Palm Sunday Reflection John 12:12-16
Archdeacon of Bath – Adrian Youings
I wonder what the date was of the first Palm Sunday. There’s just something about this account of the way Jesus rides into Jerusalem that makes me wonder? Let me tell you what I mean.
You know the scene well. Jesus is riding into the city, and he receives a ruler’s welcome. Crowds hail his arrival; they throw down their cloaks and they wave the traditional palm leaves. In many ways it’s probably not an unusual scene in and around Jerusalem. King Herod had a winter palace just down the road in Jericho. He would have ridden into the city with pomp and fanfare on many an occasion I’m sure. Almost certainly, in the days around Jesus’s entrance here, Pontus Pilate, the Roman Governor of the region would have ridden in on horseback, with a great cavalry, bedecked in armour carrying banner of emperor – the emperor who had God-like status to his subjects. Passover was time when millions of people flooded to Jerusalem and roman governor here to watch out for trouble. Both men would have been heralded and treated and worshipped as a great ruler – or else! Both men looked like kings, and were all about great shows of power and almost certainly on occasion, brutal force.
Yet on this day, this new king looks rather comical by comparison. No stallion, no white charger. A donkey – like he’s on a day out on the beach at Weston Super Mare. You might almost expect Jesus to suddenly hop off the donkey – shout April Fool, ‘gotcha’ and then disciples bring great stead and he jumps on that. BUT this is not 1st April. No April fool. This is v real. The donkey matters.
According to Zechariah, writing 100’s years before, and quoted here by John, it’s the donkey that tells you this is a king like no other in history of human civilisation, this is an occasion like no other in the history of the world – arrival of king of the universe. This is how you know; this is genuinely Gods chosen one – true Son of God. This is how you know this is the one come to fulfil Gods plans to rescue and transform this broken world. The donkey that tells you that!
And it’s the donkey that tells you everything you need to know about this king’s reign, and what matters in this king’s kingdom. For Herod, he imposed his rule by oppression and bloody force. But this king, doesn’t impose his rule at all. This king is gentle, peaceful, humble. The donkey that tells you that!
I wonder if you’re aware that this Palm Sunday is just a trailer for a future Palm Sunday that we hear about in book of Revelation – a Palm Sunday that we will all be a part of John describes that amazing day “I looked and behold a great multitude which no-one could number, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches, and crying out in a loud voice ‘salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne’.
You see, what’s striking about this image? There is a throne, and the King of universe sits on it – majesty and power. But look again – there is a lamb, a gentle lamb. How can that be? Might and majesty, and yet a lamb. As Tim Keller church leader puts it so well “infinite highness yet infinite accessibility, infinite justice yet infinite grace, infinite glory, yet infinite humility, infinite majesty yet infinite meekness; infinite sovereignty yet perfect submission; infinite all sufficiency yet entire trust and dependence on God, mighty captain, tender lover, mighty tree of life, fragile flower. A king and a lamb”
That is the Palm Sunday vision: This is our God. No April fool. As we have sung: ‘oh what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship, for this is our God!’
Actually, the image in revelation is not just of a lamb – it is a lamb ‘who was slain’. It’s a graphic reminder that the road Jesus has willingly chosen to ride along, is a road he knows doesn’t lead to a luxurious palace, to a be-jewelled crown, or a golden throne, and adoring subjects. No, it leads to a place called The Skull, a crown made of sharp thorns dripping with his blood, a throne made of two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross, on which he will hang, pierced by nails, gasping for every breath. And a crowd that has bade for his blood, and prefers the life of criminal to life of the Son of God.
You see this is not only our God that we see today on Palm Sunday. It is also our calling. ‘If anyone would come after me, they must take up their cross and deny themselves’, said Jesus earlier in his ministry. The way of Jesus, is the way of humble, willing, painful self-denial and self-sacrifice. It is not the way of privilege, of grasping power, of being number one, or of others serving my needs. It is a road of giving up all I have, of considering others better than myself, of going wherever God might call me, whatever the cost, whatever the pain – in response to the call of my majestic and humble God.
This is our God.
This is our calling.
This is Palm Sunday.