Tag Archive: Palm Sunday

Sixth Sunday of Lent…

…usually called Palm Sunday. Although it should be pointed out that the “palm” bit is only the beginning. During the final days before Jesus is arrested and executed, he arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey and was welcomed by crowds who strewed his path with branches taken from palm trees. Once in Jerusalem events build to a head until the authorities feel they have no choice but to catch him and silence him. In our churches on Palm Sunday we often begin the service with a procession and carry either palm branches or palm crosses as we sing. Once inside, though, the mood turns more sombre and we recall the events of Good Friday.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the ending of the fray,
o’er the cross, the victor’s trophy,
sound the loud triumphant lay:
tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
as a victim won the day.

God in pity saw man fallen,
shamed and sunk in misery,
when he fell on death by tasting
fruit of the forbidden tree:
then another tree was chosen
which the world from death should free.

Therefore when the appointed fullness
of the holy time was come,
he was sent who maketh all things
forth from God’s eternal home:
thus he came to earth, incarnate,
offspring of a maiden’s womb.

Thirty years among us dwelling,
now at length his hour fulfilled,
born for this, he meets his Passion,
for that this he freely willed,
on the cross the Lamb is lifted,
where his life-blood shall be spilled.

To the Trinity be glory,
to the Father and the Son,
with the co-eternal Spirit,
ever Three and ever One,
one in love and one in splendour,
while unending ages run. Amen.

Pange lingua gloriosi by Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c.535–609)
translation mainly by Percy Dearmer (1867–1936)

Psalm 70


It is said that there are four short great prayers which everyone should have at their disposal. They are: please, help, sorry and thank you. The beginning of the psalm I’m looking at here could be summarised as “Help!” and the end as “Hurry up!”. There is an urgency about this prayer and I guess that is one reason why this psalm is one of the shorter ones – just five verses.

It also seems to me that Psalm 70 fits in with this week in the Church’s calendar. The week began with Palm Sunday and remembering Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We then follow Jesus through the days and events that lead to his  crucifixion; and then we celebrate his resurrection at Easter. At this point of the journey, Jesus is in Jerusalem with his friends and followers. He is aware, much more acutely than them, that things are coming to a head and that he will be presented with “the cup of suffering” to drink. Jesus is no masochist nor is he a fatalist. He has a choice but the consequences for him will be dire: he will suffer and die. Before Easter, there is Good Friday; before resurrection there is the cross. Surely Jesus would ask for God’s help and with some urgency to put it mildly. No matter what he knew or expected to happen afterwards, the prospects for that week would make anyone turn to God for help.

I would not press psalm 70 too far or try to put words into Jesus’ mouth. I do suggest that it is OK to ask God for help and, if the situation warrants it, to ask him to hurry up.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah. Grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen. (Additional Collect, Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday, 2014

We cannot escape the cross. There is no Christianity without it. There is no Christianity without self-denial, and self-denial hurts. (D. W. Cleverley Ford)

A Prayer from “Common Worship”

Lord Jesus Christ, you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant, and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation. Give us the mind to follow you and to proclaim you as Lord and King, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. (Palm Sunday, post communion prayer)

Palm Sunday 2013

lent 2013 001bJesus Christ emptied himself.

(Philippians chapter 2 verse 7)

“I don’t do donkeys!” The church is carpeted and I just know that if we had one in church, even for a couple of minutes on Palm Sunday, we would soon have a message suitable for the roses. Donkey dung in church is a risk I am not prepared to take! Anyway, when Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem he was making a point about the kind of king he was – a point that would have been readily understood by the people of his time there. In the western world, donkeys are not such a common sight – at least you do not regularly see them in our towns and cities. I would go so far as to say that the Palm Sunday donkey is a bit of a red herring.

The point of the donkey is that Jesus was not claiming any status as a militant king bent on conquest. He let go of any status he might have had and the reason for the donkey was to communicate humility and peace. For those of us living in a Kingdom (and there are a few left in Europe) the modern-day equivalent would be the King or Queen going to parliament not in a bullet proof car but on a bicycle. No doubt the police etc would counsel against that as a security risk – and they would be right.

In a similar way, Jesus took a risk and there was no guarantee of security and/or safety for him – as the events of the following days would show as they unfolded.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah. Grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen. (Additional Collect, Palm Sunday)

The donkey is a red herring

For many Christians today marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year. That’s not to say that there isn’t any holiness anywhere else but it is a special week. We make a point of remembering the last events in Jesus’ life leading up to his death by crucifixion (Good Friday) and then a little later his being brought to new life in the resurrection (Easter Day).

Palm Sunday gets its name from an event in the gospels when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, not on foot – his usual means of transport – but on the back of a donkey. He was welcomed as a king and where we might roll out the red carpet, in Jerusalem they put their branches from palm trees on his road (a green carpet, I suppose). That sets the scene: Jesus is no longer moving about the country, he is now at the capital city. It would be fairly easy to talk about that event and find some meaning in it. There is something for everyone: Jesus rode a donkey and in that way he showed humility (he could have ridden a war horse, instead, to show that he was a powerful warrior king) and that makes a political as well as a theological point. Meanwhile children might take an interest in the donkey itself: what is it like to be specially chosen by Jesus? However, if we leave Palm Sunday only thinking about the donkey then I think we have missed the point. Jesus is indeed being portrayed as a king but a crucified king.

That leads us to the next part of Palm Sunday which looks at the events leading up to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. It is a fairly long reading. For some it might seem strange that the main focus of Palm Sunday is the events that happened around that first Good Friday. However, the fact is that for many busy people, Palm Sunday is the last chance they get to come to church before Easter and they would miss out on a crucial part of the gospel message: Jesus was executed, dead and buried before the miracle took place which we celebrate on Easter Day.

I probably shouldn’t admit this but I do find listening to or reading about those Good Friday events hard going. Think of it this way, how often could you listen to how a friend of yours died before you found it all a bit too much? As usual, today I found it hard to concentrate during the reading of St Matthew’s version of events. One notorious verse did stand out.

It was the one where the religious authorities reject Jesus in favour of a violent rebel so that Jesus was not released from custody but handed over to be tortured and executed. Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair while the crowd said ‘let his blood be on us and on our children!’ (verse 25 of chapter 27). For centuries this has been taken to mean not just that they take responsibility for their choice but that every generation was to be blamed for putting an innocent man to death. That is a terrible misuse of that verse and moreover, it is not what it is means. In the Bible there is a principle that if anyone should take the blame it is only for what they themselves have done. The rest of that person’s family are not guilty by association. This ancient principle that goes back at least as far as the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah some 600 years before Jesus’ time in history.

I think there is a better way to understand this verse and it depends on remembering what else was going on in Jerusalem at the time. It was around the feast of the Passover. Every year the Hebrew people remembered (as they still do) the miracle of their escape from slavery in Egypt and the beginning of their long journey to a new land. Part of the story is how the first-born child of every household died. The exception was where the doorway of the house had been daubed with the blood of a sacrificial lamb. The splashing of the blood meant that that house was passed over. To be splashed with blood meant that you would be spared being killed. Splashing with blood in the Old Testament is also associated with religious or holy sacrifices. In other words, blood is associated with God saving lives and with dedicating things to God as being holy. Fortunately, Christians believe that Jesus’ death means the end of any need for animal sacrifices although we do use that Old Testament imagery to try to explain the meaning of Good Friday and Easter.

St Matthew, who we believe started out as a traditional Jew, would have known this. So when the crowd talk about Jesus’ blood being on them and on their children, they probably meant “We take responsibility for our actions”. St Matthew did not have to include this verse, but as he did, I think he means it to be understood that despite what they did, salvation is for them as much as for anyone else. In other words, any benefit there may be had from Jesus’ crucifixion is for them as well as for us.

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