Today is Palm Sunday when the Church re-enacts Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem days before his death. He comes with a stream of pilgrims on their way to the temple, gathering in the City of Peace to celebrate the Passover. One of the three great national festivals, Passover recalled the time when the Lord God had delivered his people out of Egypt. But it also celebrated the barley harvest, the first harvest of the promised Land, followed fifty days (Pentecost) later by the celebration of the wheat harvest.
As pilgrims descended the Mount of Olives into the valley and then climbed up the temple mount, they sang Songs of Ascent. One (Psalm 129) takes up the imagery of the harvest, culminating in the harvest greeting by which Boaz, great-grandfather of king David, had greeted his barley harvesters and the reapers had greeted him in return (Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you.” They answered, The LORD bless you.” Ruth 2:4).
‘Often have they attacked me from my youth’
—let Israel now say—
‘often have they attacked me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
Those who plough ploughed on my back;
they made their furrows long.’
The Lord is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned back.
Let them be like the grass on the housetops
that withers before it grows up,
with which reapers do not fill their hands
or binders of sheaves their arms,
while those who pass by do not say,
‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord!’
In this Psalm a representative individual speaks for Jerusalem and indeed for all Israel. They speak of an enemy who has ploughed furrows on their back yet has reaped no lasting harvest. No one shall bless them as Boaz and his reapers blessed one another in the name of the Lord.
Just days later Jesus’ back will have deep furrows ploughed into it by Roman cat-o-nine-tails, leather whips with pieces of bone or even metal embedded in them. And in this Jesus the prophet will enact what will befall Jerusalem with the destruction of the temple in AD70. Yet the Song of Ascent is not a psalm of lament or a cry of despair. It is a reminder: we have been here before, many times, and the Lord has always delivered his people. And so, we encourage one another to look for the Lord’s deliverance, the withering of our enemies like a harvest that fails to materialise.
This Palm Sunday we come before God as a pilgrim people, journeying with our persecuted sisters and brothers in Iran and China and Pakistan and elsewhere, with our sisters and brothers whose homes and churches are being destroyed and whose lives have been taken in towns and villages in Ukraine and elsewhere. With them we sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
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