Psalms 22 & 23, Exodus 11: 1 – 10 and Mark 11: 1 – 11
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. Psalm 22: 27
Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land. Exodus 11: 10
Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Mark 11: 9 and 10
Almighty and Everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for Palm Sunday
Let my people go! Our reading from Exodus 11 comes at the end of a number of chapters describing the obstinacy of Pharaoh in refusing Moses’ request that the Children of Israel should leave slavery in Egypt. These chapters show the repeated displays of God’s power in highly unusual ways, as a series of ‘plagues’ are sent. Look back from chapter 7 for these demonstrations of divine power, all of which were dismissed by Pharaoh as he ‘hardened his heart’. Not only did Moses have these dramatic confrontations with Pharaoh, but he constantly received complaints from the very people he was appointed to help. He was trapped in the middle, harassed by his own people (who saw him as some sort of half-Egyptian because of his unusual upbringing) and rebuffed by Pharaoh. Exodus chapter 11 comes as a sort of bridging point in the narrative, as God tells Moses what he will do as a final plague or judgement on the Egyptians. The actual events of the hurried meal that was to be prepared and eaten following special instructions is described in the next chapter, along with the avenging angel passing over Egypt and slaughtering the firstborn in every household. The exception to this judgement was where the Israelites had obeyed God in daubing blood from the lambs that were being eaten on the doorposts and lintel of the entrances to their homes. Where the angel saw the blood protecting the family, he ‘passed over’ and no deaths occurred. Next Sunday we will be reading part of this chapter.
All this history is pertinent to Palm Sunday and the days leading to Good Friday. Exodus 11 has that sense of foreboding, as it feels like a transition to something awesome that is about to take place, as the Passover Feast is instituted and lambs were killed to enable deliverance to take place.
Mark’s account of the events of Palm Sunday are characteristically brief; verses 8 to 11 describe the entire arrival of Jesus riding on the colt, with the palm branches and cloaks placed on the road and the welcoming cries of the crowds: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ The rejoicing of this day, concluding with Jesus entering the temple and looking around, concludes with him retreating from Jerusalem the short distance to Bethany.
Palm Sunday sums up the excitement and raised hopes that the kingdom of the great ancestor David might be restored. It is the culmination of the expectations that perhaps Jesus was the promised deliverer, with the oppressing Romans removed. But this was not how Jesus saw the fulfilment of prophecy. He was not to be a rebel military leader, so the Palm Sunday reading also has a feeling of foreboding, as we know how quickly ‘success’ and the adulation of the crowds would change to cries of ‘Crucify him!’ a few days later. The events of Holy Week see a succession of visits by Jesus to the temple, seemingly deliberately courting controversy with the religious leaders, speaking of the last days, and almost goading them into a violent reaction – which of course we see in the arrest of Jesus on the Thursday evening, and his subsequent mock trial and crucifixion on Good Friday.
On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper, where the Passover meal takes the shape of the commemorative thanksgiving Christians would adopt as a means of recollecting the sacrifice of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus for the sins of the world – our deliverance from sin. We see in Exodus 11 the significance of Passover as prefiguring the sacrifice Jesus would make, a sacrifice that would now supersede the old Passover tradition. May we reflect through the coming week the cost to Jesus in willingly taking on that immense burden, and our response in thanksgiving and worship.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader