Sunday 2nd April – Communion Service led by Revd. Jonathan Hyde

It was our good fortune to have Jonathan back after only two weeks so he could resume his story about Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem. Two weeks ago we left Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (you can refresh your memories by scrolling down to his last Service). Jonathan has that particular skill of bringing things to life, reflecting both his personal experiences in the Holy Land and his knowledge of the history surrounding the Bible story.

We had the same 3-Bible Readings format, with an introduction and a reflection for each – and if you want to hear it again the sound on video recording below is particularly good this week.

The first reading was Zechariah 9, verses 9-12. Zechariah is one of the minor prophets and not an easy read Jonathan told us. Born in captivity in Babylon following one of those repeated invasions of the Holy Land, he was notable for his eight dreams. About a third of his dreams feature in the Gospels and two thirds feature in Revelations (If you have problems with Revelations, a lot of that comes from the dreams that Zechariah was having). So this was a book that Jesus and his followers were very familiar with.

(What is interesting here is that though Jesus would know that the King would arrive, humble and riding on a donkey, Zechariah also predicted that the King would throw out the occupiers – something that the crowd in Jerusalem had also totally bought into).

1 Corinthians 1, verses 18-21 needed some explanation. Paul had been to Corinth in Greece and stayed for some time teaching about God and Jesus, and building a church. In a very short time, the church members fell out amongst themselves (they then built 3 churches, each with about 30 members). The problems reflected the mentality of the Greeks: the groups liked discussing and debating things and they prided themselves on their intelligence.

Jonathan noted that there is a difference between discussing things in great depth and having faith. So Paul writes them a letter telling them that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and that for the wise, the scholars and skilful debaters, this world’s wisdom is foolishness.

This summed up one of the problems people have with Christianity. They can’t get their heads around the idea that God actually came down in human form to live and to die for us. We’ve got a God that actually cares so much for us that he took on human form because he wanted us to join him in heaven. Why would God want to deal with each and every one of us? Jonathan suggested that if we really love somebody, we want to be with them the whole time and don’t want to lose them.

But we sin and alienate ourselves from God, and that was the whole point of God coming down to die on the cross for our sins – so we don’t have to alienate ourselves from God anymore.

And that was something the Greek writers and debaters had problems with.

Matthew 21, verses 1-17 covers Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his assault on the moneychangers in the temple.

Jonathan took us back to Caesarea Philippi about two weeks earlier. Jesus has taken his disciples to that enormous complex where all the famous gods were worshipped and then he asks them “who do you think I am” (no pressure, of course) and Peter gets it right and says you are the Messiah, the Son of God.

Jesus is reassured that he’s got his message through ,and this seems to have been the fuse that lit his journey down to Jerusalem, though he also knew, because he was familiar with the scriptures, that he was probably going to his death. We know that he dreaded it and prayed that God would take that cup away from him. He journeys on to the mount of transfiguration where he is supported by Moses and Elijah, who reassure him. Then he carries on down to Jerusalem because it is Passover time.

Jerusalem was much smaller than it is today, but it was jam packed at Passover time. Every single person within 20 miles was required to attend the festival The sacrifice of a lamb – estimates at the time said 250,000 lambs and for each lamb there would have been 10 people at the meal – give an idea of how many people were swamping a small walled city. The sacrifice of the lambs meant that the streets were literally awash with blood.

For the Roman Governor the people were celebrating the escape from Egypt. The city was a cultural ‘hotchpotch’ (incidentally also a lamb stew) and Judah was the most difficult province in the Roman Empire. In Jesus’s lifetime there had been other people going around prophesying, saying that they were God, and leading thousands of people with a rebellious intent. So the Roman authorities were very wary when someone like Jesus came along. They were on their guard.

From Jonathan’s experience, riding on a horse seems to make people look down on those below (when he collected horse manure from a local stable, he was looked down on with contempt by the young children on the horses). Riding on a donkey gave a very different sign, and it was a tradition for leaders to ride on a donkey to show they were humble and not a threat to the people.

And then a small tutorial. Beth in Hebrew means house, and Bethany is the ‘house of figs’. It was situated above the Mount of Olives, a graveyard at the time and a mass grave now, so those buried there can rise up when the Lord comes and be the first to get through the gates to Jerusalem. Bethany was where Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived, and Jonathan felt it was most likely that Jesus would have arranged with them that they would provide a donkey for him.

So there was Jesus on a donkey surrounded by the clamour of the crowd. If you were a soldier or the Governor, and you heard the people shouting “Hosanna” – literally “Save Us!! – a desperate cry from the people who thought Jesus was going to overthrow the regime (after all that was in the scriptures) – your worst fears were strengthened.

The atmosphere is electric. People are expecting something special, and Jesus is also fired up by the crowd (adrenaline pumping), so he goes up to the temple, to a court outside the main temple (the court of the Gentiles) where the money changers did their business.  To buy an animal for sacrificial purposes it had to be OK’d by a priest (the shepherds of Bethlehem were looking after the temple sheep) and you had to buy them with special temple money. The money changers charged an elevated commission, particularly to poor people, hence their description as “robbers and thieves”. Jesus lets rip, and then he starts to perform miracles.

So it was not just the Roman Authorities who were concerned by his impact on the crowds. Now it was also the temple authorities. This man says he is the Son of God! You can imagine the feverish pitch of tension ripping through Jerusalem at this time.

And there we were to leave it. This was what Palm Sunday was about.

(And what followed was also predictable, a disappointed crowd, a Governor worried about the threat of insurrection and the Jewish authorities paranoid about the challenge to their position by yet another person claiming to be God, disturbing temple life, and performing miracles to impress he crowd. He had to be got rid of!)

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