In normal circumstances ‘Orchestration and spontaneity’ would have been delivered in person by Nigel Silvester, on Palm Sunday 5th April 2020 in Christ Church Walmersley. It’s based on Matthew 21:1-11. He’s sending this out to our virtual congregation instead, for which we’re very grateful.
A story of liberation
It would have been very busy that day. Jerusalem packed with pilgrims coming into the city from all over, to celebrate the Passover. Inspired by the memory of Moses, the atmosphere would be one of excitement and expectation as the pilgrims came together – many, maybe, meeting up with friends they had made in previous years.
There would have been outbursts of singing – Passover psalms like 118 would have been heard over the city as thousands came together for this major festival of the Jewish calendar. And inside, everyone hoped for the future as they prepared to enact the Passover as their story of liberation – the story of being set free from oppressors.
The Roman authorities, very mindful of these underlying passions, were on the alert for any signs of rebellion or uprising in the crowds. The Jewish temple authorities and High Priests would also be aware of these passions and were anxious that the Romans didn’t react to any signs of unrest by clamping-down on this festive occasion or, even worse, impose restrictions on the religious freedoms that they had.
So, whilst there was joy, excitement and holiday atmosphere in Jerusalem, there was also certain tension in the air. Those tensions would be played out in the days to come, ending on a cross at Golgotha.
Into this great occasion, this festive melee of people and emotions, came Jesus, riding on a donkey, accompanied by his disciples and followers. A staged entry which was performance art in true prophetic style. The donkey, the cloaks spread out and the palm fronds would have resonated with the Jewish crowd who would have been very aware of Zechariah 9:9 – “your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey”. Echoes too of 2 Kings 9:13 – “cloaks spread under him”; and Leviticus 23:39-43 – “take palm fronds and rejoice before the Lord your God”.
Matthew 21:10- 11 tells us that the whole city was stirred – and when asked those in the know replied “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee”. Jesus, the master of PR, was pulling out all the stops to announce his arrival in Jerusalem. The whole city knew he was in town. Jesus’ disciples, his followers, and the crowd, would have been whipped-up into an even greater frenzy and excitement. There was no stopping it – in Luke 19:40, Jesus, when asked to calm the crowd, says “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!”
So, picture the scene. Crowds of people, all with the same reason for being there; the atmosphere, the enthusiasm, the emotions. Have you been in the midst of such an event? Do you remember the crowds that greeted the Pope at Heaton Park in 1982, when over 200,000 gathered? The Billy Graham rallies all those years ago? On a smaller scale, Christian gatherings like Spring Harvest or New Wine can bring together thousands of like-minded people. The atmosphere gets very infectious and it’s so easy to get carried along with whatever is going on – it’s hard not to!
The entry into Jerusalem – orchestrated or spontaneous? Clearly, a bit of both. Jesus knew what he was doing. As we would say these days, he knew how to work a crowd. Multitudes had flocked to see and hear him in Galilee; he had their attention when he spoke; they watched spellbound as he had healed the sick, given sight to the blind; debated with scholars. Now here he was in Jerusalem – on what you might call a bigger stage. A stage he knew would play out in his biggest test, but it had to be done. Jesus’ life and ministry was orchestrated by and with his Father; there was no turning back.
The Gospels also show that Jesus often acted spontaneously, impulsively, you could say; he did what came naturally. At twelve years old he stayed in the temple talking with teachers; he spoke out in his home town synagogue; he calmed the storm; Jesus healed people on the Sabbath and he spoke with and associated with all sorts of people that any good Jewish rabbi never should. And Jesus encouraged that spontaneity in others. Pack up your nets and follow me he told the fishermen; come down from that tree Zacchaeus, let’s go to your house; fetch that donkey, I’ll ride into the city on it.
Bringing the two together
God calls us to live with both orchestration and spontaneity. To reflect in our lives as followers of Jesus the same behaviour. The orchestration of belief, of faith, of learning about how God wants us to live, gives a basis for the spontaneity of behaviour which is to be found in every Christian community. It becomes part of our psyche to look out for those around us; to show care and compassion; to help those in need and to share. As scripture tells us “love your neighbour as yourself”. In these things we act spontaneously. Paul tells Philemon, at verse 14, “any favour you do will be spontaneous and not forced”.
We also will find orchestration and spontaneity in other aspects of our lives – in prayer and worship; in the reading of scripture; in coming together to worship; to give thanks and praise; to seek forgiveness when we fall short. We step out in faith and find ourselves doing things we never dreamed of – or were too afraid to try.
Go and do likewise
Jesus found orchestration and spontaneity born and based on a firm relationship with his Heavenly Father. In Luke 10:37 Jesus says “Go and do likewise”. So, let us get swept along like those crowds in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; sing ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’; and follow Jesus wherever he may take us.