Palm Sunday - 'King for a day'
What would you do if you were ‘king for the day’?
It’s a famous question is it not? There are songs, books, films, and television programs that have been called ‘king for a day’. Perhaps it is universal to ask this famous question; perhaps we all sometimes consider what we would do if we were ‘in-charge’, even for a day? Perhaps you remember asking yourself this as a child, and wondering what you would do if you got to be King (or Queen, or Ruler, President or Prime-Minister) for the day?
I wonder if, later in life, you have found yourself using the question in a slightly ironic, adult way to express your dissatisfaction with some wrong or injustice or misfortune; for example ‘if I was King for a day I’d sort out (insert issue/injustice/problem here)…’?
And I wonder what sort of thing you would have on your list to do, or what sort of problem (or person!) you would ‘sort-out’, if you did indeed get to be ‘king’ for the day?
Perhaps it’s hard to choose just one thing; perhaps some of us would have rather long lists!
Or perhaps you have asked yourself the question in a slightly modified form (and a very modern form); which is:
‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’.
Or ‘what would you do if you were a billionaire?’.
I know I have thought about this, and as much as I’m sure we would all be altruistic and giving if we ever came into such wealth, I’m sure there would be a few new houses/cars/clothes and holidays in it for us!
So, seriously – maybe take a moment to think about it. What would you do if you were in-charge for a day?
I think this question is actually very relevant to Palm Sunday because, of course, this is when we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the closest that Jesus got to being crowned as an earthly ‘King’ (and it was just one day!).
It was on this day that Jesus, briefly, became the focus of an immediate sense of expectation related to his status as a possible ‘Messiah’. As I’m sure you may know, the royal term ‘Messiah’ was the expected saviour who, in the popular religious culture of the time, was expected to come and free the people from Roman occupation, and re-establish the ancient kingdom. This is one of the great ironies of the Gospel – that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the royal saviour, but not at all in the way the people expected!
On Palm Sunday, we remember that the crowd that cheered Jesus up to and through the gates of Jerusalem would have hoped him to be their ‘king’ and ‘saviour’ in a local, political sense, rather than a universal or eternal sense (or as well as a universal and eternal sense).
Whatever they thought about the ancient prophecies of a king who would reign on the throne of David forever, it is easy to imagine that the crowd who cheered him on would have had a big long list of very practical and immediate things they wanted him to do! No doubt the hopes and expectations would have varied throughout the crowd, and no doubt the list of things each individual hoped the Messiah would do would have been the things that they wanted; the things that they would do or bring about if they were ‘king for the day’.
On Palm Sunday, when the crowd hailed Jesus as their king, they would have been hailing him as their king. Their king who was on their side, and who would sort-out their problems.
And the question that I want to ask today is simply this: to what extent do we still do this?
Are we still looking for the wrong sort of saviour? Are we still looking for a messiah (or a God) who will be all about doing what we want; whose greatest priorities will be to fulfil our plans and priorities, to make our dreams come true, if we were ‘king for the day’?
Perhaps so. Maybe you have heard of the strand of Christian teaching that gets called, rather mockingly, ‘Health and Wealth’ teaching? When we pray, are our prayers mostly about what we want, what we would like and what we would need? Well, if they are, don’t panic; God knows what is on our hearts, and we can be honest about it! God loves us, after all… It is just that we must not fall into the trap of thinking that God’s great and endless love for us means that God is simply on ‘our side’, and therefore always wants for us what we want for ourselves, no matter what. This would be a little like a young child thinking that because their parents loved them, they would give them chocolate for every meal, or let them play on the road!
God loves us, and of course is ‘for us’ (Romans 8.31), but on Palm Sunday we remember that God’s plans are so often different from our own plans, and that we are called to walk with Jesus through the gate of Jerusalem, not to the palace and the place of power, but to the ‘via dolorosa’ and the place of crucifixion.
Are we like the crowd, who hailed Jesus as king because they wanted someone to give them what they wanted? Who wanted someone to give them what they would get if they were king for a day?
Or are we able to be like Jesus, who did not get what he wanted (when praying in the Garden at Gethsemane) but rather said to God ‘not what I want, but what you want’? The extraordinary thing is, if we are able to submit to God, and to walk with Jesus towards what God wants for us, we will find something much more wonderful than the sort of things we might be tempted to choose for ourselves, even at our most altruistic, if we were ‘kings for the day’.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is remembered to have said ‘I have come so you may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10.10). The challenge for us is to remember that the sort of fulness that Jesus had in mind was probably not the sort of thing that a modern king or billionaire might recognise, but rather something of love, community, openness, generosity, justice and the peace and joy that follow on from it.
The challenge for us this Palm Sunday is to walk with Jesus through those gates, giving up the idea of being ‘king for a day’, and getting what we want, and follow him all the way to the cross. Let us not forget that resurrection, and new life await!
I wonder what Jesus wants to invite you to leave behind at the gate of Jerusalem today?