St Anne’s Brown Edge Palm Sunday 2017
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11.
On most Thursday nights, you will find me at the Ingestre stables helping with Stafford RDA. The ponies we use are docile beast, sometimes too docile.Of course, for our riders with both learning and physical disabilities they have to be.
Also in the stable block are some magnificent horses, some big show jumpers.
They are strong of limb, with keen eyes, sleek coats, fit and healthy.
Having served five years in Newmarket as an apprentice jockey, I can appreciate a fine looking horse.
Today I want to bring to present you with two people – one riding on a donkey and the other on a magnificent horse. Both represent two very different Kingdoms and everyone follows one of these people and is governed by the laws of whichever Kingdom they choose to live in.
The Prefect Pontius Pilate entered into the province in AD 26 and was to serve for 10 years as an emissary of Emperor Tiberius.
He came at the head of an occupying army and entered Jerusalem with soldiers carrying their banners and effigies. Previous Prefects had grudgingly accepted that Jerusalem was a most Holy City for the Jews, the place where heaven and earth met in the Temple itself with its Holy of Holies. It was only after a riot broke out that Pilate had them removed.
Pilate it would appear was rather like the Borg in Star Trek with their oft-repeated mantra, ‘you are an inferior race, you will be assimilated’, and, ‘resistance is futile. ‘
For most of the time, Pilate was garrisoned at Caesarea except during Festivals when he would move into the Antonia Fortress, which overlooked the Temple Mound. Keep in mind the picture of Pilate arriving ahead of his cohort of troops to bolster the number of troops in Jerusalem, barging their way through the crowds, hands close by their short swords.We do not have exact records but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people lived in Jerusalem. During the Feast of the Passover, this would swell to around 4 million. The Temple Mound could accommodate 1 million people.
The occupying Roman Army would be on high alert during the religious Festival of Passover that celebrated the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
It is into this heady mix that Jesus comes to make his bold move. It is obvious Jesus knew exactly what he was doing – he knew the Scriptures, he knew about the prophecies of Zechariah.
He had even arranged to acquire the appropriate beast – not a magnificent horse leading a cohort of heavily armed soldiers, but rather a humble donkey, a young foal colt that by this account needed to have mother there also.
‘Say to the daughter of Zion, see your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey.’
As Jesus begins to enter into Jerusalem, he is recognized, especially by those from up north, recognized as one of their own.
Recognized as the one who has brought healing and controversy, whose teaching is with a hitherto unknown authority.
Is it these people that begin to cheer, wave and chant and shout out ‘Hosanna’ – Lord Save Us.’
‘When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Most likely, not at all the same crowd who would in a few days’ time shout for his death, for Jesus to be crucified. Those people, in all probability, were a selective group mainly of Jerusalemites, southerners.
We will of course be rehearsing once more this cosmic drama of the man on the donkey and the man on the horse, both representing two Kingdoms coming toe to toe.
John’s account bristles with electricity as Jesus stands before Pilate. It is not easy to say for sure who is on trial.
Certainly, Pilate has power of a sort, the power that can bring death, and very often does.
In his Lenten book, ‘Dethroning Mammon’ Justin Welby discusses speaking ‘truth to power.’
‘What is truth’ asks Pilate.
That phrase is very much under discussion in our own day and age with much talk about fake news.
Jesus was to declare on one occasion, ‘I am the truth and the way and the life.’
Today our choice is to either to follow the man riding the horse or the man riding the donkey.
Should you choose to follow the man on the donkey you should be aware of where this is all heading?
It is towards the cross and crucifixion – before resurrection, new life and ascension.
The cross that speaks of suffering and that may come to us as indeed it comes to many of those who have chosen to follow the man on the donkey.
However, more than that, despite the modesty of most depictions of the crucifixion, Jesus would have been stripped naked. In every sense of the word, he gave up everything.
Therefore the challenge is, are we ready to give up everything to follow the man on the donkey.
Our homes, jobs, families, position, prestige, money, as St Augustine said, ‘Jesus will be Lord of all or he will not be Lord at all.’
Saul was knocked of his horse, then as Paul, began to follow the man on the donkey with a willingness to give up everything and to follow him…
He wrote to the Philippians (3.8), ‘More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ’
Our New Testament reading, also from Philippians, invites us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus as outlined in the wonderful ‘Hymn of Christ’ – in Greek called the ‘Hymn of the Kenosis’ – self-emptying.
However, in God’s economy things are often turned upside down.
What certainly looked like a dead would be messiah hanging on a Roman Cross, was not the end of the story at all, but only the beginning of a completely new chapter.
As we read in Colossians 2.15,
In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
To follow the man on the horse and to align yourself with the rulers and authorities of this world leads to darkness, destruction and death. You have only to look around you to see the truth of this.
To follow the man on the donkey leads to light, love and life – ‘I have come, said Jesus, that you might have life and life in all its fullness. ‘
I put before you today the words of Joshua 24.15
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
The man on the donkey or the man on the horse - it is your choice!