Hosanna to the Son of David
So His Grace is not going to concern himself with trivial distractions, such as the fact that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has used the opportunity to give a high-profile interview to The Sunday Telegraph in which he accuses the Prime Minister of duplicity and criticises the Big Society for ‘lacking teeth’. And neither does His Grace wish to dwell on the announcement by the Muslim Council of Britain that ‘not covering the face is a "shortcoming" and suggest(ing) that any Muslims who advocate being uncovered could be guilty of rejecting Islam’; or that the Deputy Prime Minister is obsessing about constitutional change to scrap the principle of male primogeniture, which will have absolutely no significance until the Royal couple’s second-born (and only then if their first born is a girl and the second born a boy); or that ConservativeHome is following up its call for Islam to be adopted as the state religion with quite un-Burkean support for this constitutional meddling; or that former soldier Colin Atkinson has been told by his employer that he may not display a palm cross in his company van (which is not his property, and His Grace cannot for the life of him work out what the issue is here: the van belongs irrefutably to Caesar).
No, today is Palm Sunday.
The focus will be Christ.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
As we enter this Holy Week - the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – it is important to remember that it begins with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.
Palm leaves to the Romans were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jewish people simply echoed this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judea.
In the palm cross we find a symbol of Christ's grace which simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They 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.
On this final Sunday of Lent, His Grace wishes to pause from temporal matters religio-political and eschew all trivial distractions to reflect on the fact that little has changed in two millennia. Even today, those who believe in Christ want a certain kind of Jesus; a certain type of Messiah – one who will bless our politics, bless our wars and battles, and will be ‘on our side’ against all our enemies, foreign and domestic. We seek a Messiah who will affirm out notion of truth, our interpretation of Scripture, our spiritual pilgrimage through this temporal existence.
Today is a day for humility; to reflect on the fact that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem riding a fine chariot, or the equivalent of a armoured vehicle or a Rolls Royce: he rode in on a donkey, like a humble peasant on a mission of peace.
And let us not forget that these same people who today shouted ‘Hosanna!’ are the same people who cried out ‘Crucify him!’ just five days later. And all because they realised that the Jesus who rode in on a donkey was not the Jesus they had invented in their minds, for he had an agenda which was not remotely in accordance with their own.