What does Baptism or Christening mean to you? What has happened this morning for Caitlyn and her family and friends. I wonder if there is anything that related to what we remember of Jesus on Palm Sunday. Let’s investigate a little together.
First some clarification. We might Christen our child, or they may later undergo what is called adult baptism, (that’s not a second baptism but some people elect to wait until they are old enough to decide for themselves and then choose to be immersed in water – it is not necessarily better, rather it is different). In either case, it is a ritual that is engaged in. It is a very arranged piece of theatre. Much like many church services you might think. There are questions and responses, we have heard them this morning. There may be Godparents, the person may be shown off to the church and afterwards a time of celebration.
When we then look at the Gospel reading today from Matthew; Ch21 v 1-11.; what do we see or think is going on. Some would argue that it is all done because God has planned it all since the beginning of time. Well, that way of thinking is of course OK to a point, but if we don’t dig a little deeper, we often miss a whole load of good stuff in the writing. (Note the theological term “stuff”) We might just gloss over the story as we know it by heart and have heard it, well just too many times before.
First of all, there is nothing magical or miraculous in my mind about the story of the disciples finding a colt just as Jesus had told them. Why do we assume everything Jesus said or did was in some way miraculous? For a clue, we need to pop over to John’s Gospel account found in Chapter 7. We have Jesus going in secret to the “festival of booths”. He went alone because he couldn’t trust some of those who were close to him. His brothers for one, remember they had tried to kidnap him once, and it is telling that he didn’t leave his closest 12 followers with the job organising the meal for the what would become the last supper. For Jesus, these things he was planning had to happen, and he couldn’t risk being betrayed until AFTER they had happened. He knew full well that the net was closing in. Preparations had to be made, preparations like a colt and an upper room.
Like Baptism then, the entry to Jerusalem is a pre-arranged piece of theatre, full of imagery, and the imagery means that everyone would have known exactly what message is being said.
In Baptism, we have a naming ceremony and a promise of commitment to God; we might well forget our commitment to God but we make it all the same.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus lives out a commitment by God to return to his people and to rule again; albeit is a way that would take everyone by surprise. The message however was clear to the people who lined the way down the hill into the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem. God was coming back and Jesus couldn’t have said things any clearer; I am the Messiah.
Whilst we often forget our promises, and commitments that we make to ourselves, others and God. God, never does. God is faithful to the promises he makes, and so Jesus rode in to the east of the city the poor end, the end with no sanitation, literally through a gate called the dung gate, to engage in battle with the imperial forces of Rome who were symbolically approaching from the upper western end (the posh seat of power, where there was running water and good air), with Pilate surrounded by armed guards and all the trappings of military might. But this wasn’t to be a battle in the way that often think of. Jesus rejected violence as an option and instead does battle with the one who works behind the scenes of the Romans, the Temple authorities, the same one who works behind the actions of selfishness, pride, hatred, and violence that can still attempt to enslave all of us. He will do this in a way that will take everyone by surprise.
In the coming week, we will reflect and think about the events of the passion and the resurrection. When and if you do, take a moment to remember God’s commitment to love and to you. In Baptism, we recall that we love because first God loved us. This Easter, consider that we live and love because God in Jesus lived and died for us and loved for us never straying from the commitment to love.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit