Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week and the time we hear of our Lord’s passion for us and remember the last week of his human life: the culmination of his life of love and obedience. We enter into Jerusalem with our Lord and progress toward the cross and the tomb. Although we know the story the readings are long and at times harrowing and so to help us digest them I have broken it down into smaller segments with a brief reflection after each. This Sunday we focus on the beginning of the story of that last week and then over Holy Week we will focus in on other moments.
Matthew 21:1-11, and 26:1-5 Reflection One: The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus came riding the colt of a donkey, as he knew the prophet Zechariah had said a future king would, a king who would banish the weapons of war from the land.
But on that day there were two processions into Jerusalem; Jesus from the Galilee to the north and the Roman governor of Judea from the west. Jesus came enacting this long remembered promise at the very moment that the other procession was making it’s way into the city – the procession of the Roman governor of Judea and the imperial army for they were nervous this time, Passover, every year about Jewish uprisings against the Roman Empire.
So Rome made its presence felt with the spectacle of its power and its theology of peace through victory and oppression. And Jesus came with a raggle taggle following that declared peace through liberation from oppression. They were on a collision course.
You came riding the colt of a donkey, and they came with chariots and shiny armor, making the choice between the reign of God and the reign of the Empire of Rome as clear as possible. But the choice was lost on most - then and now. Many who shouted Hosanna on that day wanted you to take up arms against Roman oppression. No wonder the Jews were offended by your symbolism and afraid of the consequences and plotted to put an end to the danger.
Sometimes we have chosen your dangerous peace. Sometimes we have chosen power and the rule of unjust laws. We pray that you help us to discern your path and chose peace and justice and mercy.
Matthew 26:6-16 Reflection Two: Two Reactions to the Imminent Death of Jesus
A woman, without name recorded, recognised that Jesus had sealed his fate, that his actions were likely to lead to his death, and in her love and fear she did what she could, she anointed him for his death in costly perfume. She broke all the conventions of appropriate behaviour. Maybe because everything was already in an uproar, maybe because she was not a very respectable woman. But Jesus received her gift and love with gratitude and honoured her for her choice.
And a disciple name Judas also responded to the stark choices of the day. He chose to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities. We cannot know his motivations – maybe he was afraid for the consequences of Jesus’ outrageous and provocative behaviour, maybe he was disappointed that Jesus was not going to lead an uprising, maybe he was just mercenary. We cannot know why. We only know that he decided to betray. His failure hardly any greater than that of Peter or the other disciples to come.
You honoured the one who loved you as best she could. And you continued to treat as your own those disciples who knowingly and unknowingly were about to betray and fail you. You had already committed yourself to being one of us, for better and for worse, and no matter how abandoned and afraid you felt, you kept your heart open to those around you.
During our life we have sometimes paid the cost of loving you with all that we have. Sometimes we have betrayed you and failed you, ourselves and our neighbours. We pray that you help us to love extravagantly and live fully whatever the cost.
Matthew 26:17-30 Reflection Three: The Passover Meal
Jesus’ last meal on earth was to partake of the Passover meal with his disciples and friends – the most sacred meal for Jewish people. And during this meal he declared himself to be the bread and the wine of this ancient celebration of the Liberation of the people of God.
In this festival is remembered the meal that the people of Israel ate in haste – standing, their staff already in their hand ready for hard travelling – as they killed a lamb to eat its flesh and to daub its blood upon the doorposts so that the angel of death might pass over their homes and families as they readied to escape Egypt under the cover of the most terrible of the plagues – the death of every first born.
In making this your last meal, in dying for us at this time of year, you declared that you are the bread that sustains us in life’s journey from oppression and slavery to freedom and the promised land, and that you are the blood that causes the angel of death to pass over us sparing us from ultimate despair and death.
We pray that as we take part in your meal that we know ourselves liberated from all that enslaves us and that we know ourselves restored to the fullness of life eternal in you.
I am deeply grateful to the writing of: Marcus J Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, Harper Collins, New York, 2006.