Sermon for St Edward’s / Palm Sunday 2023 / Reading : Matthew 21: 1 – 11
So here we are the start of Holy Week. The beginning of the end? or the end of the beginning?
Jesus sends his disciples to find a colt – a young male donkey – for him to ride on. And here in Matthew we read he brings the mother donkey too. As Matthew tells us this was to fulfil a prophecy from the OT, from Zechariah 9:9
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!Zechariah 9:9
Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus knew that entering Jerusalem in this way would be recognised by people, especially the Jewish who knew the scriptures. He was saying to them, here I am, that coming king that you have heard about.
And this was similar to how new kings processed – though usually on a fine horse rather than a donkey – hence both the similarity and the contrast.
There was a lot of symbolism here, that would have been recognised by those who were there. Matthew particularly was writing for a Jewish audience and picks up on some of these things..
Here we are Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in triumph.
This week I went to our local infants school, where I am now also a community governor, to do an assembly – and we ran through Holy Week in about 10 mins! But as I was preparing for that and taking along our palm branches, I was reflecting on their significance.
Date Palms grew and do grow abundantly in the Middle East. Big, tall trees with a thin trunk and the leaves spreading out in a canopy. They are referred to often alongside Cedars of Lebanon as good things/ tall, righteous, fruitful etc
The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.Psalm 92:12
Or perhaps more interestingly – how about this for a compliment:
You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.Song of Songs: 7:7
Anyway the point is there were a lot of Palms – Jericho was even known as the city of Palm Trees – 2 Chron 28 – and they were a symbol of good things.
Palm branches were used as a sign of triumph and on celebratory occasions
We can read in Leviticus 23:40 –
On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.Leviticus 23:40
And specifically new kings or those retuning from battle would be welcomed in this way with pam branches waving and being put on the road before them.
And we can even read in Revelation that on that day, when we are united together with God, people of all nations will celebrate together:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’Rev 7: 9-10
And so I was thinking about the palm leaves this week and I felt like what God wanted to say to us this morning is about what we bring. Let me explain..
The people in Jerusalem, when they saw Jesus coming, they used what they had to hand to recognise him – we read:
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road
They used what they had to hand – their own cloaks and the branches of the abundant trees nearby.
They wanted to show a sign of celebration, of victory and of honour to Jesus. They recognised something new was happening here and they used what they had to show that.
And I think God is asking of us today, what are we bringing? What do we have to hand? To show our praise and worship of who Jesus is. What is our offering to the Lord this Holy Week?
You know this year I have been reiterating, let’s go deeper in our faith – let’s intentionally seek to know more about Jesus, spend more time in God’s word, in scripture, spirit and sacrament.
And this week is a key time. It might be a busy week – there is lots going on at church, we might be preparing to see family, it’s a bank holiday weekend. The kids are going to be off school.
But let’s not be so busy that we get to Sunday and have missed out Friday, and all that happens in between.
So let’s ask ourselves what are we bringing to the Lord this Holy Week? What do we have at hand to offer?
What are we laying down in worship this week?
This is a simple message this morning but I feel it is a challenge God is bringing to us all.
So I encourage you to reflect on that and think about how you come to honour the king and what you might be bringing in offering. What you might be laying down before the Lord.