I remember a Vicar meeting up with me for lunch, just before I was installed as a Vicar myself.
I asked for a few tips.
And this Vicar told me to just be prepared for the Hosanna-Crucify experience that all vicars suffer. When, one minute people are singing your praises and the next they are plotting to do away with you!
Well, I can’t say that’s how it always is for me in my lovely church – where people are very generous and forgiving – and often have good cause to crucify me.
But the remark stuck with me because isn’t that how we all are, to some extent? One minute, being loyal and supportive, and the next, stabling people in the back.
And, of course, that’s exactly what we see in the story of Jesus on Palm Sunday – which comes up again in the Church calendar this week.
Jesus has been proclaiming the kingdom of God in the backwaters of the Roman Empire – a message of non-violent resistance to the exploitation and oppression that his people are suffering. And he decides to take this message to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the traditional centre of the Jewish people, where the Temple is – their place of worship. And it is at the time of the Passover – the biggest Jewish festival of the year.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would have been crammed into the city - to remember the foundational story of the Jewish faith – the story of the Exodus. When their forebears had been in slavery in Egypt and had cried out to God and God had heard their prayer and answered them – sending Moses to lead them out of Egypt.
Wasn’t it the same in Jesus’ time?
The Jewish people saw themselves as in slavery to the Romans and crying out for God to anoint someone (the word Messiah means ‘anointed one’), someone like Moses to deliver them.
So, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, what does this mean?
Well, first and foremost Jesus is saying that he IS this Messiah, this anointed one, that the people have been waiting for. And he tells them this by arriving on a donkey – fulfilling an ancient scripture that prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey.
The people recognise this and are excited.
They shout Hosanna which means ‘Save us!’ They recognise Jesus as the Messiah, the one God is sending to save them.
But they expect Jesus to square up to the Romans in the same way that Moses squared up to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
But what does Jesus do?
He actually does things that are more offensive to the Jewish people than to the Romans. He overturns the tables in the Temple. He gets into arguments with the scribes and pharisees. He talks about the Temple being destroyed .
He does all these things because he sees how the Jewish authorities are collaborating with the Romans in oppressing and exploiting people. He wants things to change – not so much by fighting the Romans but by changing peoples’ hearts and minds.
But the Jewish people just see a man who is not living up their expectations. Who is not the kind of Messiah they had in mind.
So the cries turn from Hosanna! to Crucify!
The complaint is that Jesus sees himself as the Son of God, as Lord and Saviour – all titles that the Romans saw as being fitting for Caesar alone.
So, by the end of the week, Jesus has been arrested, accused of challenging imperial authority and then faces the consequences of this crime. Being nailed to a cross and left to die.
A punishment that was intended to deter others from following his example and challenging the way things were.
Well the story, as you know, goes on. And doesn’t end at the Cross.
And there are many more questions to consider. Like, why do Christians celebrate Easter? What is the good news about this story?
I’d like to encourage you this year to try to answer those questions yourself.
If you can, this Holy Week and Easter, find a church and attend as many services as possible. Hear the stories of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and institutes holy communion), Good Friday and, of course, Easter Day.
Walk the ‘via dolorosa,’ the road of sorrow, with Jesus. Make the journey from crying Hosanna! to crying Crucify!
And then, see with what joy you may proclaim ‘Alleluia! He is risen’ on Easter Day.