Where two worlds collide…


Mark 11 v 1-11

Mark 15 v 1-39

Introduction

There can be no doubt that we live in a world where military might and the use of force and violence are seen as crucial in determining who holds power.

In the last weeks we have seen the use of chemical weapons in this nation; we have seen the destruction of great swathes of Syria in warfare; we have seen the stand-off between America and North Korea and the threat of two crazy men trading nuclear weapons; we have seen the American president threaten to get tough on drug dealers by extending capital punishment.

We live in a world where those who are strongest and who have the biggest armies often seem to have the final say. First century Jerusalem was no different.

The nation of Israel was a nation under occupation by the forces of the Roman Empire. The religious leaders of the time colluded with the Roman rulers for a quiet life knowing all too well that they could not compete.

Into this heady and violent mix comes Jesus in what would be the last week of his life on earth. This morning in our readings we have journeyed through the events of Palm Sunday all the way to the cross.

As we reflect on the readings and prepare for Communion in a moment let’s take a very brief moment to think about what we have heard and use these readings to prepare ourselves at the start of this Holy Week.

Context

We are all familiar with the story of the Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem – we hear the story every year on the Sunday before Easter. We know about Jesus sending His disciples to borrow the donkey and the people throwing their coats and branches onto the road.

However what we may be less familiar with is the historical context in which this procession took place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and makes a very obvious political and theological point.

Jesus entered Jerusalem from the East side at the end of his journey from Galilee. What we know from the historians is that at the same time there would have been another procession entering the other side of the city. That procession would have been led by Pontius Pilate at the head of the Roman imperial cavalry. Pilate’s procession was a demonstration of military might and of Roman theology. It was the standard practice of the Roman governors to come to Jerusalem when there was a major Jewish festival. They were not there to show devotion but rather to cut out trouble at the source.

Pilate’s Palm Sunday procession was designed to reinforce the military presence at the time of Passover when the Jews were remembering their liberation from Egypt.

At the same time the Roman procession was theological. The theology of the Roman Empire was that the Emperor was the son of God. This thinking began with Augustus who ruled Rome until 14 BC. His successors bore divine titles and this included Tiberius who was the Emperor at this time.

The Roman procession was designed to make both a point of social order and theological point. Rome ruled.

Two Worlds Collide

The passages we have heard and read together this morning show in sharp contrast how two very different worlds collide. And as we have seen from part two of our Gospel reading this morning Pilate and Jesus were on a collision course which would end at the cross.

Right from the His birth in Bethlehem when Herod set out to slaughter new born babies, to His sermons in Galilee announcing release for the captive and the coming of the Kingdom of God Jesus was on a collision course with the might and muscle of the Roman Empire.

The truth of Jesus was going to collide with the truth of empire and that would happen on the cross.

The cross – the ultimate symbol of Roman brutality and the means by which the Romans maintained peace, through fear, was about to become the ultimate and enduring symbol of love and forgiveness.

The Lesson

Everything we have heard in our two Gospel readings is counter-cultural and just in case we didn’t get the message Paul’s letter to Philippians rammed home the point.

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, not a mighty white stallion.

Jesus does not respond to His accusers and abusers with aggression or violence.

Jesus will take the cross – the instrument of Roman torture and change its message for all time.

This Jesus, who we proclaim, does things differently – the world is turned upside down in the Kingdom of God.

As we approach the end of Lent and the celebration of Easter Sunday what to we learn?

As a church we have travelled with Jesus through these forty days – we have thought about the temptations He faced in the desert. We have considered the disciplines of prayer, fasting, reading scripture and then acting. All of these things lead us to the cross because it is here at the foot of the cross that we can begin to see the world changed.

“In the crucifixion of Christ the principalities are named and shamed, and their “truth” of violence is at last exposed for the lie that it is. At the cross Jesus cast out Satan as the rule of the world and gave the world not only a new ruler but also a new centre, a new axis. In Christ the world no longer revolves around the pragmatic truth (“lie”) of power enforced by violence. In Christ the world is now re-centred around the beautiful truth of love expressed in forgiveness.” [1]

That is the truth of Easter – the world is turned upside down, or right side up, and death and violence are defeated and at the cross love wins.

 

[1] Brian Zahnd – Beauty Will Save the World

Chris
Christ Topping, Reader

 

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