Crows Nest Uniting Church
Palm Sunday • 29 Mar 2015

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 11:1-11

Rev. Chris Udy

There's a poem by GK Chesterton
that runs like this:
“When fishes flew and forests walked 
And figs grew upon thorn, 
Some moment when the moon was blood 
Then surely I was born. 
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; 
one far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.”


Palm Sunday celebrates
the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem -
and, as we touched on in our Lent study groups,
this triumphal entry is a subversive demonstration:
almost everything about it
is - on one level or another -
a bit of a parody - a bit of a joke.
For the people who lived in Jerusalem
Jesus and his little band of provincials
would probably have hardly raised an eyebrow.
Jerusalem was already in party mode;
during Passover Jerusalem swelled
to four times its normal population -
and all those tourists and visitors
were looking for a celebration -
so one more group of travellers from out bush
making a noise
and calling out religious slogans
would have been fairly normal.
People wanted to be in Jerusalem for Passover;
they wanted to bring their sacrifices
and join the festival crowd
and get their officially sanctioned lamb
from the Temple.
They tended to travel in groups -
it was safer that way -
and on the way they sang and told stories
and did all the things
that make a journey pass quickly -
and when they reached their destination
they were tired, and excited, and relieved -
all at the same time -
so for people who lived in Jerusalem
another group of tourists being raucous
was quite normal -
and the idea that this particular little group
was coming to challenge
the political power and spiritual influence
of Jerusalem and the Temple
was as serious and sensible
as Clive Palmer putting his hand up
as a candidate for PM.
For the disciples
and those who’d travelled with Jesus
from Galilee to Jerusalem,
it was probably not as funny.
It looks like most of them
were expecting some sort of show-down
when they arrived in Jerusalem
and turned up to the Temple.
The leafy branches they’d cut in the fields
were meant to be like banners -
military standards -
the flags and pennants of an invading army.
The words they were shouting
were meant to announce
that Jesus was coming like David - like a king,
returning in triumph from battles won -
with his troops and treasures
arranged in procession around him.
Except that there’d been no battle,
and the troops were rag-tag farmers and fishermen,
and there was no treasure,
no captives in chains,
and their battle-standards really were
just branches pulled from trees.
When they arrived in Jerusalem
they made a lot of noise;
they marched through the streets to the temple,
and up the stairs
and in through the gates
and into the temple courtyard - ...
but then, Mark says,
they just looked around,
and as it was getting a little bit late,
they turned around,
and walked back out through the gates -
and down the steps -
and Jesus left the city,
going out to Bethany with his disciples.
It’s all a bit anti-climactic isn’t it?
Jesus surfs a wave of people into Jerusalem -
buoyed by passion and hopes of revolution -
but by the time they get to the Temple
the wave has bubbled out into the sand,
and the one who had come in the name of the Lord
had to leave again -
probably because, once again,
there was no room for him in the inn;
he couldn’t afford the rates for city lodgings
during the holy days -
so he and his 12 friends went back
to the village they’d probably started from that day -
to Bethany, to stay with their friends,
Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
Revolution was adjourned
in favour of a meal and a warm bed;
the donkey was returned to its puzzled owner,
and all the people who shouted and sang
and waved their branches around
simply faded into the holiday crowds.
It feels a bit like one of those flashmobs
that appear to sing the hallelujah chorus
or do a dance - and then disappear -
leaving the audience smiling and delighted,
but also puzzled -
and there must have also been some
among the disciples
and those who’d travelled from Galilee
wondering just exactly what on earth
they were meant to do now.
The only person
who seems to be entirely in on the joke
is Jesus himself.
It’s Jesus who sets his face towards Jerusalem;
it’s Jesus who asks for the donkey;
it’s Jesus who rides through the crowds
to the Temple - and looks around -
and then walks back to Bethany with the Twelve.
Jesus seems to be the only one
who knows the punchline -
even though - as in all good jokes -
it’s pretty obvious once the story’s been told.
The joke is on the people of Jerusalem,
who think of themselves as powerful,
sophisticated, protected and secure.
The shop- and inn-keepers
laugh at the hicks from the country,
and at all their religious excitement and passion
People who live in Jerusalem
think they’ve seen it all -
politics and religion is their game -
they make and break and change the rules
to keep themselves in power -
and religion just makes it easier
to sell rooms and souvenirs
and lambs and unleavened bread at inflated prices.
But the city and the Temple
are already on borrowed time;
those who define themselves by their power
will always be looking over their shoulder
and doing deals with people
they can’t trust and don’t respect -
while those who live cynically,
only out to make a denarius or a dollar
will some day discover
that a fortune doesn’t compensate for a family,
and self-respect is not something you can buy.
In the eyes of the Roman world
Jerusalem wasn’t much more
than an outpost in the wilderness
out on the edge of Empire -
and in much less than a lifetime
Jerusalem’s Temple and palaces
would be levelled to the ground.
Within a century (135AD), Jerusalem as a city
would cease to exist.
The emperor Hadrian renamed it Aelia Capitalina,
and built a temple to Jupiter
on the site of Solomon’s temple.
Judea became the province of Philistia - or Palestine -
and the Israel of King David
was removed from map of the world.
Jesus on the donkey
wasn’t looking to replace the priests or the king -
he was coming to bring
an entirely different kingdom to the world,
one that would critique and subvert
every human system of politics and religion
from that time on.
The joke is also on the crowd
and on the disciples who came with Jesus
into Jerusalem.
They wanted to change the world,
and they thought the only way to make a difference
was to have a fight, and win a battle,
and play the games of power
with more force, more pain,
more people and more blood,
than those who were already in control.
Despite being with Jesus all the way
from Galilee to Jerusalem;
despite hearing his stories and seeing him work,
the disciples simply didn’t get what he was doing.
Even as they were approaching Jerusalem;
immediately after he had told them
he was going there to die,
James and John took Jesus aside
and tried to arrange their preferential treatment
when - as they saw it -
the battle had been won and Jesus was king.
‘We want you to promise us
that we’ll have seats beside you
when you come to your glory’ - they said.
The joke was on them,
because the new world Jesus was bringing
really would be born in force and pain and blood -
but it would be his - and also theirs.
They would make a difference;
they would change the world;
the transformation Jesus began
would spread around the world
and down through time -
and it would win
through sacrifice, and service,
and grace in forgiveness
what could never be achieved through violence.
The joke is on Jerusalem,
and on the disciples,
and also on Jesus himself.
Jesus chose that donkey.
He chose to look like a fool
in the eyes of the privileged and powerful.
He chose to have that wave of public support
bubble out to nothing.
He chose to play the tourist in the Temple,
and then, because it was getting late,
go back to Bethany and find a bed.
Jesus chose to look foolish, and weak -
because our best jokes are always told
about and against ourselves.
The best jokes help us see and accept
that all of us have frailties -
we’re all human -
and the best jokes remind us that underneath
whatever facade of power or glory
or glamour we might wear
we’re just flesh and blood,
and when we’re stripped
of our symbols of wealth and status and prestige
we all look pretty much the same:
we all look frail and vulnerable;
we all look a little bit funny.
Next Tuesday is April Fools’ Day,
and some say April Fools’ Day began
in traditions where the world was turned upside-down:
the king became a servant,
and a servant became king.
Often it was the jester - the fool -
the one whose purpose at court
was to remind the king of his humanity -
who was put on the throne -
and the king was given a basin and a towel.
These days the tricks we play on April Fool’s Day
are pretty simple -
but when they take us in
they help us see
that nothing is really as it seems:
those the crowd bow down to and applaud
are only human,
and some day soon the crowds will see through them
and take their power from them,
and give it to others,
and to others again -
while those who look weak and insignificant -
like the donkey,
and like Jesus -
will transform the world through sacrificial service
and will have their hour to shine.