Exminster Methodist Church
Exminster Methodist Church, Main Road, Exminster EX6 8BT
Email exminstermethodists@yahoo.co.uk, Minister: Rev Ben Haslam, Telephone (01392) 256716

Letter from Revd Ben Haslam

Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”. These words, taken from Psalm 118, and without which no Palm Sunday service is complete, was sung at all the main Jewish festivals. It is part of a special set of psalms of praise (Psalms 113-8) known as the ‘Hallel’. The gospel writers take care to stress both that Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and that the Jesus’ presence in the Holy City has a deeper significance than that. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the air is thick with allusion to the Old Testament. I have said before that you cannot fully understand the New Testament unless you know something about the Old, and that’s particularly true in the accounts of what we call ‘The Triumphal entry’. There is a deep sense of expectation and excitement because there are scriptural promises of a figure who will save, deliver, and lift up the heads of God’s oppressed people.

The Gospel writers skillfully weave these promises, or echoes of them, into their narrative. It also helps to know that only a king had the right to requisition a beast for travelling purposes as Jesus does. There is no doubt that Jesus’ regal reception is appropriate, but after all, the crowd do not and perhaps cannot fully appreciate the significance of what is about to happen. They are caught in the excitement of the immediate moment, of the festival atmosphere, the jostling bodies, the dust, the shouting and the rumors and
eyewitness accounts of this pivotal figure, this Jesus. Their excitement has reached fever pitch, and it will take time, and reflection, and a Resurrection before some realise just what has happened. In the gospels, we, privileged people that we are, have it all laid out for us and we can sit with the words as we reflect, away from the heat and noise of Jerusalem, on these ancient words and their life changing import.

I have often pondered the Palm Sunday narratives, and felt a little uneasy, especially when I’ve been trying to write sermons on them. It can all seem slightly too neat and tidy, a pleasant Sunday school story which prefaces Easter nicely for those who
do not want to dwell on the darker turn things take on Good Friday. In actual fact, Palm Sunday is a pivotal moment in the broader drama of a new covenant God is making with humanity, one which will be sealed with Jesus’ own blood. God is repairing the breach between Himself and humanity, and our humanity is what we share with those pilgrim crowds. If we had been there, would we have been among the palm wavers, or the grumbling Pharisees (mentioned in John’s account?) Would we have had enough openness to God to discern something of His presence in our midst, even if the full implications of that were beyond us? Or would we just have been caught up in the excitement of the moment, slinking away when events seemed to conspire against Jesus, and he proves to be not so popular after all…? Reading episodes such as this in the scriptures challenge us as to what kind of people we are. This one presents us with a challenge: namely to seek to be the kind of people who, through developing the habits of prayer, listening, and waiting upon God, would have recognised Him had we been there, 2,000 years ago at the start of that extraordinary week.

God bless, Ben