B14 EASTER - Palm Sunday
St. Matthew 21.vv.1-13
~ When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them'. And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee". Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers". ~
Perhaps you can remember where you were on some special occasion when news of great importance was announced. Many of my generation can remember very vividly the outbreak and ending of the Second World War. I was in Edinburgh when that war ended, and the whole city went wild with excitement, which is exactly how Jerusalem was described on Palm Sunday. But wait! ... five days later the cry of, "Crucify!. We have no king but Caesar". Why? "What hath My Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? Sometimes they strew his way ... then "Crucify" is all their breath" ... so runs a Passion hymn.
What on earth (not Heaven) has gone wrong? Have we got it right? Let us look again at the Gospel evidence. All the Gospels recount Jesus' walk over Olivet, not by back streets, but publicly accepting the Messianic greetings of the crowds. On the descent of the Mount today there stands a small Church called "Dominus Flevit" (The Lord Wept) from which there is a wonderful view of Jerusalem to remind us that Jesus wept over the city that did not know the things that belonged to its peace. The evidence that in fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy of the coming of the King riding upon a donkey is preserved in G. K. Chesterton's verse, as the donkey declares, "Fools, for I also had my day, one far fierce hour and sweet, There were shouts about my ears, And palms before my feet". Here was history in the making; a new thing was taking place. There were cosmic implications as in the account of the Creation in Job, "When the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy". This was a kind of Re-creation. The joy of the people welcoming their King had to be expressed. "If you can stop the birds singing, hold back the dawn, deflect the stars in their course, then you can quench joy". Bidden to silence his enthusiastic followers, Jesus replied, "If these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out".
What, then, went wrong? Many reasons can be adduced and probably not one fully accounts for the reversal. It has been suggested that the incident has been exaggerated but clearly the Triumphal Entry was an event prepared for beforehand. Jesus himself gave the instructions, "The Lord hath need of them" (the ass and colt). There was doubtless misunderstanding of the role the coming Messiah would play, for he did not come as a conquering hero prepared to save his people in battle. The Pharisees were scandalised by the behaviour of Jesus and the Sadducees were deeply offended by the Temple Cleansing. Probably out of sheer fickleness some of the crowd were persuaded to change sides. Many, no doubt were apathetic, caught up in the demonstration but their enthusiasm waned later on, as they reflected, "This is not really my scene ... I don't really want to be involved" Probably the nearest we shall ever come to an answer is found in the words of Edmund Burke, the eighteenth century Historian and Philosopher who said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing". At the arrest of Jesus the decent kindly folk were not there in sufficient numbers to prevent a miscarriage of justice, but whatever help might have been forthcoming, we sinners need to answer in the affirmative the age- old question, "Were you there when they crucified My Lord?" - for figuratively we certainly were!