Vicar’s sermon Palm Sunday 2024 Mark 11. 1-11

When the Pope visited the United States back in 2015 he caused quite a stir by driving off from the airport in a black Fiat 500….which, just in case you’re not into cars yourself, is a tiny little car. He said nothing upon his arrival, but his choice of this car in a nation famous for its huge Cadillacs and which feels the need to take the kids to school in an off-road SUV, spoke volumes. His picture was splashed across the press and column inches were written about his humility, the need to care for the planet and the totally different direction the Pope seemed to be taking the church.
When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem he seems to have gone to similar lengths to get a message across without opening his mouth. We’re not told, but it seems as if the colt – the donkey – tied up outside a property in the village up ahead had been made ready for him by its owners. This ‘beast of burden’ was the working man’s ute: it did everything. It could carry huge weight upon its back. It could carry you or me. Not the most elegant of rides but most people in Israel had no need whatsoever of bells and whistles. …leave all the trappings of horses and cavalry to Pilate and his soldiers, travelling up to Jerusalem from the coast to keep the peace over Passover.
‘Climb on’ they say, and off they go, heading down the steep roads of the Mount of Olives, down into the valley, not far. A 40 minute walk to the Old City of David, a bit of a pull on the ‘up’ into the city itself. This was the route King David himself had taken after the civil war a thousand years and more before, had thrown the country into chaos. This was the route he had taken away from Jerusalem to escape the coup initiated by his favourite son, Absalom: the city emptying of government officials fleeing for their lives, heading east out into the Judaean desert, unsure whether they had ‘backed the right side’, how long the war might last or whether they would ever see Jerusalem again.
As they had left the city David had been humiliated and cursed by those still loyal to his predecessor, Saul. His humiliation was complete when Absalom took up residence in the royal palace. But the coup had faltered, Absalom’s troops were routed, he had been killed…so back came the King to secure his capital, back came the King to take his throne again, back came the king to assert his authority over a broken kingdom.
‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven’.
No wonder they saw him as the rightful heir to David’s throne: he was.
No wonder they saw him as one of them: he was (and is).
Great themes from the nation’s story all gather together at this point in the Jesus story and moments like this ‘triumphal entry’ are to be read through the lens of Israel’s history. The ‘return of the King’ was just one of many themes, but an important one. The King is coming. He comes in peace on a donkey as the prophet Zechariah had seen all those years before. What we didn’t hear was Zechariah’s prophetic words about Jerusalem, of the Lord coming to dwell within the city, of a time of peace and justice and freedom and plenty – of a time when all nations would find God’s blessing through His chosen people. Those who knew their scriptures well might have imagined that all this was about to arrive as Jesus of Nazareth rode through Jerusalem’s streets up towards the temple.
And maybe it truly was on offer…if the people had accepted it. But this Son of David would be a disappointment because he offered no threat to the Romans: where were his weapons? This Son of David seemed to the scribes, pharisees, Herodians and priests to pervert the Law of God as he offered healing and forgiveness to all: where was his authority? This Son of David didn’t understand the careful balance needed to keep the nation safe…who did the carpenter’s son think he was messing about in national politics? What delusions of grandeur? How unfortunate then that it would require the death of one person to keep those with power in power!
And so they shouted and they cheered…and they remembered the nice touch of the donkey. The story was told, and told again and eventually it would be written up for us to read. In due course the donkey would be returned, tied up outside a house in a little village east of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate would climb back onto his horse and be escorted back to the seaside. Everything in the temple would return to normal. The chief priests, the scribes and elders of the people returned to their routines. And nothing changed. Except that is not true is it? Everything changed that week – because a man rode a donkey into Jerusalem who would overturn our understanding of what it is to be truly human, the nature of God, the meaning of Power and showed us through his faithfulness and courage what it is to Love.
Had he planned everything? Yep. Before the foundation of the earth.

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