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Vicar's Musings for Palm Sunday

25 March, 2018

"Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 ..." so begins the first chapter of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book The Last Week (2006). At our Parish High Mass today we will re-enact one of these two processions. This was a peasant procession, a somewhat rag-tag but very poignant religio-political enactment. At the rear of the procession in the place of honour was a carpenter's son, one of those baptised by John, a healer rumoured to be a great prophet, even the promised Messiah. He was riding a donkey with her colt in tow, the crowds were ecstatic; it was a bold and powerful statement for those who knew their scriptures. The itinerant preacher called Jesus was acting out Zechariah's prophecy of a great king who will enter 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" (Zec. 9:9). This was a very dangerous game. The carpenter's procession was mimicking another entering the Holy City that same day. The second procession was far from rag-tag; it was an extremely well planned, well-funded, well oiled annual military procession for the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria; the representative of the great divine Emperor himself, Tiberius. The occasion was Pessach or Passover, a time the Jewish people celebrated their liberation from an earlier oppressive empire. The potential for a violent uprising was significant, so Pilate himself left the safety of his coastal residence, to accompany the extra troops commissioned to bolster the Jerusalem guard. This procession was a "peace-keeping" exercise. Peace by a display of force. Peace through intimidation. Peace by spilling just enough blood to keep everyone afraid. I wonder which procession you and are in at present, if we are honest with ourselves? Surely we all intend to take up palm branches rather than swords, but do our lives really bear witness to that? As we prepare to enter once again into Holy Week and Easter, may our hearts be truly open to embracing the radical and soul-searching peace of Christ in our lives: in the ways we relate to one another, especially those in need; in our politics; in our workplaces; in our homes. Desmond Tutu wrote this powerful prayer out of his post-apartheid experience, may it be ours as we face our own faith-challenges and life-struggles:

Goodness is stronger than evil,
Love is stronger than hate,
Light is stronger than darkness,
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours,
Through Christ
Who loves us. Amen.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster


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