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From the Rector of Sarum St. Martin’s

Palm Sunday 2020

I begin by quoting a most brutal line from Shakespeare, but on this Palm Sunday when we have just entered Jerusalem with Our Lord it is appropriate to have in mind these words of Mark Anthony after his oration on the death of Caesar: ‘Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!’

We must first recap on what Palm Sunday celebrates: The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem.  Jesus could and often did, slip into Jerusalem unremarked, after all He is a Rabbi so for Him to come often to the Temple to take part in Temple ritual was nothing strange.  But on this day there was nothing unremarked about the way in which He entered the Holy City.  Not only was it a quite openly public entrance, it was also in form as the King of David’s house and line would enter Jerusalem; ‘Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious,   humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’, as God had spoken through the prophet Zechariah.  And as if this were not enough the crowds poured out of the City crying Hosanna!, meaning ‘God deliver us’; ‘Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!’  We might render this acclamation as, ‘The Son of David, who is here entering the Holy City to retake it for God Most High will deliver the people of God, Israel, from all its sinfulness.’  In the spectacle of Palm Sunday Jesus is quite explicitly stating that He and He alone is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.  That He and He alone is the True High Priestly King of Israel come to cleanse Israel of their sins by taking back the Temple for God Most High from a corrupt high priesthood.  We really should be in no doubt; what Jesus is today doing is deliberate. But He was not being driven along by the crowds drunk on success and fame.  No, He was coming in the plan of God Most High to make atonement for Israel in the renewed and pure Temple of His Body.  And be in no doubt either, that He came into Jerusalem in Love for all of her people, those who opposed and hated Him as much as those who claimed to love Him, for the Love of God in Jesus is the perfect manifestation of the Love which is at the heart of the Holy Trinity.  As St. John reminds us, ‘For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son …’  And the reaction of the Chief Priests of the Temple, the Scribes of the Temple and the Pharisees was ‘Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!’

For those who know medieval history, to cry havoc was once a command for invaders to begin looting and killing the defenders' town.  The Chief Priests and their allies saw just who Jesus was, or in their minds, who Jesus claimed to be, and they would stop at nothing to deny Him, even to the extent of bringing down everything around their ears.  They saw that Jesus was a threat to everything that they held sacred, that if He was not stopped the Romans would destroy them all; so indeed, ‘Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!’ and get rid of this Man, whatever the cost.  Caiaphas, the high priest that year, saw this plainly and thus he ‘had counselled the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’  Put the ‘dogs of war onto Him, that we may be spared the havoc’.

Fr David Fisher

This is the background to what is enacted in a rather polite way in churches most years. Let us be in no doubt, for the Rulers of Israel this was a fight to the death.  And yet, Jesus loved them still, as St. Luke reminds us, ‘As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, ‘If you too had only recognised on this day the way to peace!  But in fact it is hidden from your eyes!’  Hidden by your self-obsession, self-absorption, by the sin that cleaves to you closer even than God, for you have pushed God out of your sight.  This is what is happening at this time in Jerusalem, and too often we, even we who know who Jesus is, we who have been baptised into His body, we who have fed and drunk from His body and blood, stand cheek by jowl with the Chief Priests in our cleaving to sin for in fact they are us, for we are as guilty as they are.  That is the tragedy of the human condition; given the love of God, we all prefer the love of self.

As Holy Week continues and we commemorate Jesus teaching in the Temple the coming of God’s Kingdom let us indeed repent and believe in Him as the one true High Priest of God Most High, the one true way of atonement, and so live. 

In His Triumphal Entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem Jesus wanted nothing more than that all men and women would repent and believe in Him, for we should not doubt, that He came into Jerusalem in Love for all of her people, those who opposed and hated Him as much as those who claimed to love Him, for the Love of God in Jesus is the perfect manifestation of the Love which is at the heart of the Holy Trinity.  That love will be shown in the starkness of Calvary in this week, so that it may be manifest in the dawning of the New Day of Easter as we wait with all of the Church in eager Vigil of the Resurrection on Easter Saturday evening.


Almighty God, you have made us members of Christ and of his Church in this parish. May we as a congregation reach upwards to your throne in worship and adoration: inwards to one another in understanding and fellowship; and outwards to the world in evangelism and social compassion. Make us like a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hidden, so that men and women may find Christ as the Light of the World, and his Church as the family of the redeemed, and eternal life as the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.

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