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Weekly worship: Sunday 25 March

Palm Sunday

Tree and nature in Malawi - Christian Aid

Shout hosanna!

Psalm 118:1-2,19-29    John 12:12-26

I don’t know about you, but I was brought up to have a degree of reticence. ‘Don’t show off!’ was a constant theme of my childhood. And for many people, that continues into adulthood. The self-deprecating smile, the embarrassed shrug when someone offers a compliment – it’s a familiar part of the culture.

And in consequence, it’s often difficult to acknowledge the moments of success appropriately. You may feel like dancing all the way down the road, but you don’t actually do it – what would people think?

Give glory to God

Palm Sunday represents the complete opposite of this reticence. Jesus has completed his mission. He raised Lazarus from the dead, and so has revealed himself fully with his final ‘sign’ (John uses this word rather than ‘miracle’). Martha has recognised him: ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of God’ (11:27). And though the Jerusalem crowds might not see the truth with Martha’s clarity, they come pouring out of the city in excitement and anticipation to welcome him, waving the palm branches and shouting in his praise. The despair of the religious leaders is described in v.19: ‘the whole world has gone after him’.

And Jesus does not discourage the crowds. He does not try to stop them shouting ‘hosanna’, or deny that he comes in the Lord’s name. He does not flinch at the title ‘King of Israel’. There is a glorious confidence in this story. He knows that the stunning power of God is revealed in him, and the praise is deserved.

Equally, however, he does not allow himself to be sucked into the crowd’s expectations of a Messiah who comes to destroy the Roman colonisers. He does not ride into Jerusalem on a war-horse, but chooses the animal of the poor, a donkey, which John links with Zechariah’s prophecy of a king who comes ‘humble and riding on a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9). On his terms, then, he accepts the praise as God’s due – knowing that very soon, ‘hosanna’ would turn to ‘crucify’.

Cry out for justice

Perhaps we can imagine ourselves in that crowd, palm branch in hand, yelling ‘hosanna’ till our throats are sore, celebrating the presence of God’s glory amongst us. But in other circumstances it can be harder to praise God as we should. Inhibitions, reticence, shyness, hushed voices, and in consequence the church’s work only comes to public attention when something goes wrong and there is a scandal. But the church – the body of Christ – is where God’s glory is revealed, through the regular pattern of worship but also through the commitment of organisations such as Christian Aid, glorifying God as they push back against hunger and homelessness and all that limits human life.

So can we find the courage to shout just a bit louder in celebration of what God is doing through us? God is making a difference through people like us who believe in life before death. There will always be some who are opposed to the idea of caring for neighbours who happen to live elsewhere, and their criticism may be loudly hostile. But when life brings a reason to praise God for actions which overcome evil in God’s name, then we need to shout ‘hosanna’ good and loud – for if we stay silent, the stones themselves will cry aloud.

Pray

God, whose power and glory
is revealed in Jesus Christ,
make us brave to proclaim your life-changing love
so that the world may hear the good news
and those in need may find hope in you.
Amen.

With thanks to the Rev. Dr.Caroline Wickens, Superintendent Minister, Manchester Circuit of the Methodist Church, for providing the March weekly pointers.

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