Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
So did Jesus.
Barack Obama flew into London in Air Force One, as the President of the United States would be expected to do. He had an entourage of 500 advisers, chefs, medical staff and journalists, a private helicopter and a bullet-proof limousine. The crowds greeted him with rapturous applause and cries of ‘Barack! Barack!’, and they fawned at his feet and hung on his every word.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, as the Messiah had been prophesied to do. He had a modest entourage of disciples. The ecstatic crowds greeted him with shouts of ‘Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’, for the Christ had come to them to usher in his kingdom: to bring hope, to bring hope, and to bring change.
But he never promised freedom from tyranny or freedom from oppression. And his promise of freedom from fear necessitates mastering the concept of perfect love.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”
And the opportunity for change he gives us is not as the President gives.
They might have expected their Messiah to enter Jerusalem in glory, but Jesus was not of this world. External pomp and ceremony was not important, for God looks at the heart. There was no victorious leader passing through the Golden Gate to restore the House of David, for the political was subsumed to the religious. Yet the religious was inseparable from the political, for the spiritual fervour and ecstasy of Palm Sunday is but the first movement of a passionate symphony of anguish and trauma; of doubt and denial; of death and delusion.
The themes introduced during the first movement are nonsensical without the rest of this week. The trial before Pilate, the betrayal by Judas, the Last Supper with his disciples, his crucifixion at the hands of Rome, his death, burial and resurrection are intrinsic to our understanding of salvation – both personal and political.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he did so as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel. The Jews yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.
So little has changed.
President Obama is not the Messiah, but he is widely treated and viewed as such. He will resolve the credit crunch, halt nuclear proliferation, defuse the threats of terrorism, placate a resurgent Russia, moderate Islamist fundamentalism, eradicate global warming and heal Africa. He has promised so much in the political realm to such disparate and diverse groups that he shall not fail to disappoint.
On this final Sunday of Lent, let us be thankful that Christ promised us absolutely nothing in the political realm, yet everything in the spiritual. And he never disappoints.