Sunday, March 17, 2013

Palm Sunday, 24 March 2013

Theme:  When Jesus rides into our lives

 Sentence: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he whoo comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9) [NZPB, p. 580]

 Collect:  Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem
 The people waved palms
 With shouts of acclamation.
 Grant that when the shouting dies
 We may still walk beside you even to a cross.
 Hear this prayer for your love’s sake. Amen. [NZPB, p.580].

 Readings (following the "liturgy of the palms" in our NZ Lectionary, I give only the following readings for reflection/preparation for preaching)

 Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
 Luke 19:28-40

 In one sense the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem as a 'king' is a surprise in Luke's gospel. The intentional journey of Jesus to Jerusalem (go back to Luke 9:51 for the start of this) has been a journey in which Jesus has taught his disciples how to be disciples and touched the lives of people in need with transformations (e.g. healing for some, change of life for Zacchaeus).

But this has not been the journey of a king preparing for enthronement in the usual sense of the word 'king.' To an extent Luke prepares his readers for the kingly passage of Jesus into Jerusalem by telling them, immediately before the entry, the parable of the nobleman who goes to a far country to get royal power for himself (Luke 19:11-27, which we also know as the Parable of the Pounds).

 Another surprise is that Jesus should be greeted by 'multitudes of disciples' (19:37). We have not formed the impression during the journey told in 9:51-19:27 that Jesus has attracted to himself lots and lots of disciples! (John's Gospel may help us here as he explains that the raising of Lazarus from the dead had made Jesus very popular in the days before the entry to Jerusalem, John 12:9-19).

 With those observations made, what is at the heart of this unexpected story?

 The citation of Psalm 118 (Luke 19:38a = Psalm 118:26, with substitution of 'king' for 'one') furnishes a clue. Luke bears witness (with the other gospel writers) to the multitude's interpretation of Jesus as the one sent by God to take up a kingly role in the rule of Israel. In the context of an imminent festival, Passover, and on the edge of Jerusalem city of David, it is natural for this scripturally informed multitude to acclaim Jesus with familiar words from an appropriate psalm.

 By including the word 'king' in the citation, Luke ensures a connection between the end of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the end of his life: the charge against him which leads to his death is his claim to be 'king' (Luke 23:2). (Incidentally, Luke furnishes in 19:38b words which take us back to the birth of the king, 'Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven', see 2:14).

 At the heart of the story, then, is Jesus' arrival in several senses of that word as 'king'. But the question raised by the story, for example, by the humility of the means of transport, is 'what kind of king?' When Jesus is charged and convicted of being 'king' the level of understanding concerns human power. There can only be one 'king', the Roman Caesar. Jesus as king is a seditious revolutionary who must be dealt with.

But Luke is telling his readers that there is another level of understanding: Jesus' kingship comes from heaven, his arrival is part of a heavenly plan for human history, and when he acts as king it is God's own power and authority which he represents to the world. Some king!

Thus while the story has a dark shadow, the shadow of the cross, it is a story which looks ahead to the triumphant rule of God over history. The seed of that rule is here, the fruit is after the resurrection. Rightly our response, to which we could go back again to Psalm 118, is joyful praise.

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