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I wonder if you know which rockstar holds the record for the highest attendance at the Adelaide Oval? Hint: it’s not Ed Sheeran.

It’s Adele. I remember when Adele came to Adelaide! At the time, I didn’t even know who she was, until someone told me that she sang the opening song to the James Bond film “Skyfall”. Over 70,000 people attended, smashing the 62,543 that saw Port Adelaide defeat Sturt in the 1965 SANFL Grand Final. The tickets were outrageous. Bear in mind this was 2017: A Reserve – $308.77, B Res. – $206.82, C Res. – $155.84, D Res. – $104.87. My sister had free premium tickets! Once I realised who Adele was, I was very envious!

On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a rock star! Probably in Sunday School you were taught that Jesus was meek and mild, that he entered Jerusalem on a donkey because he was humble and didn’t want to make a fuss. If he’d wanted to make a fuss he would have entered on a horse, like a Roman General. Absolute rubbish! He enters Jerusalem on a donkey, because that’s what the ancient kings of Israel would ride on.

So, he entered Jerusalem as a king; and this stuff about not wanting to make a fuss, complete garbage – crowds are lining the streets, throwing their cloaks and branches from trees (probably palm trees) on the ground to make his journey just that bit smoother along the bumpy road. They’re shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Jesus is a rock-star.

You have to remember too that Jerusalem was starting to fill up. They had the biggest festival of the year occurring later that week: the celebration of the Passover. This was the big one: when they remembered Moses celebrating the first Passover in Egypt, protecting the people from the angel of death, when all the Egyptian first-borns were struck down by God as a punishment for Pharaoh not letting the people go. This is when they remembered the start of the journey from slavery to freedom, from oppression by a foreign ruler to freedom and self-rule in the land of promise; and everyone wanted to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. They were supposed to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Not every Jew did so, but the city would have been packed.

So, you have the most important celebration of the year, the city is packed, nationalistic pride and religious fervour are closely intertwined and have reached a peak, and Jesus arrives riding on a donkey, what the ancient kings of Israel: David, Solomon and the like, used to ride. This is massive. The crowds love him. Their hearts swell with pride and hope. Perhaps Jesus will turn things around for the Jewish kingdom, perhaps the glory days are not behind them after all.

So, what happens? Within a week the tide has turned: the crowds turn against him, his disciples abandon him, and the Roman Governor of the Province, Pontius Pilate, decides he must be executed. Something goes horribly wrong, because he arrives in Jerusalem as a rock star and ends up on the cross. So, why does this happen?

I think the clue lies in what the people were expecting of Jesus. They were expecting a Messiah, to be sure. But what kind of Messiah were they expecting? Judging by the reaction of the crowd in welcoming Jesus to the city, they were expecting Jesus to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and restore the kingdom of Israel to its glory days. They were expecting a kind of warrior king, who would restore the pride of Israel: a king who would lead the rebellion perhaps.

In reality, Jesus was a very different kind of king. He was someone who refused to dignify violence and threats by responding in the same way. He refused to give violence a place in his world. In the end, on the cross, it is his very action of refusing to respond to violence with violence, which then breaks the cycle of violence. I think that’s why Jesus fell out of favour: exactly because he was not the revolutionary king the crowds were expecting, and so they turned on him. Mobs of people can be extraordinarily fickle: just witness how adoring fans will turn on the coach of their team if they think he’s doing a bad job.

Jesus enters Jerusalem as a super-star and ends up on the cross. The irony is, though, that it’s his refusal to respond to violence with violence, which then breaks the cycle of violence. Evil is defeated by Jesus on the cross, precisely because he does not resist it with force.

The ultimate sign of the victory of Jesus’ non-violence is his resurrection: the glory of the bright new day which we celebrate at Easter.

Jesus is a model of an alternative way of living: a way of non-violence, a way of peaceful resistance to oppression. If we accept Jesus into our lives, the result is that we become peaceful, we become non-violent. We can continue Jesus’ work, by resisting evil through the gift of peace. There is no more powerful force in the world than the light of Christ, working for peace.

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain