Palm Sunday address: Reminiscence

Those who accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday would have reacted to the events of the following week in different ways. Here’s one person’s experience…

It’s many years since all this occurred, but I remember it so clearly. It was one of those “if only” experiences we get. I was travelling with a group of family and friends all the way from Galilee up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there, as we are required to do. We headed eastwards and then south down the Jordan Valley, until we reached Jericho. Then began the most dangerous part of the journey as we turned west and climbed steeply up through rough bare rocky terrain. We were all on edge and kept a look-out because there was the imminent threat of being attacked by lawless bandits in that area, and there was little chance of escape if that occurred.

But we made it through safely, and to our relief found ourselves approaching the Mount of Olives. Only two miles to go. But before we could go any further, we found we had caught up with a huge crowd of people, who were accompanying a man riding on a colt, so we just tagged along behind. Being part of such a large number of people, we made much slower progress up the final part of the climb but eventually the road took us to a point just below the summit.

No sooner had we got there than we saw another crowd of people coming up towards us from the opposite direction. It seemed they had come out of Jerusalem to meet this man and had cut branches from the palm trees that grow on that side of the Mount of Olives. As they came they were shouting and singing with enormous excitement and exhilaration. They were crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

When I heard this I immediately turned to one of the people in the crowd who had been with this man and said, “What are they talking about? Who is this?”  He answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee. Haven’t you heard anything about what he has been saying and doing?” It then dawned on me that the crowd was quoting from one of the prophets: “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” It sent shivers down my back; were we, at long last, seeing the promised Messiah who would lead us into freedom once more, and rescue us from all the long years of being oppressed by foreigners?

When the crowd coming out of Jerusalem had reached us, they turned right round and started back the way they had come, singing and chanting, so that it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. Well you would, wouldn’t you, after all those years of waiting for the Messiah to come? I’d almost given up hope of it happening in my lifetime, and now, all of a sudden, here he was!

Just then we caught our first sight of part of the holy city of Jerusalem, shining out, and welcoming us. What timing! We carried on down a slight slope so that we lost sight of the city, but then the way climbed upwards again, and there on a ledge of smooth rock, we stood still, amazed by the view spread out before us. In our awe-struck state, it took a little while to realise that Jesus was weeping, saying words of lament over Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets, stoning those who are sent to you!” Not the reaction I would have expected, but never mind.

As we continued on our way, several Pharisees pushed through the crowd and spoke angrily to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” His reply was that, if he did, the very stones would cry out. That didn’t go down very well with them. But I was surprised by their words. If Jesus truly was the Messiah, surely they should have been joining in the exuberance and welcoming him into his city too? Things didn’t quite add up, but I was too caught up in it all to let it worry me.

Slowly we made our way down across the Kidron Valley, passing by Gethsemane, and then after a steep climb up again into the city, we entered the Temple through its east gate. It was such a stirring experience, being part of this great crowd of people all celebrating the entry of our deliverer, and feeling proud that we yokels from Galilee knew more about who was in their midst than did the smart city folk of Jerusalem. They realised something momentous was happening so that they began to demand to know what was going on, and of course we were only too willing to give them the benefit of our superior knowledge.

After that though, things began to change. Jesus went into the Temple and caused a great commotion, upsetting the tables of the money lenders and shouting that this was supposed to be a house of prayer, “But you have made it a den of thieves!” Anyway it was beginning to get late, so I drifted away to find somewhere to stay that week.

It was the day when the lambs were being selected to be slaughtered as the sacrificial lambs at the Passover feast in 5 days’ time.  That’s our important celebration and re-enactment of the time when the prophet Moses acted on God’s call to him to lead his people to freedom and the Promised Land. I had things to do to prepare for the Passover, but all the time I kept an ear to the ground. I expected to hear in the following days that Jesus had assembled an army and thrown the Romans out of the city, but nothing seemed to happen. I suppose he was just another of the many failed claimants to being the Messiah that we have had. All that high excitement – and for what? Sometimes I find myself thinking back to those days.   Wishing the claims had been true, and how different life might have been.    What a complete and utter let down he was. Where did he, where did we all, where did I go wrong?

Rev’d Christine Barrow