Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday must have been an interesting place. Unlike today when most of the citizens of our cities are at home, locked down, on that Palm Sunday most of the City of Jerusalem would have been out on the streets. The closest analogy I can think of is derby day in one of our big, football mad, cities.
For you see Jesus was not the only person processing into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, for the emperor’s representative, the Governor Pontius Pilate, was also making his own procession; except it wasn’t his own for he was acting as a mere proxy for the Emperor Tiberius. Whilst Pilate was acting as the puppet of a despot, Jesus was acting under the authority of The Father into whose hands five days later he was to ‘commend’ his ‘spirit.’
Pilate’s entrance would have been through the main city gate and he would have been welcomed with insincere, coerced, praise. Jesus by contrast enters Jerusalem through a narrow gate. Pilate enters the city feted high to give them impression of power and authority. Jesus enters on a donkey, riding low. The donkey is normally thought of as symbolising humility, but it was also the animal used when the message was to be one of peace.
Pilate would have had money thrown into his path; Jesus has palm leaves placed before him. Pilate’s destination is a multi-day imperial banquet; Jesus destination, via an upstairs room, is the cross.
In comparing what we know of the Imperial procession with Jesus’ triumphant entrance what we get to see is something of the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus seeking to bring through his passion, through the majesty of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
Jesus you see isn’t interested in power for its own sake. He is interested in power solely based on what it can do for others. Jesus is all about peace and justice. Jesus isn’t concerned with building a here today gone tomorrow empire but an everlasting kingdom; a kingdom where all who are prepared to follow him and live as he would have us live have a stake and a home. The challenge of Palm Sunday is simply this: to decide whose side we are on. Are we on Jesus’ side and can we sincerely follow in his steps, or are we on the other, seemingly more powerful, side; the Kingdom side or the Imperial side?
The invitation of Palm Sunday goes a little bit further than the challenge, for having decided we are on Jesus’ side we are then invited to reflect on the nature of our discipleship. You see the tragedy of Palm Sunday is that the vast majority of those singing ‘Hosana to the Son of David,’ were nowhere to be seen just a few days later when it looked as though Jesus had lost, or in football parlance been relegated. When we survey the scene from the cross just five days later, what we see is that Jesus' first set of supporters were a fickle lot.
How resolute, committed, and focused are we in our commitment to Jesus is a question we do well to think about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday on a donkey, the animal that symbolised humility and peace. Pilate, Tiberius’ instrument and puppet, came in feted high. Two thousand years later Jesus is still be talked about and the story of his procession still celebrated. Tiberius, by contrast, is a mere historical fact. Pilate, well he is remembered, for being an instrumental puppet in a charade of imperial power.
This Palm Sunday let us recommit to being members of team Jesus and to keep on telling the Jesus story through word and deed for the benefit not of ourselves, but of others, Amen.