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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 84
Is there a pop song which says to you “it’s Christmas time”, whenever you hear it? Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas is one. He wrote it when he was almost penniless, battling snow and traffic queues, driving north from London to Middlesbrough. All the romance and warmth of being safe at home, with good food and good company are wrapped up in that song. The moment you hear it, Christmas spirit wells up fast.
Religious holidays hold a special place in the heart of every culture. Friends, family, feasting and the fervour of faith are a heady mix, wherever you go.
Back in Jesus’ day, Passover was all that and more. This wasn’t a case of “driving home for Christmas”, though. You didn’t flock homewards, for this festival. Everyone that could headed for Jerusalem. You travelled, perhaps hundreds of miles, by horse or donkey if you were rich, on foot if you weren’t. The roads were thronged with pilgrims, all headed in one direction and with one common purpose.
The crowd swells and the excitement rises the closer you get to Jerusalem. All the patriotic fervour of the Last Night of the Proms and Land of Hope and Glory is in that intoxicating cocktail. They remembered the finest moments of their nation’s history. How God struck Egypt, the world superpower of the day, with crippling plagues; how Israel was spared the destruction of the lethal final blow from God on the enemy; how Moses had led his people from colonial slavery to freedom in their own land. The enthusiasm wasn’t over and done in minutes, like singing at the Royal Albert Hall. It built for days on end, until it exploded, as they all arrived together in Jerusalem.
As Mark’s curtain rises
there is an extra ingredient feeding the furore. Messiah fever. There was always a wistful longing at Passover, for God’s mighty intervention once more, through his unique representative.
The crowd around Jesus aren’t just yearning, this year. The one called the Messiah, the Son of David, is with them. They remember God’s mighty hand crushing Egypt. They remember the original King David grinding Israel’s foreign enemies into the dust. Their precious country is being desecrated again by outside occupiers, the hated Romans. But Messiah is here. Right here, in their midst. They are with him on their way to Jerusalem. This is the journey the kings of the past took, on their way to routing the foreign invaders. And now, here they are, making that same journey with Jesus.
None of the warrior kings had ever raised the dead, fed the masses, healed the blind, calmed the storms. None of them had the God-given power they have seen in Jesus. What revenge he would wreak against Rome, when he unleashed his divine might against them. Or so they thought…
The last leg of the journey had been gruelling. Mile after mile through hot, sweltering wasteland. It had been uphill, too. A climate of 4000 feet, in about a dozen miles.
But now, they had made it. They were almost there… the vegetation turned green and lush as they climbed the Mount of Olives and caught their first sight this year of the Golden City. Jerusalem lay in full view, houses, gardens, roads, city busy-ness sprawling out before them.
The temple is radiant in the distance. The sun gleams on its golden artwork and the white walls dazzle, radiant. The view is utterly breathtaking, even for those who have seen it before.
Jesus pauses for breath, taking in the scenery. The crowd can’t wait to reach Jerusalem. They are counting down the moments to pay back time.
He calls two of his disciples close. He gives them brief instructions and they are gone, their absence hardly noticed in the melee.
The two hurry off, full of excitement. He has sent them to one of the outlying villages, told them to fetch a colt, a young donkey. One that no one else had ridden. He has even told them exactly where in the village they would find it and what to say to its owners. “Just tell them the master needs it…” he had said.
Everything unfolds exactly as Jesus told them to expect. Leading that donkey back to Jesus, the two can barely contain themselves. Kings commandeered animals when they needed them. Solomon, Israel’s most splendid King ever, had gone into Jerusalem to take his throne, riding on a donkey. The two knew what it all meant. Jesus was going into Jerusalem as king.
Wild celebrations break out, the moment Jesus sits on that donkey. The symbolism is lost on no one.
They would acclaim King Jesus all the way into Jerusalem – and vengeance would begin. They throw their cloaks into Jesus’ path, making a carpet of cloth for his donkey to tread. Leaves are ripped off the surrounding palm trees and waved in a frenzy of excitement and strewn in his path. This was the way the crowds had celebrated the procession of the warrior kings of old into Jerusalem, who had rid Israel of foreign occupiers. Romans, your days are numbered…
The singing is deafening. Patriotic hymns resound, urging down, this very day, God’s rescue from the oppressors and lifting on high the Messiah coming to save them at last.
Jesus absorbs the adulation. No one notices he does not have a sword. Yes, he is coming as a king. Just as they were singing in those hymns, he would come to save. The prophet Zechariah had predicted this 500 years ago
. This entry into Jerusalem, down to the finest detail was all part of the Father’s plan, the purpose Jesus was executing.
He entered Jerusalem and headed for the temple, where he committed himself and his cause into his Father’s hand. The action would begin in earnest tomorrow.
He was going to conquer, yes, but a bigger enemy than Rome would be overcome. Against that enemy, he would wreak mayhem and destruction. But to Rome? To foreign nations? To them, as well as to Israel, he would offer peace.
Jesus was indeed a man on a mission, a king on a crusade. He was about to fight a battle for freedom, with dimensions far beyond the dreams of any in that crowd.