Today marks the beginning of the holiest week of the Church’s year. It begins with Our Lord’s Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was more than simply a royal visit. It was the proclamation of the Messiah, and a fulfilment of prophecy. The prophet Zechariah, writing 500 years before Jesus, looks forward to a messianic future:
‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zech 9:9)
Likewise, the prophet Isaiah anticipates the arrival of the Messiah in the following words:
‘Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”’ (Isa 62:11)
Both prophets deliver a message of salvation, with God saving His people. Jesus’ name means ‘God saves’ and in Him we see salvation enacted.
In Jerusalem in the Twelfth century there was a procession on Palm Sunday recreating Jesus’ journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. The Golden Gate [Porta Aurea], was only opened on this day of the year. Through this gate, the King, representing Christ, rode in on a Donkey, whilst the people waved palm branches and cried “Hosanna to the Son of David”. In our own way, we too are re-creating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem here today. The Donkey ridden by Jesus reminds us of the humble beast of burden, which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for His birth, and then carried the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. This is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes.
The people in Jerusalem recognise that this Galilean rabbi is their Davidic king and saviour. They praise God that scripture has been fulfilled. The Pharisees are upset, and they ask Jesus to rebuke those gathered, to which He replies,
‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ (Lk 19:40 )
The very stones of Jerusalem would sing for joy that their Messiah, the Anointed of God is in their midst. Their salvation is at hand, and yet some are unable or unwilling to recognise it.
Today, and throughout Holy Week, we will have readings from the prophet Isaiah, which are known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. This morning we hear about the servant being mistreated. He is struck on the back, his beard is torn out, he is spat at and he is insulted. All these things will come to pass as Our Lord goes to the Cross on Good Friday, fulfilling prophecy. God will show us how much he loves us by enduring such treatment. The way Jesus is treated shows what humans are capable of: anger, hatred, bitterness, mob rule, the desire to have a scapegoat, someone to blame. This is fallen, sinful humanity at its worst. On our TV screens at the moment we see horrific evidence of the shocking way people can behave towards each other. It makes us feel sick to the pits of our stomachs. This is the reason why Christ had to die, to overcome sin, the world, and the Devil, with the redemptive power of God’s love.
In his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, written while he was in prison in Rome, St Paul lays great stress upon the humility of Jesus Christ, demonstrated by His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Humility is not often appreciated these days. It is a quiet, unassuming virtue, the opposite of being full of ourselves, and having a high opinion of ourselves. Humility recognises that it is not just the individual that matters. It recognises that there are more important things than our personal desires. Jesus is our example, demonstrating that we need to put God at the centre of things, and learn to be thankful for all that is good.
We need to follow the example of Jesus, who offers the world salvation. All that Jesus is and does — from His Incarnation, to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection — is about saving humanity. His life’s work is to restore us and pour out God’s love on us. We meditate upon His Passion to remind ourselves that God loves us. Today we are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist, just as Christ did on the night before He died. We share in the Body and Blood of Christ, so that Christ may transform us, so that we might become His Body, filled with His love. As Christians we are called to share that love with the whole world. In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.