Given today’s political climate in the UK and around the world, the Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, reflects on how Palm Sunday is a poignant time for us to ask: “What type of world do we want to live in?”
Do we want to be led by the sweeping force of populist nationalism when history and the Bible has already warned us what the outcome will be or do we want to work towards what God in Christ would have us overcome?:
“Hosanna!”, they cried. A whipped-up crowd can be an exciting and intoxicating experience. It can be a toxic experience.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But which Lord? ‘Lord’ is used to speak of the divine when reading the Hebrew Scriptures. To confess Jesus as Lord, is to confess the completeness of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father such that we confess Jesus as God Godself. ‘Lord’ is the word used for the Emperor of the brutal Roman Empire, the one that symbolises near absolute political power sitting at the head of a brutal Empire that could extend its might at will.
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”.
But which Kingdom? Kingship is double edged within the scriptures. Yes, David was remembered as the hero King, but was deeply flawed and broken. The people demanded a King, God relented, but ultimately Kingship had not been what the people had really wanted, certainly not what they needed. Scriptures presents it as a deeply broken vehicle for the purposes of God.
The crowd shouts Hosanna and fling down their cloaks, stewing the way with Palms. Only a short while later, when asked by the representative of the brutal Empire what to do with the one they call ‘King’, shout lustily, ‘crucify him!’
The crowd sought populist nationalism. They wanted a great leader to become their political Lord to replace the Lordship of the brutal Roman Emperor. They wanted a Kingdom, their own Kingdom, to take back control for people like them, not to be ruled by outsiders. I wonder if they had not spotted that this one came riding on a colt, not a great stallion? Populist nationalism never ends well. As night follows day it leads to the death of innocents.
This was indeed the Lord, the divine one, riding into Jerusalem. And he was on his way to find the Kingdom of God. Not seated on a throne but nailed to a cross. The innocent victim of populist nationalism and weak vacillating political and religious leadership concerned for popularity in the moment, not the true flourishing of God’s creation.
This Kingdom, Christ’s Kingdom, within a few years, would indeed be experienced as a threat by the brutal Roman Empire. A threat worthy of persecuting. The true followers of this colt-riding King would swear their allegiance only to the one nailed to a cross, not to the imperial powers that be. In doing so, they became united as a people across boundaries of nation, race, gender, class and status. This subverts the populist nationalist which would have us take to the streets to preserve that which God in Christ would have us overcome.
As we journey from this exciting and intoxicating crowd to the foot of the cross, the abandonment of Holy Saturday, and the transformation of Easter Sunday, let us ask ourselves: who is our Lord? What Kingdom do we seek?
Image: Jesus on a donkey credit © Copyright Stephen Craven CC2.0
Published: 25 March 2021