Everyone likes a good carnival, and Jesus entry into Jerusalem was part of a very important one. The crowds were all moving towards the celebrations of the Passover, the retelling and remembering of the stories how the Hebrew people were liberated from the slavery in Egypt.
Masses of people are moving along towards the temple – and Jesus, sitting on a donkey, is right in the middle of them. He is riding on the foal of a donkey, and according to the prophet Zechariah this is how the redeemer king would come. The cutting and spreading of branches made a connection between the entry of Jesus and that of Simon Maccabaeus, who led a successful revolt to free Jerusalem and make the temple a holy place again. That gives Palm Sunday its name. It also points to freedom and redemption after the hard and painful time of Passiontide is finished.
When the people welcome Jesus they use the word “Hosanna”. This was not only a blessing, but also a cry for help. You may wonder how all this can be connected with our life today. To explain and illustrate this question I would like to come back to the initial idea of a carnival.
In most areas in Germany, where I come from, during the last days before Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday there are carnival processions and celebrations daily. Everyone and everything is taken out of the normal order of things and put to the purpose of the party. Huge floats with radical themes and headlines ridicule and criticise things that are oppressive and painful in life and in politics. Of course music, fun, food and drink, like at Notting Hill, play their part too. The combination of all these very different elements turns Carnival in Germany into a time of liberation. People can vent their frustrations, and dance, sing and shout away their tensions. After that they can again deal appropriately with feelings and situations which may otherwise devastate them.
Here you are, it is Ash Wednesday and you have just confessed your sins – corporately, of course. You go away with a black or grey smudge of a cross on your forehead, and if you are even remotely like me you will feel a bit strange in the crowd with this mark. Some may even wipe it off as soon as they have come out of church. This signing in the shape of the Cross is accompanied by the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from your sin and be faithful to Christ.”
Can you think of reasons why it is important to be reminded now and again that we shall not live forever?
As soon as November comes to an end many people ask each other the same question: “What are you doing for Christmas?” This sounds to me very much like the question people usually ask in February, enquiring about any discipline chosen for Lent. In a way there is a relationship here, since the season of Advent is as much a journey as Lent. Is this the advent of a legion of aid organizations asking to support their cause? Or are Christians hoping for something more?
November is the time when we remember those who have died. Beginning with All Saints Day the Church recalls all the Holy Men and Women who have followed Christ and died a long time ago. On All Souls Day those near to us, who have gone to heaven before us, are celebrated; memories may crop up, perhaps pain we thought we had left behind catches us and hits us where we least expect it. We miss them still and always will remember them. How can we ever live without them? We manage, but certainly life will never be the same again.