Palm Sunday in Itchen Valley – playing our roles in the Eternal Drama by Revd Alex Pease

It’s Palm Sunday and we had our annual procession following one of Judy Bishops Donkeys.  As Max was indisposed, it was the debut performance of Mischief in this role leading the worshippers around the St John’s Itchen Abbas churchyard and along the Dartnalls’ drive and into the church.  Thank you so much to Judy (and Mischief) and to the Dartnalls.

Some photos of the procession follow:

We then held our service with John Dover playing the organ.  The sermon can be heard here or read below and the passage of Scripture follows also:

Roles in the Eternal Drama Luke 19:28-40

Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem.  He sends two of the disciples ahead to Bethpage and says “go into the village and you will find there a colt who has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you ‘why are you untying it? Just say this, ‘The Lord needs it’’

As you know, we get lots of pilgrims walking through the Parish.  A couple of weeks ago, I encountered one group having lunch in the St John’s churchyard.  They were on their way to Canterbury, via various pubs and B&Bs…..I want to do that myself one day….

But just imagine if their leader had said, to the youngest of the group, ‘you go on ahead into Itchen Abbas and you will find parked outside the church a brand new Aston Martin with the keys in the wheel arch.  Just drive it here….’

‘And, by the way, if anyone asks why you are taking it, just say ‘The Lord needs it’!

It’s pretty strange, when Jesus says to his disciples ‘go into the village…and you will find a colt which has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here’.

And, of course, when they do it, the predictable happens: the owner says ‘what are you doing untying my donkey?’

Now, there appear to be two views of theologians on how Jesus knew that the donkey would be there tied up in Bethpage.  

First, there is the view which says that Jesus used his divine prescience (this is the ‘superhero’ view of Jesus) that through his divine nature he could see what was happening in a village that he had not yet reached on his journey with his super powers: that there was a donkey tied up and he knew that, if someone took it, the owners would just accept that it could be taken, if they were just told the words ‘The Lord needs it’…

Or, Secondly, there is the more human view, the more incarnational view, that Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, as we all can be, had arranged all this in advance….that the words ‘The Lord needs it’ were a code word to friends who were already in place in Bethpage; just keeping an eye to see on the colt to make sure that some villain didn’t take it before Jesus needed it.

When we are looking at what Jesus did, either view is theologically possible.

But, in either case, we have the sense that Jesus was preparing, very precisely for his journey into Jerusalem; that it wasn’t an accident that he travelled into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was a very deliberate part of the plan.

Preparing because this journey into Jerusalem was very important.  He was preparing an acted parable; a drama which would unleash its meaning to the Jews… but also to us…over the centuries, a drama which had deep significance for the Jews.

The reason that travelling into Jerusalem on a donkey was so significant was because it had been prophesied by the prophet Zechariah about 500 years earlier.  In Zechariah 9:9 the prophet says: ‘Rejoice greatly Daughter Zion! Shout Daughter Jerusalem! See your king comes to you righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.

By travelling into Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was laying claim to being God’s new king for Israel predicted by the prophets; to being the Messiah.

He was acting out a part In a drama which revealed his true identity; a part which everyone in Jerusalem (at least anyone who knew their scripture) would have seen the significance.  The crowd, perhaps encouraged by the disciples, are shouting out ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven’. 

The Pharisees, with their detailed knowledge of Scripture understand the implications immediately and tell Jesus to get his disciples to stop.  They are scandalised by the implied blasphemy that Jesus is claiming  to be God’s messiah; verse 39 ‘Teacher [they say] order your disciples to stop’.

He replies in a way which is not going to win friends, and is almost bound to get him killed: ‘I tell you, if these [people] were silent, the stones would shout out’ – with the implication that ‘you Pharisees are so far from God that you cannot see what is happening, who it is that is coming into Jerusalem! Even the stones would get it!’

Theologian Professor Tom Wright (who used to be Bishop of Durham) sees the Bible as a five act drama:

1 Creation; 

2 Fall; 

3 Israel; 

4 Jesus. 

5 the Church

The Bible is a drama….but it’s not fiction.

it’s a play….but the actors are not pretending.

They are living (if guided by God), their God-given roles; they are living out their identities, identities in Christ to which they have been called and they have chosen to follow and they are living out these identities……regardless of the consequences….because they know that, in choosing them, they are the most fulfilled, the most human, that they could possibly be. They know that they have been made for this.

Ever since Creation – Act 1 – God has had a plan for a future for humanity in relationship with him.  When he decided to make humanity to have responsibility to look after Creation for him; when he decided to make humanity in his own image, it was probably inevitable that humans would want not just to be in a loving relationship with him, their creator but actually to be gods themselves.  

And so Adam and Eve are tempted, as we read in Genesis, to eat the apple of knowledge of good and evil, because the devil knew that being equal to God, by knowing good and evil, or, to put it another way, by deciding what is good and evil, would be the most effective temptation of humanity, possible…

So Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden as a result.  Thus ends Act 2.

The rest of the history of humanity is God’s patient journey of restoring humanity to the closeness to him that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden before they were banished.

First, God chooses one people from all the peoples of his world to whom he is going to show  extra special favour and whom he will lead and guide.  His people are: the children of Abraham, the children of Israel – the Israelites.  Thats  – Act 3

But even they (though he brings them out of slavery in Egypt) even they become spiritually corrupt and reject him and follow other gods or when they are pretending to follow him rely too much on rules and look for loopholes……thus missing the point of seeking the person whom those rules reveal…..missing the character of the God they were pretending to worship…a God who wants us to love him, to love neighbour and to make disciples.

So that (Act 4) God himself through the Son (in the form of Jesus of Nazareth) comes to earth among his people to show them who God is; what his character is like and how to draw close to him; to show them how he loves; to show them that his Kingdom has drawn near.

Jesus has a role to play in that fourth Act; a role which will resonate throughout history.  He needs to act out that role, regardless of the consequences; to take a path of truth; truth of who he is; truth of who God is, a role which has consequences, a role which leads him to Jerusalem; which leads him inexorably to Calvary….

We are now in the fifth act: The Church; which ends with Jesus’ return to earth in triumph, finally to establish the effective Kingdom of God throughout the earth, giving us roles as his disciples for eternity in that kingdom.

Of course, that return has not happened yet…we are in the ‘now, but not yet’ half stage between the Kingdom of God being initiated (by Jesus’ ministry on Earth) but not having come in its fulness which will happen when Jesus returns.

Jesus fulfils his role in Act 4 as the king prophesied in Zechariah by travelling to Jerusalem on a donkey…..even though he knows the consequences are that he will be killed.

Jerusalem is full of people who are not fulfilling their God given role in God’s drama, who are not subjects of the Kingdom of God or disciples of Christ.  They are people who are just being buffeted from one side to the other by fear, power and greed (the usual motivations of sinful humanity).  Those people without a role in God’s drama are shouting ‘hosanna to the king of kings’ as Jesus travels on a donkey to Jerusalem, but within days would be shouting ‘crucify’.  They are not fulfilling a role in God’s drama, they are reacting to circumstances.  They are reacting to the prevailing wind, to the power of the mob, to the power of self interest, to the fear in their hearts.

But Jesus relentlessly follows his role to its agonising conclusion, because through him God has planned the redemption of humanity.  Through his passion on the Cross, we don’t get what we deserve, because he bears the penalty for our idolatry and sin and in this we see who God is….we see the self-sacrificial nature of God’s love and when we understand this we change…we accept the call he is giving everyone; we take up our role as his disciples.

In this final act, we all have a part to play; a calling to take up that role of disciple; in this 5th Act of the story of the world, to tell and act out this story, to act in everything we do as if Jesus was already the effective king of the world.

Have we responded yet to that call?

Have we yet answered the call he is making on our lives?

Or are we not playing a role at all, and just being like the people of Jerusalem, flotsam and jetsam on the waves, who don’t even understand that there is a drama at all; pushed around by the prevailing waves and wind? Are we just going with the flow that society dictates?

Watching The Durrells on ITV last Sunday evening (which is of course set in the 1930s in Greece), I was very struck by the references to the increasing popularity of fascism in Greece at the time. Of course, Greece suffered very badly from both Italian and German occupations during the war.  But I guess there are not many now who would want to admit to having being attracted to fascism in Greece in the 1930s.  Society has moved on.

But perhaps this is the case with every society.

So many of us are like the crowds on the roads, as Jesus enters Jerusalem crying Hosanna one moment and crucify the next.

That is, unless our identity is defined by the role as a disciple that we have in the Kingdom of God. Then, whatever the fashions of the times, those of us who are subjects of the Kingdom will all simply, humbly, ride on, ride on unwaveringly to our destination, to our own Jerusalem, regardless of whether we are being praised one day, or vilified the next, because we can see that the master dramatist has a plan which will come to fruition, in which we have a role to play, a role in the eternal drama to which we have been called, which we will play whatever the  consequences


Luke 19:28-40

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, 

“Blessed is the king 

who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Peace in heaven, 

and glory in the highest heaven!” 

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 19:28–40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Palm Sun 19

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