Until recently, I never understood the fascination the world seems to have with English royalty. A few years ago, as I began working toward my doctorate, I became aware of the strong connection English history has in the evolution of Christianity. My research, at least in part, brought me into close contact with the Anglican Church and the manner in which Methodism broke free from the mother church in England to become its own theological reality.
Studying John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodists gave me access to the ways in which universal reformation stretched well beyond German influences to incite a spirit of reform in England too. Like Martin Luther, the Wesley brothers never relinquished their hold on either their heritage or their Anglican roots but, like the Catholic Church of Luther’s time, the church in England needed a spring-cleaning. Not surprisingly, much of the need for reform came as a result of royal indiscretions. John and Charles were determined to right the wrongs and restore holy piety, which had sadly been lost to royal privilege and sinful behavior on the part of more than one royal king and queen.
Many of us grew up with the rise of the most recent Queen…Elizabeth II. She was crowned queen in 1953 at the age of 25…I was not quite 4 years old and my brother had yet to be born. If we cared at all, we had the ability to watch as the royal family grew. We could become, if we chose to, spectators at the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana and then witness the births of the two royal Princes – William and Harry. We were dutifully scandalized by the suspected affair between Charles and Camilla, duchess of Cornwall and were saddened with the rest of the world over the unfortunate death of Princess Diana. There have been numerous movies, documentaries and books written ad nausea because of our need to know and our desire to enter into a world, which seems so far removed from our own. And now, the day-to-day doings of Prince William and his wife Kate and little Prince George give us more fuel for whatever fire burns in our non-royal hearts.
We want to know what the royals are about even when we profess absolute disinterest. Perhaps the fascination is a leftover from the days when fairy tales held our attention as we read and were read the stories of kings and queens, the Snow Whites, the Cinderellas, and the Prince Charmings of our childhood. More recently, we realize our fascination for a world of royal privilege, intrigue, and pomp and circumstance doesn’t slip away with age or sophistication. We need only look at the array of media opportunities designed to milk our unending attraction to anything royal. Right now, we could flip the switch on our televisions and watch shows like “Game of Thrones”, “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm. Or head for a theater to catch the new movie “Into the Woods”. Vicariously, we could stroll through the luxurious homes of those who hold some royally placed title and given status such as that apparent in the series “Downton Abbey”. Yes, I’m a fan.
While we hate to admit it, we are both intrigued and appalled at the seemingly purposeless lives these titled and entitled individuals live. Sometimes they surprise us with acts of pure unselfish behavior like the compassionate concern Princess Diana had for the children of the world. But more than likely they shock us by their seeming indifference and downright displays of pitiful lack of concern for anything beyond the realm of their insulated world. Either way, we’re watching and if we’re honest, we are very interested.
Life in many ways wasn’t all that different in the time of Christ. People still watched for opportunities to both hope for something better and at the same time distrusted what they might be witnessing. There were certainly questions as to why Jesus chose this particular moment to enter a city, a city that could only bring him pain and very well might be his final resting place. Death loomed; tempers soared; people drew lines in the sand and stood on either side of the line with or against this outspoken prophet who claimed a special place in God’s plan. And, in very slight ways, Jesus complicated the situation causing further confusion by entering Jerusalem on the back of an untried and inelegant donkey, though the editors of this newer translation read today go with the safer, more believable creature by suggesting the animal was a unbroken, never ridden colt. In either case, the style of entry is less than acceptable for a claim, a proper claim to royal status. Even Jesus’ disciples were distressed by his choices. Why now? Why Jerusalem? Why this never ridden animal whose owner might be mildly concerned when these unknown messengers offer little explanation and then take his property.
One pastor, sharing her views on this story of triumphal entry declares it to be one of disappointed expectations. Some in the crowd wanted a declaration of war against the ruling class. Some wanted a zealot to enter the city armed both with weapons and words or resistance against oppression. Some in the crowd simply didn’t know what to expect but it was a parade of sorts so hosannas and a strewing of palms and laying of garments on the path might be the way to go. No one, least of all the disciples seemed to understand the point of such a mild display and a gentle entrance. What were they to think? And, what are we to think?
Well, at the very least, but perhaps, at the very most, our Christian faith and the Christ we follow is a study of contrasts and paradoxes, an interplay between light and dark, good and evil, gain and loss, hope and despair. All this gives substance to what we believe and in whom we have faith. What we can be assured of is that we need Palm Sunday. We need this day now before the darkness of the coming week descends on us before hope is called into question, before our courage is tested. We struggle daily with the reality of a world in pain, of rampant displays of injustice and prejudice. We struggle with the images of terrorism and bombs, of hungry children and homeless people, with threats of poor air quality and diminishing sources of clean water. We need this day to remind us why there is hope, why we pledge our faith in Christ, why we choose to follow even when the road to a better world is blurred by the present images. Palm Sunday opens a window to another world, a better world, a promised world of triumph where the darkness of death on a cross disappears before the splendor of a risen Lord and Savior and the light of a glorious Easter morning. Resurrection! Indeed, here comes the King! Amen.
 The Christian Century, March 18, 2015, Ayanna Johnson Watkins, p. 21