Matthew 21:10-11 “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””.


We’re learning to be afraid of other people. Not in the sense of rioters or demonstrations, or even finding ourselves surrounded by the noisy – but generally cheerful and harmless – hubbub of sports fans on their way to a match. We hear of people holding perfectly ordinary family parties and barbecues, and we are shocked and horrified, because in the current situation, almost unimaginably, this really does translate into people putting themselves and those they love at risk.


The authorities in Jesus’ day – both Roman and local – were also alarmed by other people congregating. But the contagion they were afraid of was different: both political and religious. The two often came together in Judaea, especially at the great Passover festival which remembered how God had freed his people from slavery in Egypt many generations before. This was the central reference point of the Jewish faith, the one which God used to describe himself: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt…” Since then, the Lord’s people had endured war, oppression, loss and exile, as well as intervals of the promised prosperity. But he had been faithful. And what he had done before, one day (How long, O Lord? How long?) he would do again.

This meant – of course it did! – an end to Roman rule. And probably an end to the authority of local leaders and politicians as well, seen by many as collaborators and Quislings.


The Jewish authorities don’t come well out of the Passion story, although I suspect their concerns were not simply for themselves. They’d already seen the results of unrest on many previous occasions, and all it had brought was more suffering and more death. They were doing the best they could, and that meant keeping everything under control.


And here comes Jesus, stamping his entry into Jerusalem with the trappings of Jewish royalty: the donkey (Solomon rode one of these on his royal entry), the palms (symbol of the last independent Jewish dynasty of the Hasmonaeans), the royal title (“son of David”). No wonder the alarms were going off.


One of the great characters of the drama of Holy Week is - the crowd. There’s a wisdom in the crowd, although it only goes so far. They have it so right, when they cry Hosanna in a frenzy of joy and praise……and yet they have it so wrong, in what they expect Jesus to do. They expect a warrior king, to restore the independent kingdom of Israel. How many of those who greeted Jesus and laid down their cloaks on Sunday, bitterly disappointed, went on to call “Crucify!” on Friday?


On the other hand, the much-maligned High Priest Caiaphas got it so wrong in helping to bring about Jesus’ death….and yet he got it so right when he said, “It is better that one man should die for the people.” Not in the way he had in mind, an issue of local politics….but for all people everywhere, ever since.


Palm Sunday kicks off the drama of Holy Week in a collective, public event. This year we can’t mark it as we normally do, with a procession and palms and singing of our own, which I have to say does feel wrong! But as the week goes on, Jesus’s circle shrinks – from public events, to his close friends, to the utter solitude and isolation of the Cross. Holy Week asks for a response from each one of us: Jesus dealt with people, spoke to them, cured them, challenged them, cared for them, one-to-one. And that is as true now as it has always been.

 

REV SUE GILL