Reflection for Palm Sunday and the state visit of King Charles to Paris.

‘When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”’

From Matthew 21:1-11, the Palm Gospel.

‘The state visit of King Charles to Paris and Bordeaux had been due to begin on Sunday. But both cities were caught up in violence on Thursday, some of the worst since demonstrations began.’ BBC news bulletin.

It’s sometimes tempting to use prayer as a means of asking God to remove times of testing or trial from our lives so that hardship, abuse and rejection can be avoided. Palm Sunday, however, focusses on Jesus confronting pain and suffering, riding towards it whereas so many run away. Later, his own disciples will be amongst them but who‘d have thought meanwhile that a carpenter on a donkey and a few fishermen could have such an impact on Jerusalem, the city of peace that is so unrestful? Over two thousand years later, peace still evades that city – as in so many others around the world. 

Paris and Bordeaux are amongst those cities, with France being swept by civil unrest and protests against President Macron’s proposed reforms. At the President’s request, the state visit of King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort, has been delayed until the violence has been resolved so that they can avoid being drawn into the unrest, politics and possible danger of the situation. Their entry into the city, as well as the planned banquet at Versailles with its resonances of the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, was not likely to help matters currently!

By contrast, the arrival of Jesus in the turmoil of Jerusalem has been called the Triumphal Entry, as the cheering crowds welcomed him and laid palm branches on the ground, even though he would be executed just five days later. The simple act of riding into the city on a donkey causes perhaps the most political consequences of Jesus’ ministry, as both the Roman and religious authorities begin to plan how to do away with him with Judas, one of Jesus’ own followers, assisting them. But, despite knowing it holds great dangers for him, Jesus goes ahead and enters the place of invasion and division, of rumours and threats, of poverty and wealth, of religious and political power. The Prince of Peace challenges all this, simply by entering the city on a colt, not the stallion of a warrior or a king. In perplexing and confronting the Pharisees, Herod, the military and the ordinary people of Jerusalem, the King of Kings will eventually be crucified on a throne of wood with a crown of thorns. Yet the betrayal, awful suffering and terrible death to come will eventually lead, after a time of waiting, to resurrection and fresh hope for those who follow in Jesus’ footsteps. But for now, as Holy Week begins and the authorities and institutions of our time are challenged, Saint Matthew’s Gospel speaks of a city in turmoil and the question to be answered, “Who is this?”’

In the turmoil of our world today, as the story then continues now, the same question is asked this Holy Week. What will be our response?

‘Now to the gate of my Jerusalem, The seething holy city of my heart

The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?’ 

Palm Sunday, from Sounding the Seasons, by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press 2012.