Palm Sunday


Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

This psalm belongs to the feast of Tabernacles with verses 1-4 being a thanksgiving of the people while 5-21 are an individual thanksgiving and 22-29 are a mixture of motives.[1]

What is important is that the Psalm is performed at the temple gate and it is not hard to imagine Jesus joining the procession that was going to the temple for a festival rather than the people specifically cheering for Jesus.  As with so many instances the gospel writer is using tradition to express meaning about Jesus rather than give historical detail as we might expect.

Luke 19: 28-40

A distinctive feature of Luke’s gospel compared to the other synoptic gospels is that Jerusalem is the destination.  In Matthew and Mark, the disciples return to Galilee after Jesus’ death but in Luke they stay to receive the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, this entrance scene is even more significant.

A distinctive feature of Luke’s account of the entry into Jerusalem is that it only involves Jesus and his disciples.  Disciples secure the colt, disciple’s place Jesus on the colt, disciples called him the king who comes in the name of the Lord, echoing Zechariah 9:9 rather than quoting it as Matthew and John do.  There is no large crowed, Jesus is honoured and praised by his followers, and this is not the group which turns cold and later calls for Jesus’ crucifixion. Luke makes no mention of hosannas, of palms, or branches, all of which have nationalistic overtones.  Luke seems to want to bring a more universal Jesus to Jerusalem.  The final difference is the Pharisees who object to the activity of the disciples.  They may have feared the reaction of Roman authorities, or they may have been concerned for Jesus’ safety[2].


Covid has meant that we haven’t had any significant parades recently.  In the past we have had ‘won the Americas Cup’ parades and the return of the Ranfurly Shield to various parts of the country.  We have also filled airports to welcome home triumphant sports teams and Olympic medal winners.  But quarantine and restriction on gathering has muted such gatherings.  So, I suspect has professional sport as sports stars move from one competition to another.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the clip on Television of a snowboarder zooming down a Canadian mountain as the commentator notes that she is now the leader then asks if will she ease off a bit. At that point the snowboarder becomes airborne twisting and turning like a circus acrobat as the commentator answers her own question.  ‘Of course not. this is Zoi’.

Certainly, she is still Zoi Sadowski-Synnott from Wanaka, but she is also a citizen of one long worldwide parade of ongoing events.

Of course, we had the anti-vax, anti regulation and hate the prime minister parade.  That was more like the crowd at Jesus’ trial before Pilate than the Palm Sunday Parade.

However, I remember the last election campaign where there was a parade atmosphere wherever the Prime Minister went and now, we have people wanting to execute her.  That indeed is part of the Palm Sunday-Easter message.

Luke’s more disciple focused procession supports Dominic Crossan’s hypothesis that it is a different crowd to the Palm Sunday procession that later cries crucify him.  That may be true.  After all the people at the protests in Wellington were probably not at any of the election rallies.  Many of them may not have even voted.

However, looking at the traditional Palm Sunday story as a composite from all the gospels it is true that we cheer potential leaders and then get cross when they don’t behave as we expected.  That is a message for all of us from Palm Sunday.

We read the Palm Sunday story year after year from all four gospels. Each Gospel has minor variations as each evangelist builds their own perspective into the core story.

Likewise various commentators have added historical perspective to the imagery woven into the story.

On its own the Palm Sunday story is an episode of anticipation.  The anticipation of the crowds who expect a miracle as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  There is also anticipation for both the gospel writer and his readers.  We anticipate the climax of the journey to the cross and the resurrection which proclaims new beginnings.  A new understanding of humanity’s relationship to the divine.

As we read this Psalm Sunday story once again, we do so as we anticipate moving back into our restored church and look to the appointment of a new minister.

The allusion to Zechariah nine verse nine is still clear, although not quoted, as it is in Mark and Matthew, so it is worth quoting now.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you:

Triumphant and victorious is he,

Humble and riding on a donkey,

On a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9)

Tradition has it that a king who rides on a donkey is a king of peace rather than the triumphant general king who enters a conquered city on a war horse.  Or a tank. There are passages in the Old Testament that show warrior kings riding donkeys but the allusion to the poem from Zechariah whith the line ‘Humble and riding on a donkey’ confirms that it is a peaceful king that the story is about.  A story that is the exact opposite of a road full of tanks heading towards Kiev.

But there are allusions and therefore contrasts to past wars and conquests.  Justo González makes the point that Jesus’ triumphal entry leads straight to the temple which exactly parallels Josephus’s account of Alexander’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  On that occasion Alexander went and offered sacrifice under the guidance of the high priest and so the high priest was seen as betraying the faith of Israel.

Jesus went to the temple but not to offer sacrifice.  Jesus went to cleanse the temple.  That expressed the authority Luke believes Jesus has to restore the faith of Israel.

Furthermore, it is enforcing that authority in the confrontation with the merchants and money changers which may well have led to Jesus’ death.[3]

However within the spectrum, from conquering hero to humble servant of the dispossessed, there is always a great expectation of prospective leadership.  But that excitement quickly wanes once a new leader is installed.

People like strong leaders, particularly those who support their world view and make America great again. People like leaders that deal harshly with those they despise, like the poor and solo mothers.

I am reminded of John Clark as Fred Dagg singing, ‘If I ruled the world, one or two people are going to have to sort out their ideas.’

But the truth is that however rulers gain their position, by inheritance, elected or installed by conquest, rulers must rule.  They don’t always have the same agenda as those who support them.

Even democratically elected leaders have to listen to their finance minister and keep attuned to ever shifting public opinion.  There are also world events like pandemics and wars that subvert agendas and distract people and resources from promised goals.

Those same distractions can be used to restore waning popularity and shift the blame.  Donald Trump initially insisted on referring to covid 19 as the Chinese virus. We now need to better understand Putin’s motives.  Throughout history fear mongering and invading other nations is one of the tricks governments have used to stay in power.

But like so many leadership parades, the triumphant procession into Jerusalem is a procession towards rejection and execution.

But Jesus did not claim any crown or recognised leadership position.

Indeed  it was his servant role, that in resurrection, gripped the enthusiasm of his followers and changed the world.

In fact, his reluctance to lead a violent revolution may well have disappointed and influenced on the mob who cried ‘Crucify him’.

Israel at that time was boiling towards violent revolution and some of those who spread their cloaks on the ground could well have seen him as the warrior messiah, the new David who would ride into Jerusalem and declare himself king.

They might not have worn tinfoil hats, but they could well have believed his entering Jerusalem would call forth the support of a band of invincible heavenly warriors.

Such an apocalyptic cavalry would slaughter and disperse the Romans and put the children of Abraham in charge of the world.  Some Christians are still expecting that to happen and although there are now no Romans ‘they have a little list’.

Luke would know of such motives for supporting Jesus.  He is also likely to have witnessed a similar expectation by the subsequent rebel army who sought the protection of the temple prior to its destruction in AD70.

That rebel army likely believed God would not allow a gentile army to enter the temple, But the Romans were not nearly as restrained as the police in Wellington.  The Romans sacked the temple, decimated the population sheltering there and supplemented their wages by taking anything of value.

But the loss of the temple did not bother the gospel writers.  From their perspective the veil of the temple had been torn in two with Jesus’ death on the cross and a new relationship between God and humanity was born through the resurrected Christ.

The true messianic parade was the Palm Sunday procession by Jesus the servant messiah, the prince of peace.

Luke, and indeed Jesus, may have had a vision of that incident as a procession on a mission to restore the faith of Israel.  But by the time Luke wrote his Gospel the followers of Jesus had moved beyond Israel to include the gentile world.

We must also remember that another strong theme of Luke’s Gospel is a concern for, and empowerment of, the poor.  Therefore, we can imagine that riding with Jesus on the donkey are the hopes of the oppressed and exploited peoples and the oppressed and exploited individuals.

Of course, those marginalised people may well have imagined Jesus bringing them justice through violent confrontation and heavenly support.  In fact, they would have had no other model to hope for.  Governments in their time were only ever changed violently.

However, resurrection revealed that hope for marginalised peoples through his suffering and death.  It is within that hope that Luke’s community found its mission and through his gospel Luke passes that mission to us.

Yet that tension between the servant donkey riding prince of peace and the noisy parade that idolises worldly success still exists in today’s world and todays church.

Nevertheless, in a faith of tension and paradox large churches often have extraordinary community facing mission.  Likewise small churches stand tall on social justice and inspire their children to life changing and community transforming careers.

From all expressions of Christianity there are also those others of whom Shirley Murray writes:

There are others on this journey

those who long and pray and search,

heave the stones to free the structures,

love the Christ and leave the Church.[4]

All expressions of Church and those influenced by the church can join the parade and not only have a right but a duty to cry out:

‘Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the LORD. (Psalm118: 19)

That will be our thoughts as we re-enter our beloved and strengthened church building and look with hope towards St, Ninians journey towards the future.

Our prayer is that our settlement board, and our new relationship with Presbyterian Support will open our future to the journey that faith has called us to.

In such hope we too can wave the Palm branches and cry out:

This is the day that the lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118 24)

[1] A.A Anderson Psalms 73-150 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans, London: Morgan & Scott, 1972) p.797

[2] Fred B. Craddock Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2009),p.223.

[3] Justo L. González Luke (Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press 2010), p.228.

[4] Shirley Murray, ‘Faith Has Set Us On A Journey’ Faith Forever Singing No.14

Palm Sunday: Rev Hugh Perry, 10 April 2022