city, the leaders, Herod, the Chief Priests would have been lined up to greet him and pay him homage.
The parade to the east: when Jesus entered the city, the powers that be were threatened, and hostile.
The parade to the west: when Pilate entered the city, there was a palace waiting for him to stay at.
The parade to the east: when Jesus entered the city, after visiting the temple to pray, he had to go out to Bethany to stay the night there, because there was no where for him to stay in Jerusalem.
Looking back in my head I like to think I would have wanted to join in with the parade with Jesus rather than that of Pontius Pilate, but what would I have joined in in practice? The glitzy powerful procession, or the smaller and insignificant one? This question is not of course about 2000 years ago, but a question for each one of us today as we still face the same kind of choices in life.
Are we going to be part of world’s kind of procession with those who have wealth, and power, and status and might? OR are we joining the kind of procession that Jesus leads of poverty and weakness as the world sees it? Jesus didn’t lead out of military might, and wasn’t greeted by powerful men and women, but he rode on a donkey and was greeted by the poor, weak and despised. The words of Paul describe what following Jesus and Christianity is all about: 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” 1 Corinthians 1
The temptation to join the world’s procession is very real for all of us. It’s not easy to see all those the world considers “wise” and “noble” and “strong” and “mighty” going one way, and still to be faithful to a call to follow Jesus to go the other way. And yet Jesus is THE KING…..and there are always two processions that we have to choose between: Just go with the flow, the popular and with worldly Kings and people, or go against the tide with the real King Jesus.
In today’s world, there are many Kings aren’t there. Maybe not literal Kings in rivalry to Jesus, but there are many Kings vying for our allegiance: Social Media Giants that offer us influence; Captains of Business who offer us wealth; and Personalities of Hollywood who offer us glamour.
The Kings of this world are enticing and attractive and they will ‘call out’ to us to join their procession, to praise the things they praise, to shout out for the things they value. But Jesus’ procession is different:
-Jesus doesn’t ride on a war-horse, he rides on a donkey of humility and self sacrifice.
-Jesus doesn’t greet just the wealthy and the noble and those the world says are worth knowing, he welcomes outcasts and sinners.
-And Jesus isn’t heading towards a palace, he’s riding towards the cross.
In today’s culture and context it is as challenging as ever to follow Jesus and be a Christian. Some say that being a Christian is for the weak and in one sense that is true……you have to know your weaknesses to see the need to be a Christian……but to follow Jesus in fact requires the greatest of courage and strength.
So, as we enter Holy Week and Easter, as we remember Jesus dying on the cross and then his raising to new life, my hope and prayer is that you and I will choose the best and truthful procession to be part of……..the one that values the right things in life and has the real King at it’s head.
With my prayers for Holy Week, Palm Sunday and Easter
Revd James Hunt – Rector St Peter’s Bishop’s Waltham and Blessed Mary, Upham
31st March 2023