Summary: A simple exploration of what Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem might have been like without the benefit of hindsight- and what this teaches us today.
I remember as a small child really enjoying palm Sunday. At a small church in the middle of nowhere, I have this memory of being given a palm cross and being told to wave it about. Waving things about was what I was normally told NOT to do, so perhaps this is why it stuck in my mind. The other thing I remember from church in childhood was being given lots of ladybird books about the life of Christ by a wonderful old lady who used to live in a grand house, but would come up to me and whisper "you can read this in the boring bits". I suspect that my memory is not quite accurate, but this memory is still very important to me.
When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we, looking back and possibly knowing how the story ends since our childhood, we see the irony, a triumphal entry - then crucifixion, the praise of the masses soon to call for his death. But perhaps for a while we can leave aside our hindsight and think back to how the crowds might have felt. I cannot but believe that their hopes and expectations were genuine, at least for some of them. They did not live in an idyllic community, but in a land of oppression, with religious and political discord the likes of which we only know through our television. With little health provision, recovery from serious illness was rare, life was short and work was hard. Into this life, a prophet among many prophets seems to be living a charmed life, three years of ministry to people have not resulted in the death of Jesus son of Joseph, despite the clear threat he poses to the authorities. Perhaps we might imagine him wandering and preaching through one of the trouble spots in the world today. It was in just such a situation, with a huge demand for change, that Jesus came, a Jew with the confidence to teach openly and to break all the rules. And then, in full and public display, he rides into Jerusalem and accepts the praise of the people. I can imagine that the thought on everyone’s mind was something like ‘so what will he do next to change things?’.
We know what happens next, the expectation of revolution is met by the silence of Jesus in the face of the mob, acceptance of his suffering, and his death and abandonment by God. All those expectations were dashed. And rather than jump forward to next Sunday and our celebration of his resurrection at Easter, I would like us to think a little about where we are in this crowd celebrating the arrival of Jesus. Don’t we have expectations of God? I used to think the crowds in Jerusalem were foolish spectators, but now I tend to see them as people, just like we are, each of us in need of hope within our lives. I think they were quite right to expect something of Jesus, and in the same way, so are we.
Just because we think we know our future, or because we think we understand the Gospel, does not mean that we should skip to the end of the story, trusting in God for salvation but leaving the present untouched. We are right to have expectations of the risen Christ, even when, as our gospel readings today perhaps shows, we sometimes feel left in a crowd and unsure of how the Risen Christ can respond to our expectations. But if we dare to believe in the reality of God, and the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, we have no justification in refusing to expect things of God. So we are right, however foolish it may seem to the world, to expect great things of our God, who has already done the greatest thing for us through his Son, sharing our human death for the forgiveness of our sins.