April 17, 2011
Aylmer United Church
Matthew 21: 1-11 Suzanne Sykes
A Parade of Pilgrims
When I lived in Israel,
and when I had a break from working
on the kibbutz in northern Galilee,
I used to travel to Jerusalem
on my days off.
While I was there
I stayed in the Scottish Hospice.
The Scottish hospice was a sanctuary.
A bit of European civilization,
a taste of home,
in the middle of relentless Israeli life.
Every afternoon, precisely at four,
tea was served in the main lounge.
This was a long room
with windows overlooking the valley
to the walls of the old city.
It had a huge fireplace at one end
that was lit with a roaring fire
on chilly winter and spring days.
You could drink English tea
imported from India and Ceylon,
and eat the delicious little cakes
from the Arab Patisserie
in the old city.
It was a time for hospice residents,
visitors to Jerusalem
from around the world,
to meet each other.
Conversation was welcome and lively.
And I met some amazing people,
including our own Dr. Robert McClure.
Hanging on the wall over the fireplace,
dominating the room,
was a large painting of General Allenby,
mounted on his war horse,
through the Jaffa gate,
as so many conquerers
had done before him.
The armies of the Assyrians and Babylonians,
Cyrus of Persia,
Alexander the Great,
General Pompeii of Rome,
Muslim Caliphs and Crusaders,
in 1917, the British.
All of them had conquered
then claimed the city
through the Jaffa Gate.
Jerusalem had been conquered so many times
that there was a saying:
every conqueror would enter the city,
mounted on a war horse,
through the Jaffa Gate.
So here is this painting,
prominently displayed in the Scottish Hospice
celebrating the most recent foreign victor
in a long line of conquerors.
What does it say about our story?
governor of Judea in the time of Jesus,
also rode his war horse through this gate.
In Rome, Palestine was known
as a small, troublesome province.
You got sent there as governor
as punishment for some displeasure
you had caused Caesar.
It was not a plum job.
And during Jewish religious festivals
there was always,
always, unrest -
even more unrest than usual.
So the governor had taken to showing a display of force
to pre-empt any thought of uprising.
Accompanied by his legion of soldiers
in full battle gear -
amour, spears and shields -
he rode a white stallion through Jerusalem -
in though one gate and out the opposite.
It was a show of force,
intended to intimidate
and frighten the local population,
and keep them in their place.
So what does Jesus do?
In a mocking parody of the governor,
he rides a donkey,
a lowly beast of burden
in the opposite direction.
He enters through the gate that Pilate exited from
and reverses Pilate's journey.
The action is itself a parable -
a reversal story.
It turns the power of Rome backwards
and mocks it.
It disempowers the Roman military.
and challenges Rome.
It lead to Jesus crucifixion.
Pilate needs a whole legion
to demonstrate his importance
But Jesus is accompanied by ordinary folk
who wave palms and sing.
Children singing Hosannas
replace the barked orders of generals,
colourful peasant cloaks
flutter in the sunshine
rather than the banners
of the Roman legions.
Waving date palm branches
a symbol of God’s everlasting goodness
because it produces fruit all year long.
replaces the bread
thrown at the starving crowd
by their Roman overlords
to pacify them.
It is a visual statement
that it is God who feeds us -
a testament to God’s goodness and care.
Jesus’ power is rooted in relationships of abundance and joy,
in the overwhelming,
everlasting love of God
and in God’s desires
for the good of the world and all its creatures.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem,
presents us with a question.
It asks: who will we be
as we enter the holy city,
the shalom of God?
Do we come as conquerors -
warriors in the service of some temporal, transient power?
Do we come serving the interests of the powerful
by whatever name they use -
global market economy,
Do we come as lords over nature and the poor?
Do we see the natural world
as resources for our use,
merely means to an end?
Do we share the world’s assumptions
about what is good,
true and beautiful?
Or do we come into the city of God,
into God’s kingdom,
joyfully singing songs
of thanks and praise,
confident in the continued care
of our creator.
Do we come as people
whose allegiance is to God
and who march with God’s banner
of love over us.
Do we journey through life
under the shelter of God’s care,
surrounded by God’s desire
for our well being
and the well being of all creation.
Can we answer those questions
with confidence - Yes!
for that is our task as God’s people.
Think again of that portrait of General Allenby
in the Scottish Hospice.
The story goes
that before he actually went into the city
through the Jaffa gate
he got off his horse
He entered Jerusalem on foot.
He broke with the tradition of conquerers
entered the Holy City as a pilgrim.
He came to Jerusalem
in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims
who trod that path before him.
Between the children and the generals,
between Palm Sunday and Good Friday
we walk as pilgrims
on the pilgrim way.
We follow in the footsteps
of the faithful
who travelled this way before us.
We enter the holy city,
that place of celebration and great grief
The life of faith is lived
between the celebrations of Palm Sunday
and the unspeakable loss of Good Friday.
Waking as pilgrims
is a metaphor for living the life of faith.
We live with our feet on the ground
connected to the natural world
of God’s creation.
eye level with other pilgrims,
seeing their worth as human beings,
loved by God,
no matter their outward state.
We live the life of faith
remembering that God loves
and cares for us,
for all of creation,
and God wants justice and peace,
abundance and joy
for us all.