On Thursday night we were leaning out of windows and standing outside our front doors, shouting and clapping and ringing bells and banging pots and pans, to applaud the NHS and all who are working to conquer corona. My neighbour (who was participating vigorously) said to me over the fence this morning, ‘I don’t really see the point because they can’t hear us –they’re all hard at work in our hospitals’. Maybe so (though perhaps he doesn’t know about social media). But then I thought, it’s not just about them it’s also about us, sticking with them in solidarity and growing in appreciation for them and their work, week by week.
There’s evidence of the same kind of planning and cheerleading behind Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Previously up until that moment, Jesus has studiously avoided public acclaim and publicity. Now, he reaches out for it. It’s Passover time. The city is jammed with pilgrims from all over the world. And they’re all lined up for him as he enters Jerusalem so the whole city gets to hear about his arrival. If you like, he plays the crowd –– and they’re up for it. They’ve heard rabbis chanting Psalm 24 about the coming king of glory all their lives; they’ve come for a festival, they’re looking for a bit of action and Jerusalem is nothing if not the city of David, the place where the king will come, God’s promised Messiah, bringing good times and revealing glory of God.
Today I invite you metaphorically to join that crowd and hail the coming King. We can’t do it this year with our usual palms and procession, but we could shout and clap and bang our pots & pans – as we join a throng that reaches down the centuries and around the world, cheering as it has every year for nearly 2000 years... as we recognise this figure as king. And welcome him. The longed-for king was to be the Messiah, the one who brings healing and wholeness and holiness to God’s people and through God’s people to the world. Shalom! I think we’d all agree we could do with a bit of that in our homes, around our communities, across the world right now. I invite you to focus all your longings, every anxious prayer, every hope of heaven, right here.
There’s great joy and acclaim as Jesus enters Jerusalem at the start of the week, the beginning of the festival. But it turns out to be a day of temporary triumph: because the path to glory is not as smooth as many would hope. Victory is not easy or swift or straightforward. If it were,
I’m not sure we’d know where to look for God in the Nightingale Hospitals of our cities or the shanty towns of our world. We’d imagine that God had self-isolated in the face of suffering and grief. But the kind of King we discover in Holy Week – the one who is seen to be humble, and mounted on a donkey (not distant or showy, riding on some great white steed) - turns out to be a Saviour who is right there. He doesn’t run away in the face of suffering: he’s right there, on the frontline, taking it on himself.
The palm branches pave the path to a week of turmoil and trauma. The gospels make clear that this week is the defining week of Jesus’ life, and indeed the life of the world. The loud hosannas quickly fade; as acclaim turns to confrontation, and friends distance themselves to the point of betrayal and denial. Systems of justice become unjust and the crowd proves fickle. Who or what can we trust? Where is there hope? What was all that nonsense about glory? Despair and desperation are very real: it turns out, not just to us but to God.
The One we can trust is the one who walks knowingly into the very worst the world can throw up. We place our hope in a Saviour who is undeterred, faithful to the end, utterly focused on fulfilling the purpose for which God sent him. And we discover the secret to glory: it lies the other side of despair and desperation, if we can keep walking in the way of the cross. Yes, God brings healing out of hell, shalom out of suffering, triumph out of tragedy.
But on Palm Sunday the crowds didn’t know this. On Palm Sunday they’re looking forwards and they’re cheering. They cheer for their keyworker king, their frontline prophet, they cheer with every shred of hope they can muster amidst their fears and doubts. Whether or not he can hear, whether or not he’s listening or has disappeared from sight. Their persistence builds hope, their hope builds resilience. We put our hope in this king not because he needs our
hope but because he calls it forth even where the road is rocky.. And we persist, we keep going, even when things go wrong, even when tragedy and trauma strike; we keep going, trusting our cheering may help keep others going, all the way to the cross. Through which, beyond which, because of Christ, there is the promise of glory.
Let’s keep on keeping on. Cheering Jesus as king; cheering others to follow. With palms, with pots, with persistence. We may not see it right now, but there is a King of Glory.