From Triumph to Tears
from Robin Gurney, Local Preacher High Street
(Prepared for the Palm Sunday Service at Faringdon)
Palm Sunday in a Covid-19 crisis. Our lives have changed in the last few weeks perhaps for ever. How reminiscent of the Easter story. Palm Sunday remembers the last journey of Jesus through the countryside and town. His last journey — heading towards Jerusalem, where he knew bad things were in store. As he approached the two villages of Bethphage and Bethany he stopped. A nice place for a picnic perhaps. A place to send a couple of his disciples off to pick up a means of transport for the next stage of the journey. And so to collect a donkey and with a word to the owner they lead it back to where Jesus had stopped. Have you noticed how the disciples never questioned why Jesus wanted the donkey — they did as they were told, — as we are urged to follow government guidelines
When the disciples got back they saw the opportunity to display Jesus to the crowd. Let’s analyse that crowd. There were the chosen 12. Then, the many other disciples — women, men, families — who knew him, loved him and followed him. Surely, it was this group that set off the chants — Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest. Chanting like this can be very evocative. How many of you have done this at a football match or perhaps in a demonstration? Chants such as: “What do we want — freedom. Or perhaps then: “Who do we want — Jesus”.
But when these people shouted such words they would have been treasonable as it was opposing the ruling Roman authorities. The Emperor was the only King in their lexicon.
Not only was it treasonable it was a ludicrous site — a king riding on a donkey? It would be a bit like President Trump a couple of years ago arriving for his inauguration on a bicycle. Jesus was demonstrating the kind of power that will eventually bring justice to the world.
There were other people too. Those at the back of the crowd, those not wanting to associate themselves directly with Jesus. Indeed some opposing him. Some were a bit afraid of what was going on. What if the Roman soldiers heard them? So some of these — Pharisees? — offer a word of advice to Jesus. Tell them to be quiet we might all get arrested. Jesus rejects their advice and suggests that creation has been waiting for this moment — the moment when a Saviour of the world makes himself known as king of the universe.
Note that even in the midst of such a crowd Jesus had time for them all. Disciples to collect the donkey, the wider group of disciples to lead the cheering and the Pharisees representing those who were just part of the spectacle.
Where are you in the crowd? At the front? Behind the cheer leaders? Hiding behind the buildings, not wanting to get involved?
As Christians we are a Community even though currently we cannot meet as a community face to face. A community dedicated to spreading his word but first of all a community supporting one another through all trials and tribulations.
I hope you have a copy of Singing the Faith. Number 681 has some very important thoughts: “Community of Christ, who make the Cross your own, live out your creed and risk your life, for God alone.” “Community of Christ, look past the church’s door” — that’s something we are now obliged to do at present.
Jesus and the disciples continued their journey towards Jerusalem. They stopped on their way — the view from the Mount of Olives over Jerusalem is a spectacular one and still remains so today.
We then need to consider one of the most poignant verses in the Bible. The tears: “Jesus wept over Jerusalem”. Those words lead us to ask many questions. How many of us have wept over Jerusalem in these days, over the suffering of the Palestinian people in their confrontation with the State of Israel. Many of us have visited there and seen for ourselves the situation and today Bethlehem is in lockdown as we are.
So was Jesus weeping for his own imminent suffering? I suggest not. There was no self-pity in Jesus. Was he weeping because he saw the state of the Temple which he would cleanse in a couple of days? Probable. even likely. Remember how angry Jesus became when he entered those holy portals and began to throw the money changers and others out of the Temple — turning over the tables and scattering the money and the animals being sold there for sacrificial slaughter.
Was he weeping because the people were suffering under colonial rule? Quite probably. The Roman rule was an oppression of the masses. We see that in our day too in many places around the world.
If you read on in that hymn mentioned earlier you would have read: “look past the church’s door and see the refugee, the angry and the poor.” When was the last time you wept over a sinner? Do we still weep for those caught up in sin and oppression, degradation, dictatorships - in prison unjustly, in refugee camps with little or no hope of escape?
We cannot ignore the world around us even as we are confined. Yes, we would prefer to be in our holy huddle — be the community of Christ among ourselves but that would not be what the life and teaching of Jesus is all about. We have to look beyond ourselves — get our hands dirty in a dirty, nasty world.
Here we should give thanks for all those who have volunteered to help out the NHS in our present crisis. Personally, we are happy that the “Witney Land Army” brought us milk a few days ago when we had run out. Let us remember however the suffering of those who are without that kind of support or the support of a Christian community. Let us remember too those who are without knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
“Community of Christ, through whom the word must sound - cry out for justice and for peace the whole world round: disarm the powers that war and all that can destroy, turn bombs to bread and tears of anguish into joy.”