Already but not yet

In all four gospels the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding a donkey and hailed by the people with palm branches, is described as an interlude in his life. It is not a glorious triumph when all Israel welcomes their Messiah.

open_bibleIn fact he resumes his ministry, with all the mounting opposition surrounding it, as if nothing unusual had happened. Further, the Church has recently tried to change the name of this day from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday as if to down play the idea of a triumphal entry into the Holy City and focus on the coming tragedy.

Yet it was a defining moment, a marker for the future. The inauguration of the kingdom did not happen on that day; but it was an event that announced the kingdom in a way that people, in time, could recognise. It had just enough of the taste of a Roman triumph, when the emperor entered Rome showing off his spoils of war, including the captives, and boasting of his victories, to whet the appetite of the believer. Here is our emperor, not on a white horse with gold trappings and an entourage of military might, but on a donkey, weak and alone and hailed by people who in a few days would turn against him.

So the ephemeral palm welcome is a moment that touched hearts then and now. It was a sign people could understand of something they and we cannot fully grasp: the full flowering of the Kingdom of God. Jesus often said that the kingdom “is among you.”  But as we look around today, 2016, we wonder where it is. There is no need here to list the woes we are conscious of. They torment us day by day from the newsroom and from our own experience.
But what is important surely is to see also the signs of the kingdom wherever we look.

Hospitals can be soulless places with nurses just “doing their job.” But they can also be invigorating places where kindness and care reign, as I discovered this week where a friend is being treated. There is the kingdom. And when a poor person shares the little they have with someone with nothing there too is the kingdom. Bobby Kennedy, assassinated during his run to become president of the United States nearly forty years ago, once spoke of “ripples of hope”. When we make a courageous move or do an act of kindness we send out these ripples and we do not know what shore they lap against. There is the kingdom.

What Jesus inaugurated by his life, death and resurrection is far from completion. But the seeds and the sprouts are there among us in countless acts by individuals of good will. When Jesus came to Nazareth and, after reading a passage from Isaiah, announced, “this is being fulfilled today even as you listen,” nothing changed there and then. But in fact everything changed. Something new happened that would gather momentum over the centuries. Today we are in the midst of that movement and when Holy Week comes round, year after year, we identify with it anew. One day we will see the completion of that work begun so long ago and we will find something better than palms with which to welcome it.

20 March 2016            Passion (Palm) Sunday C

Luke 19:28-40        Is. 50:4-7        Phil 2:6-11        Luke 22:14-23:56

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