Several years ago now, I was working with a group of children to design our own set of Holy Week stations. We tried to sum up the message of each event in a single caption, and for today the caption was
And of course welcome is very much the flavour of the day, with cheering crowds in holiday mood.
“The triumphal entry....” that's what we call it....instantly connecting Jesus with all those set piece returns of Roman generals, led in procession to the Temple after a glorious victory
“See the conquering hero comes”
What's actually going on?
It's easy for us to interpret Palm Sunday in the light of Easter day..to proclaim, as we will next week
"Endless is the victory..." but the Jerusalem crowd knows nothing of this – so why are they celebrating?
Perhaps it's just that good-humoured holiday excitement that wants to turn everything into a festival.
Perhaps the crowd is trying to force Jesus' hand, by proclaiming him a conquering hero to turn him into one on the spot...seizing the moment to rush in and overthrow the Roman army then and there.
See the conquering hero comes!
But actually this is an entirely manufactured triumph
The conquering hero comes not in a chariot, nor on a white charger but on a colt the foal of an ass. He is not preceded by prisoners of war but acclaimed by some of those he has freed...through life changing words and miracles.
We shouldn't be surprised. The way of the Kingdom is now, and always has been, to subvert our expectations.
Right from the start the agenda has been quite simply to turn the world upside down til, paradoxically, it finds itself right way up once more, restored to it's true self, as it was in the beginning when God looked at creation and saw it was good.
But...back in Jerusalem that festival day,there is till much to do. Having shouted their welcome, the crowd disperses and Jesus is left alone. But he continues to follow the pattern set for triumphal entries....and goes to the Temple.
What he finds there makes him very very angry.
Here where there should be an all-inclusive welcome..in the very court of the Gentiles,open to all comers...were people intent on feathering their own nest at the expense of others.
Money changers had their place there....you could not do much in the Temple complex til you had Temple coins in your hand....but was was going on here was extortion, exploitation...and an abuse of hospitality.
It couldn't go on...
So the conquering hero behaves like an angry teenager...
Storming in, turning the tables upside down, sending the soon to be sacrificial chickens scuttling across the courtyard clucking wildly.
Cleansing the Temple – that's what we call it...but it might have felt more like a violation – a riot – the sort of thing that the tabloids decried so vehemently in 2011....
Cleansing depends on your perspective – and for those whose tables were overturned, it can't have been a positive experience.
But still, as I pondered what God wanted me to say to you – and to myself – this Holy Week, it was to the cleansing of the Temple that I returned again and again.
If the children were right, that the message of today could and should be “Welcome, Jesus” - then I wonder what work he needs to do in each one of us, so that the Temple of our hearts can become a place where he is truly welcomed and at home...
What things have we allowed to grow out of proportion?
What is preventing us from being hospitable to God – and to his people?
We know, don't we, that we belong with those fickle crowds whose hosanna turn so rapidly to Crucify him...
We know that while we long to welcome Jesus, we so often find him a difficult and demanding guest
So – this Holy Week, may I invite you to talk to him about the things that need cleansing within you...
Ask him for the courage to LET him transform you.
It may not be comfortable – but in this week when we walk the way of the cross, perhaps that's as it should be.
There may be things we hate to let go...but if we want to welcome Jesus, then we need to make room for him, and all his demands.
He's not an easy guest – but he's the only One who can save us all.