The living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1; Easter 3A)

A second excerpt from the letter we know as 1 Peter is offered by the lectionary this coming Sunday (1 Peter 1:17–23). We explored the letter as a whole through the first lectionary offering in this blog:

The recipients of this letter that is attributed to Peter appeared to reside in no less than five Roman provinces (1 Pet 1:1), indicating that the letter must have been composed as a general letter for a wide audience. It is not sent to a specific local community (as with Paul’s authentic letters) but is written for a generalised audience of believers (as with James, and probably also Ephesians).

The recipients are initially identified as “the exiles of the dispersion” (1:1) and later as “aliens and exiles” (2:11). “Dispersion” is a term drawn from Hebrew scripture (Ps 106:27; Isa 11:12; Jer 25:34; Ezek 12:15; 20:23; 22:15; 29:12; 30:23, 26; 36:19; Tob 4:4), as is the phrase “aliens and exiles” (Gen 23:4; each noun appears individually many times in scripture). This language has a primary reference to Jews living as non-citizens in a foreign land; there were many such individuals in many nations of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century.

Other terms used reflect the common Jewish discourse shared by author and recipients, such as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9), and “living stones…a spiritual house…a holy priesthood” who offer “spiritual sacrifices” (2:5). Holiness, sacrifice, priesthood, royalty, and a spiritual house are all ideas found often in Hebrew Scripture. The description of the community of believers as “living stones” is supported by a string of scripture citations (Isa 28:16; Ps 117:22; Isa 8:14; quoted at 2:6–8), whilst the appellation of “God’s own people” is explained by a poetic allusion to the prophet Hosea (Hos 1:6, 9; 2:25; at 1 Pet 2:10).

This Jewish scriptural focus is a prominent feature of this letter, which indicates a reverence for “the living and enduring word of God” (1:23). For the nominal author, Peter (and possibly also for his colleague, Silvanus; see 5:12), this must refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. The letter includes other scripture citations and scriptural imagery. The early focus of the letter on holy living, for instance, is supported by reference to Lev 11:44–45; 19:2 (quoted at 1:16). The role of “the word of God” is indicated by Isa 40:6–8 (quoted at 1:24–25).

The sacrificial suffering of Jesus is interpreted with reference to the fourth servant hymn of Isaiah 53. The direct citation of Isa 53:9 at 1 Pet 2:22 introduces a series of intertextual connections weaving together the death of Jesus with the servant song (2:23–25 refers to Isa 53:4, 5, 6 and 12).

The contrast between good and evil is expounded at one point by a long Psalm citation (Ps 34:13–17, quoted at 3:10–12) and later by drawing on a proverb (Prov 11:31, quoted at 4:18). Likewise, a proverb contrasting the proud and the humble is quoted as a justification for the exhortation, “humble yourselves” (5:5–6, citing Prov 3:34).

Other scriptural elements include an allusion to the “day of visitation” (2:12, referring to Isa 10:3); a proverbial phrase (4:8 quotes some words from Prov 10:12); a reference to the spirit of God (4:14 alludes to Isa 11:2); and a Christologically-expanded interpretation of the story of Noah and the flood (3:18–20, in reference to Gen 7). As this letter regularly intertwines Hebrew scripture with guidance about the way of Jesus, it surely reflects a continuing Jewish presence in the Jesus movement.

However, the key words “aliens and exiles” (2:11) also carry symbolic significance. They both derive from scriptural usage in the scrolls of Hebrew Scripture, collected into the books of the Old Testament. The purpose of the letter is to reinforce the identity of the community of believers as “aliens and exiles”, an especially important process because of the pressures which are being experienced by those members from the society in which they lived.

The language which is applied to them ought not to be taken purely at the literal level, for it is often metaphorical. This is obvious with regard to references to “newborn infants” and “spiritual milk” (2:2), “living stones” and the “spiritual house” (2:5), and being “born anew” (1:23). It applies also to the references to “aliens and exiles”; we cannot assume that all believers addressed were literally living in a foreign country. Rather, the force of the image is to describe the alienation that has taken place between the wider society and the group of believers who follow the way of Jesus.

Indeed, there are various indications that the recipients of the letter had previously been Gentiles living in sinful and idolatrous ways, but now were striving to live by standards which set them apart from others, and may at times have caused them intense difficulties. The author hints that they were “going astray like sheep” (2:25) and followed “futile ways” (1:18) which were characterised by “desires that you formerly had in ignorance” (1:14). These are spelled out as “malice…guile, insincerity, envy…slander” (2:1) and “living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry” (4:3).

Coming to faith in Jesus was like being called out of darkness (2:9), being raised from the dead (1:21), being born anew (1:23). Such believers are to stand in a different relationship to the customs and practices in which they were raised: “now that you have purified your souls” (1:22), “do not be conformed” (1:14), “abstain from the desires of the flesh” (2:11), “live no longer by human desires” (4:2). People addressed in these terms by a Jew (such as Peter, the nominal author of the letter) could not have been Jews; they must have been Gentiles. Perhaps some of them were Godfearers, such as are identified in Acts?

At any rate, the language and ideas of Hebrew Scripture permeates this letter and undergirds its key ideas, whether the recipients were Jews, Godfearers, Gentiles, or a combination of all three. It is an enticing mixture, to be sure.


See also

A new birth into a living hope (1 Peter 1; Easter 2A)

Excerpts from the letter which we know as 1 Peter are being offered in the coming Sundays throughout this season of Easter. The letter has a focus on joy in the midst of suffering, which might thus suit it well as an Easter series. For this coming Sunday, we will hear 1:3–9, an extended blessing offered to God, who “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3)—a most suitable acclamation for the Easter season!

The letter has opened (in verses omitted by the lectionary) with the standard opening address of an ancient letter form: “Peter … to the exiles of the dispersion … grace and peace” (1:1–2). Instead of a thanksgiving, which usually opened an ancient Greek letter, in this case the letter launches into this blessing (1:3–12), which was a common Jewish feature (found also in 2 Cor 1:3–7 and Eph 1:3–14).

Unfortunately, the lectionary offers only verses 3 to 9, so we are somewhat shortchanged by this truncated passage. Ending the lectionary selection with “… you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (v.9) does conclude a thought-sequence; but the next three verses (vv.10–12) expound the meaning of that salvation, as already having been revealed through the prophets. The author of this letter is thoroughly grounded in scripture; regular reference to the sacred texts of Israelite faith occur throughout this letter.

The main theme of the letter is declared after the blessing, in an initial exhortation (one of many in the letter) to “prepare your minds for action … do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance … be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:13–15). Curiously, the lectionary also overlooks this passage; the passage offered on Sunday week (Easter 3) starts at verse 17, “if you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds …”.

Once again, in true Jewish style, this exhortation is grounded in a central scriptural text, the Levitical call to holiness (Lev 11:44; 19:2). The emphasis throughout the letter is on living faithfully as God’s chosen people. A closing comment reinforces that the purpose of the letter is “to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God” (5:12). Then follow some closing greetings and a short benediction (5:12–14). Unusually amongst the New Testament books not by Paul which are usually identified as letters (those attributed to James, Peter, John, and Jude, and the anonymous work to the Hebrews), this document is indeed a true letter.

The author is announced simply as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). This would suggest a letter from a writer with close personal links with Jesus. The substance of the letter sits uneasily with this claim. The letter’s refined style of language, and especially the use of a number of classical Greek words, is rather unexpected for a Galilean fisherman.

There are a number of references to the suffering of Jesus (1:11; 2:4, 21, 24; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1), but no other indication that the author knew anything of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Instead, the letter reflects the Christology of the developing movement, interpreting the death of Jesus in sacrificial terms (1:18–19; 2:24; 3:18) and attesting to him as the one who is risen (1:3; 3:21), a mediator with God (2:5), to be acknowledged as Lord (3:15), now dwelling with God in glory (3:22; 5:10), whose future return is awaited (1:7–8, 13; 4:13; 5:4).

The author claims to have been “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (5:1)—a curious claim to be made by Peter, if the accounts of his denial and desertion of Jesus, found in the canonical gospels, are to be believed! He also describes himself as an “elder” (5:1), which we would not expect to be a term to be adopted by Peter. The word indicates the author’s leadership role within the developing community of faith.

The identification of this community as being “in Babylon” (5:13) is frequently interpreted as being code for Rome, drawing on the same tradition found in Revelation 17:1–18:24. The link with Mark (5:13) has been taken as a further indication of Roman origins, as Mark was alleged to have been in Rome with Peter. However, these connections are faint, revealing nothing of substance about the nature or purpose of the letter.

The close of the letter indicates that it has been written “through Silvanus” (5:12), leading some interpreters to suggest that Silvanus, as secretary, placed a more educated and polished mark on the letter as he transcribed the author’s thoughts. But an alternative translation of this verse is possible, by which Silvanus is designated as the one who delivers the letter, rather than being involved in its writing.

This Silvanus may well be a different person from the Silvanus who is known as a fellow-worker with Paul (2 Cor 1:19; Acts 15:40) and is called the co-author, with Paul, of both letters to Thessalonica. As he was a member of the Pauline group, we would expect more Pauline influence to be evident in 1 Peter if he was involved in its creation.

In fact, this letter shows more similarity to the “pastoral” letters attributed to Paul—which have some similarities with Paul’s thinking, but demonstrate a clear development in ideas, language, and theology, most likely reflecting a different (layer) context. Like them, it is more feasible that this letter was written after the death of the apostle, in his name, in order to encourage and guide believers in what appears to have been a time of increased suffering. Jesus is invoked as the guide and example for believers in this situation.

See also

In defence of Thomas: a doubting sceptic? or a passionate firebrand? (John 20; Easter 2A)

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday provides the name by which this Sunday is often known in church tradition: it is Thomas Sunday. (The reading is John 20:19-31.)

We all know about Thomas: he had to have proof … had to see with his own eyes … had to touch to know it was real … did not have faith without tangible proof. Thomas often gets a bad rap: oh he of little faith! … why did he not believe straight away, like the others who followed Jesus? … why was he in the thrall of doubt at precisely the time that faith was called for?

Thomas wants to pin the matter down, to have the evidence produced, to know without question what has taken place. We remember him from this story, as the doubting sceptic.

Let us reflect a little on this: Thomas was not alone. All the other early witnesses, followers, and writers, in the movement of people clustered around Jesus, had the same need to pin the matter down. There were many sceptics in this movement. They needed some form of proof. They looked for evidence. They sought signs that would validate the new way that Jesus was in their midst.

The endings of the Gospels testify to this. The earliest Gospel ended with an open narrative, hanging on those words: the tomb is empty — he is not here! (See

Subsequent compilers of the narrative about Jesus could not live with the uncertainty of an open-ended story, with an absent Jesus who would appear only in a distant, remote, unimportant location (Galilee). No; they had to have him come to the women, the travellers, even the inner core of disciples, in or near to Jerusalem. Indeed, Luke explicitly reports that the risen Jesus provided them with “many convincing proofs” after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).

Thomas, of course, is the disciple whom we most closely associate with doubt, not with faith, derived from this very report of his encounter with the risen Jesus. “Unless I see, I will not believe”, the sceptic Thomas says, in John 20. “Unless I can put my finger in the mark in the side of my master, I will not believe that he has risen”, declares Thomas.

And in the modern scientific era, where we operate by testing, questioning, doubting, and seeking to prove hypotheses, this kind of approach has a certain attractiveness. For some Christians in the present time, in the period of probing scientific hypotheses and seeking historical certainties, Thomas has become a kind of patron saint—a saint of doubting, questioning, and proving. “Unless I see, I will not believe” is the mantra of such a saint.

But Thomas appears in two other places in John’s Gospel. One is at the last meal that Jesus shared with his followers, when Thomas asks Jesus a question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” This question provokes one of the most well-known sayings of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7). It is thanks to Thomas that we have this saying of Jesus!

The other time that Thomas is mentioned in this Gospel provides us with another insight into the character of Thomas. He appears early on, in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, as told in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. In that story, we encounter a rather different Thomas. In that incident, Thomas was a man on a mission who was filled with faith. He spoke with Jesus with the intensity of a fervent believer. He declared that he was prepared to follow Jesus, whatever it cost him.

Faced with a request to travel to Bethany, near Jerusalem, because of the death of Lazarus, Jesus and his followers discuss whether they should make this trip. John’s Gospel tells us that the message of Jesus was so provocative to the southerners in Judea, that they had already mounted a number of attempts to stone him (John 8:59, 10:31).

So the disciples were convinced that if Jesus travelled close to Jerusalem, he would be walking to his death. What to do, they wonder, when this urgent message comes from friends in Bethany: “Lazarus is dead; please come; we need you here!” (John 11:1-8).

At that moment, Thomas springs into action. There is no doubt about it, he declares:  Jesus needs to go there; and the disciples need to go with him. “We need to get moving! Come on, why are we waiting?” And from the mouth of Thomas come these incredible words: “We should go too, and die with him” (John 11:16).

Thomas utters the excitable words of a zealous follower of Jesus; he gives a fervent declaration of commitment and trust in the one who had been his guide for many months now. Thomas was not paralysed by fear, not distressed by doubt; here, Thomas was fired up by faith, and committed to a journey that could well lead to death. If Jesus, our master, is going to die—then we, too, should be prepared to die with him! (See

This portrayal of Thomas as a committed follower, as a passionate firebrand, is not how we normally remember him, because the story from chapter 20 of the Gospel holds sway. Yet in this earlier story in chapter 11 of the Gospel, it is clear that Thomas has faith, even if it is somewhat unusual, and it is abundantly clear that he is prepared to put his life on the line for what he believes.

So, perhaps we should place this Thomas, the passionate firebrand of John 11, alongside the hesitating, doubting figure that we imagine him to be like, courtesy of John 20. Where are the signs of this passionate, committed, fervent, zealous man of faith, in this encounter? Where was the fiery partisan Thomas living out his faith in the risen Jesus?

I like to imagine (and it is only an imagination … a speculation … as the biblical txt is silent on this point) … I like to imagine that, as the disciples gather behind locked doors, paralysed by their fear, Thomas was not to be found in their midst, because he was back into his regular life, living out his faith in the public arena.

Even after Jesus had been raised from the dead, the transformation of Easter, as we know it, had not really kicked in for the disciples. They were locked into their fear. Where were the disciples living out their faith? It seems they took the line of least resistance, and shared their faith only in the safety of their own group, hidden away, safe in the seclusion of a private home.

And where was Thomas? He was not there. He was out beyond the locked doors, out in the community, in the full gaze of the antagonistic authorities. What was he doing? We are not told; we have to imagine.

Is it feasible to imagine that Thomas was back into his regular routine, going about his business, attending to his daily tasks? That he was seeking to live out his faith, not cowed by the threat of persecution, but firmly holding fast to his belief in Jesus in public? That he was continuing to live as that fiery, fanatical believer who was still willing to put his faith on the line? It is a tempting, enticing way to imagine him.

If Thomas was really the passionately committed believer whom we met in the Lazarus story, then it is quite plausible that this is why he was not with the other disciples, behind locked doors, hiding out of fear.

Perhaps Thomas was wanting to demonstrate his faith to those who did not yet believe. Something had happened to Jesus—the tomb was empty, believers were testifying that he was risen—so he was wanting to show others that his faith had not been shattered.

Where was Thomas living out his faith? In his everyday life, amidst acquaintances and friends—and even enemies. Now that is a model that we would do well to ponder, and imitate, in our lives!

(The image is of Saint Thomas, by Georges de La Tour, a French painter of the 17th century.)

See also

The resurrection calls us to pay attention to this life (Easter Sunday)

On Easter Sunday, all attention is rightly on Jesus, risen from the dead. “Christ is risen”, we greet each other, with the expected reply, “he is risen indeed”. Risen, to new life; risen, as a sign of the future life we are promised; risen, soon to ascend, to be “seated at the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Alleluias are rightly sung on this Easter day, and in this Easter season!

So our attention is, in effect, directed away from here, on earth, towards the heavenly realm. Indeed, the Gospel for Easter Sunday this year appears to point us in that direction, as Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene in the garden: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’”(John 20:17).

The same orientation is found in the story of the walk to Emmaus, where Jesus says to those walking on the road with him, “was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). “Going to glory”, of course, is a popular euphemism for dying—going to heaven; even in biblical usage, entering into glory is to be in the direct presence of God (Exod 40:35; 2 Chron 7:2; Isa 2:10, 19–21; 1 Cor 15:42–43; 2 Cor 3:7–18). And that is where Jesus goes.

A popular (mis)understanding of Christianity is that it is about using this life as preparation for the life to come in the future. Faith, in this view, is about repentance now and obedience in all we do on this earth, so that when we die, our souls will rise to heaven, we will be commended as a “good and faithful servant”, and invited to “enter the kingdom of God”—or, in the common popular perception, step through the pearly gates into a heaven filled with angels, playing their harps and singing their songs of eternal praise and adoration.

That’s the popular view; and some small part of this rests on some verses found in scripture. But most of it is romanticised populist thinking, far away from Christian doctrine. Sure, there are the apocalyptic sections in the Bible that look to the coming of a new creation—but if you understand them in the way that I believe they were intended, they are actually providing encouragement to believers about the present, rather than predicting what the future will be. And they are not about the new heavens and new earth of the future, up in the sky somewhere, but rather about “the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”, onto earth (see Rev 21:2).

See my discussion of the function of biblical apocalyptic passages at

So the question stands, during this Easter moment—and throughout the Easter season that stretches ahead of us: where do we focus our attention? Three Gospels provide a very clear answer as they recount the appearances of the risen Jesus. In Luke’s story about the appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers in Jerusalem, he says to them, “look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself; touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The physicality of Jesus is to the fore.

In John’s account of that scene, there is also a physicality in the encounter—with an emphasis on the fact that Jesus shows them “the mark of the nails in his hands and … the mark of the nails … in his side” (John 20:25). Not only the physicality, but the carrying of the wounds of the cross into the next phase of life, is to the fore for John.

And then, when Matthew recounts the first appearance of Jesus, to the women fleeing the tomb in the early morning (and this encounter is told only in Matthew’s Gospel), he makes a point of noting that the (presumably prostrate) women “took hold of his feet and worshipped him” (Matt 28:9). All three Gospels focus on the material present rather than an imagined heavenly future.

Not only that, but each of the three Gospels that narrate appearances of the risen Jesus orient the stories to the future in the known realm of the earth, rather than the future in some heavenly realm. In John’s Gospel, Jesus commissions the disciples, gathered in the room behind locked doors, for the task of bearing witness to him: “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:2). This is language that is used often in this Gospel for the mission that Jesus is undertaking: he is sent by the Father, God is “the one who sent me” (4:34; 5:24, 30, 37; 6:38–39, 44; 7:33; 8:16–18, 26, 29; 9:4; 12:44–45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5); and so he now sends his followers in similar fashion. This is language that is very focussed on this earth, this life.

That task of witnessing is also articulated in the clear declaration placed on the lips of the risen Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: “you are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). This turns into a fully-fledged evangelistic manifesto when the scene is recounted again in Acts: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Both Luke and John connect this charge to the disciples with the giving of the Spirit: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8); “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). There is no mention of Spirit in the final scene reported in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:16–20); however, there is a clear commission in this narrative—the famous “Great Commission”. The emphasis here, as in the other two Gospels, is on the work to be done by the followers of Jesus in the period after he has left them. It is a this-worldly emphasis in these narratives.

The words used in the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel (28:19–20) need to be read carefully. There are four key verbs (doing words) in these two verses: go, teach, baptise, teach. In strict syntactical analysis, the main verb is the one in the imperative (expressing a command): “make disciples”. Subsidiary to that are the other three verbs, each of which is in a participial form (indicating an action that is related to, or consequent from, that main verb). So making disciples is the key factor in this commission.

Matt 28:19–20a
(my translation and formatting)

The act of making disciples is directed towards “the nations”—that is, to anyone with whom the followers of Jesus come into contact. It is to be expressed through two activities: baptising, and teaching. The act of making disciples is also to take place “as you are going”, that is, as followers of Jesus are making their way through the world in the days ahead.

Teaching orients the focus of the disciples back to the time that they spent with Jesus; they are to teach the people of the nations “to obey everything that I have commanded you”. As Matthew has taken great care to compile and collate the teachings of Jesus into five clear sections of his Gospel (chs. 5–7, 10, 13, 18, 23–25), the guidelines provided by Jesus are evident. What he has taught in his time with the disciples is to be passed on (in good rabbinic style) to those whom they then instruct. Teaching is an activity for life in this world, very clearly.

Baptising orients the focus of the disciples to the life of the church in the future. Belonging to Jesus involves submitting to the ritual of immersion into water, signalling the new life that is taken on through faith. The formula used in Matt 28:19 is, in fact, something that emerges only later in the life of the church (probably not until the time of Constantine, as far as we can tell from other Christian literature). Once again, life in community on this earth is the focus. There is no sense of being baptised (“christened” in the old language) in order to “get into heaven”.

So the accounts of Jesus departing from his disciples offer no sense of, “I am going away, you will join me soon, we shall see each other in heaven”. Rather, the focus is on what the disciples need to do in the earthly life that stretches ahead of them: bear witness, make disciples, teach and baptise, continue out amongst “the nations” the mission that Jesus has been undertaking amongst “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

(The resurrection appearances at the end of Mark’s Gospel are in endings that were added centuries after the original was written, to bring it into consistency with the others, so they don’t figure in my discussion at this point.)

Two other factors point in the same direction, oriented to life on this earth, and not to a heavenly realm beyond. First, the Revised Common Lectionary (admittedly a creation from many centuries after Jesus!) offers stories from the life of those early followers—the church in Jerusalem and beyond—in passages from Acts during the season of Easter. That is to say, the structure of the lectionary reminds us that, after the resurrection of Jesus, the life of faithful followers is lived and worked out in amongst the other people of this earth. It is a grounded discipleship that is to the fore.

Finally, going right back to the lips of Jesus himself in the first century, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we are instructed to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Matt 6:10). That final phrase is central to all that Jesus proclaimed in his teachings and parables: what God is willing “in heaven” is to be made manifest here in our midst, “on earth”.


That is the immanent, present, realised, immediate vision that Jesus has for his followers; and that is what the resurrection narratives point us to, time and again. The resurrection calls us to pay attention to this life.

Do not hold on to me: Mary’s early-morning encounter (John 20; Easter Sunday Year A)

A sermon written by the Rev. Elizabeth Raine for the celebration of Easter Sunday, 9 April 2023, at the Tuggeranong Uniting Church


All four Gospels tell of women, coming to the tomb where Jesus had been lain, early in the morning. In this more intimate narrative of John’s Gospel (John 20:1–18), Mary Magdalene comes alone to the tomb in the dark, not bearing myrrh, not expecting anything. The presence she encounters in the garden is not what she has previously experienced or understood.

When Mary realises that it is Jesus she sees in the garden, she instinctively reaches out to him, only to be rebuffed by the words ‘Do not hold on to me’. 

It is both a tender and painful moment that sits between intimacy and distance, love and loss. It reminds us of how it was at the beginning of the pandemic, where the normal, natural instinct to reach out to touch and hold one another became a potential source of danger.

But there was no pandemic in Jerusalem when Mary heard her name being spoken in the unmistakable tones of her beloved teacher and friend, whom she had thought was lost to her forever. Mary’s seeking to touch Jesus would have been the most natural form of greeting in any circumstances, never mind in this extraordinary moment. So why does Jesus respond with what must have felt like a hurtful rejection?

We have the sense that the Gospel is picking up that Mary had a hard time letting go of the physical Jesus. It is no wonder. We all feel like this in our grief. Yet, Jesus is pointing to the broader context of God’s liberating power at work in the Easter story.

John is making the point that the risen Jesus is not a return to the ‘old normal’ but the start of something new. Life is not going to continue as before, whatever Mary’s initial hopes may have been.

The ‘new normal’, which John’s readers were already having to live, did not include Jesus’ physical presence in a recognisable, huggable human body. For a short time, resurrection appearances would convince the disciples that he was, indeed, alive, but the message was that they must not become dependent on him.


“Do not hold onto to me”. Like much of John’s gospel, there is a deeper meaning to the words. John is advising us. Do not cling to the holy as you once knew the holy. The time is here for you to learn, see, hear and perceive anew. Open your consciousness and awake to the dawn of something entirely transformed and transforming.  

We can also pick out the events of Simon Peter’s dash towards the tomb with the ‘other disciple’, and the events that unfolded there, as worthy of thinking about. When they entered the space, only the linen was there. We are told that the other disciple “saw and believed”. This is an interesting comment. What did he believe? What exactly did he see that turned his heart from despair to hope? What belief exactly did he come to?

We are told that the disciples still did not understand the scriptures in relation to Jesus’resurrection, yet something clearly happened in their understanding as they left transformed by the encounter.

Surely transformation sits at the core of the mystery of resurrection. It is not a magical replacement of the old with something new, but an innovating change from deep within. We are reminded in this story of the first Easter that God’s action often takes place in the liminal spaces—on the edges of things, at the boundary points between ‘this and that’: despair and hope, hate and love, death and life.

William Brodrick, in a thoughtful reflection used by the Northumbria community, notes that the faithful have to be like candles, “burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death” and that this is the “disquieting place where people must always find us.”

We need people like Mary who will blunder through the garden blinded by tears but also with a willingness to be curious and open to the impossible. We need people like the male disciples to wonder out loud, stay present in the moment and take risks rather than living life in fear. We need people who somehow generate more hope than we believed could be possible.

While Easter morning brings joy and hope, and a fresh start after grief and brokenness, it also encourages us to be those candles shining brightly between hope and despair in our world. It encourages us to transform and to recognise that the world cannot be the same either in a post-covid era or indeed, a post-resurrection one.

May we not cling on to things that we imagine will keep us safe: may we learn instead to let go in order to findour true selves; and die in order to rise to newness of life.

This is the day: let us be glad and rejoice! (Psalm 118; Easter Sunday A)

Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel Psalms—six psalms (113 to 118) which are sung or recited on high festival days, such as Passover (Pesach), the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), as well as Hanukkah and the beginning of each new month. This final Hallel Psalm, like the other five, is intended to be an uplifting, celebratory song, suitable for the congregation to hear and to sing as a way to inspire and rejoice.

It is no surprise that this psalm is offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday, Easter Sunday (Ps 118:1–2, 14–24), for this is a day which celebrates with joy the raising of Jesus from the dead (Matt 28:1–10). This psalm is very suited to the celebrations that take place in churches on this high holy day.

The psalm begins with a call to “give thanks” and an affirmation of the “steadfast love” of the Lord (vv.1-2). The next two verses, following the same pattern are omitted by the lectionary. However, I am thinking that the pattern of the first four verses, calling people to join in the affirmation, “his steadfast love endures forever”, could well be extended from “Israel … the house of Aaron … those who fear the Lord”, to include “let those who know the risen Lord Jesus say, “his steadfast love endures forever”.

God’s steadfast love is a recurrent theme throughout Hebrew Scripture, which often sings praises for “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6; 2 Chron 30:8–9; Neh 9:17, 32; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Ps 86:15; 103:8, 11; 111:4; 145:8–9).

Affirmations of “[God’s] steadfast love” (v.2) are found in psalms (Ps 5:7; 6:4; 13:5; 17:7; 18:50; 21:7; 25:6–7; 25:10; 26:3; and another 100 times) and various narratives (Gen 24:12–14, 27; 32:10; 39:21; Exod 15:13; 20:6; 34:6–7; Num 4:18–19; Deut 5:10; 2 Sam 2:6; 7:15; 15:20; 22:51; 1 Ki 3:6; 8:23; 1 Chron 16:34, 41; 17:13; 2 Chron 1:8; 5:13; 6:14; 6:42; 7:3, 6; Ezra 3:11; 7:28; 9:9; Neh 1:5; 9:17, 32; 13:22).

Many prophets speak about God’s “steadfast love” (Isa 16:5; 54:10; 55:3; 63:7; Jer 9:24; 16:5; 32:18; 33:11; Lam 3:22, 33; Dan 9:4; Hos 2:19; 6:6; 10:12; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Micah 7:18), and Job also refers to it (Job 10:12).

The pervasive presence of this theme indicates just how central it was to ancient Israelite thought and how integral it was to how God was understood. The idea carries on into New Testament writings through the love that God expresses in Jesus (John 15:9; Rom 8:39; Eph 2:4–7; 1 John 3:1; 4:9) and is manifest through the Spirit (Rom 5:5; Gal 5:22).

However, we should never imagine that the God of love is simply “a New Testament idea”, in contrast to a perceived (completely inaccurate) view of “the God of wrath” in the Old Testament. The idea of divine love is shared in equal measure amongst both testaments. (So, too, we find the idea of divine judgement in both testaments—but that is another story!)


In the selection of verses offered by the lectionary (vv.1–2, 14–24), we encounter some other well-known concepts. The reference to “the chief cornerstone” (v.22) appears also in an oracle of Isaiah, “see, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isa 28:16), which continues, “I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet” (Isa 28:17).

It is found also in Zechariah’s strident oracle against the shepherds, of whom the prophet says, “of them shall come the cornerstone, out of them the tent peg, out of them the battle bow, out of them every commander. Together they shall be like warriors in battle, trampling the foe in the mud of the streets; they shall fight, for the Lord is with them, and they shall put to shame the riders on horses” (Zech 10:4–5). Clearly, the “cornerstone” (along with “the tent peg” and “the battle bow”) offers a somewhat cryptic reference to an anticipated future leader in Israel.

The “cornerstone” has then been picked up in the New Testament, where it is interpreted as referring to Jesus; in a speech attributed to Peter when he and John were before the Council in Jerusalem because of a “good deed done to someone who was sick” (Acts 4:9), namely, the healing of a man lame from birth (Acts 3:1–10). “This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”, Peter is reported as saying; “this Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11). This is a critical theological statement placed on the lips of Peter.

In like manner—although less directly, in a more allusive fashion—Jesus equates himself with this “cornerstone” when draws to a close his parable about the vineyard and the tenants who killed all who were sent to them by the master, culminating in the master’s son; at that point in the parable, Jesus curtly concludes, “have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10–11; Matt 21:42; Luke 20:17). In this citation of the psalm, Jesus has extended to include the following verse, about “the Lord’s doing”, which is a cause for amazement.

We hear that affirmation on Easter Sunday, in the psalm: “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23). When included in a Christian liturgy, these words seem very readily to reflect the experience of the first Easter—a marvellous deed, indeed.

The psalm then continues in an upbeat manner, with “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24), echoing once more an oracle of Isaiah, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us; this is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa 25:9). That oracle includes three elements included in this section of the psalm: joy, at the chosen time, with knowledge of salvation.

The linking of “be glad” with “rejoice” is also common throughout Hebrew Scriptures (1 Chron 16:31; Ps 14:7; 32:11; 40:16; 48:11; 53:6; 70:4; 90:14; 96:11; 97:1; 149:2; Prov 23:24–25; 24:17; Isa 35:1; 65:18; 66:10; Lam 4:21; Joel 2:21, 23; Zech 10:7). The people of Israel were called to joyous praise quite often.

The celebration of the means of salvation is certainly a theme that is relevant to Easter Sunday, when this psalm is offered in the lectionary. It is worth singing and celebrating on this day!


On Hallel psalms, see

Save us, we beseech you: singing a Hallel psalm (Psalm 118; Lent 6A, Palm Sunday)

“Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” This is the cry we hear in the psalm which is offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday, the Sunday in Lent. Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel Psalms—six psalms (113 to 118) which are sung or recited on high festival days, such as Passover (Pesach), the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), as well as Hanukkah and the beginning of each new month. This final Hallel Psalm, like the other five, is intended to be an uplifting, celebratory song, suitable for the congregation to hear and to sing as a way to inspire and rejoice.


It is no surprise that this psalm is offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday—because the Gospel story for this day, of Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowd (Matt 21:1–11), is certainly one of celebration and joy. It is also, equally unsurprisingly, offered as the psalm for a week later, on Easter Sunday, which celebrates something much greater and more enduring: the raising of Jesus from the dead (Matt 28:1–10).

But clearly the psalm has a good fit with the Palm Sunday story that we will hear on Sunday; indeed, the Gospel writers report that the crowd cheering Jesus was singing, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”—which is, of course, a verse from the final Hallel Psalm (Ps 118:26).

Blessing God is a favourite Jewish activity—indeed, so many prayers still used by Jews today begin with a phrase of blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God …”. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth is prayed before a meal. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine is prayed before drinking wine. And a favourite blessing which I learnt from Jews is Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment. It’s a prayer to mark momentous occasions in life.

All of these prayers of blessing begin with the Hebrew words, Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam, the same formula of approaching, acknowledging, and blessing God.

We can see that formula used in blessings spoken by David (1 Chron 29:19 and the psalmist (Ps 119:12), as well as in later Jewish texts such as Tobit 3:11; 8:5, 15–17; Judith 13:17; 14:7; the Prayer of Azariah (six times), and 1 Maccabees 4:20. It appears also in New Testament texts such as Luke 1:68; Rom 9:5; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3; and 1 Pet 1:3.

More familiar, perhaps, is when Jesus uses a prayer of blessing, but speaks it to human beings; “blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah” (Matt 16:17), or “blessed are the eyes that see what you see”, to his disciples (Luke 10:23), or “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), and most famously of all, in a set of blessings spoken to a crowd on a level place (Luke 6:20–22) or to his disciples on a mountain top (Matt 5:3–12).

So the cry of the crowd as Jesus enters Jerusalem, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps 118:26) is a typical Jewish exclamation at a moment of joyful celebration.


A further reason for linking this psalm with the Gospel narrative might well be that the cry of the crowd, “Hosanna!” (Mark 11:9–10; Matt 21:9; John 12:13). The word transliterated as “Hosanna” might actually be better translated as “save us”—another quote from the previous verse in that same psalm (Ps 118:25). The Hebrew comprises two words: hosha, which is from the verb “to save”, and then the word na, meaning “us”. Hosanna is not, in the first instance, a cry of celebration; rather, it is a cry of help, reaching out to God, pleading for assistance—and yet with the underlying confidence that God will, indeed, save, for “his steadfast love endures forever” (vv.1, 29).


Whilst the psalm, overall, sounds thanks for a victory that has been achieved, the petition, “save us” (v. 25) lies behind the first substantial section of this psalm (vv.5–14), which is largely omitted by the lectionary offering for this coming Sunday (which is Ps 118:1–2, 14–24). That section begins “out of my distress I called on the Lord” (v.5), claims that “the Lord is on my side to help me” (v.7), and concludes with rejoicing, “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me; the Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (vv.13–14).

Save us” is a prayer offered in other psalms (Ps 54:1; 80:2; 106:47); the petition appears more often in the singular, “save me” (Ps 7:1; 22:21; 31:16; 54:1; 55:16; 59:2; 69:1; 71:2; 109:26; 119:94, 146; 142:6; 143:9). “Save us” when faced with danger is the prayer of the elders of Israel as they faced the Philistine army (1 Sam 4:3) and the all the people a little later (1 Sam 7:8), David when the ark was put in place in Jerusalem (1 Chron 16:35), Hezekiah when Judah was being threatened by the Assyrians (2 Ki 19:19), as well as the prophet Isaiah at the same time (Isa 25:9; 33:22; 37:20).

This prayer in the context of festive celebrations—the context for which Psalm 118 appears to have been written—expresses the firm confidence of the people, trusting in the power of their God. That viewpoint is perfectly applicable to the Palm Sunday story (and even more so to the Easter Sunday narrative!).

But this psalm is not only a prayer of celebration; it is also a strong statement about the resilience and trust of the people, expressing their belief that God will give them redemption, even in the face of their Roman overlords, who had held political and military power for many decades. If this is what the crowd intended with their cry as Jesus enters the city—and I have no reason to see otherwise—then this is a striking, courageous political cry embedded in the story! It is a cry that affirms that salvation is at hand.


Salvation is what is in the mind of the people as they cry, “save us” (v.25) and the earlier affirmation, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation” (v.21). As we have noted, “save us” was a recurring cry amongst the Israelites. In the song sung after the Exodus, the people acclaim God, singing “the Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exod 15:2). In his song of thanksgiving after battles with the Philistines, David praises God as “my rock, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (2 Sam 22:3; also vv.36, 47, 51; and 1 Chron 16:23, 35).

The same language, of salvation, appears in the psalms (Ps 13:5; 18:2, 35, 46; 24:5; 25:5; and another 40 times) and the prophets (Isa 12:2–3; 25:9; 33:2, 6; 45:8, 17; 46:13; 51:5–6; 52:7, 10; 56:1; 59:11; 61:10; 62:11; Mer 3:23; Mic 7:7; Hab 3:18). From the psalms, we remember “the Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps 27:1); from Isaiah, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6).

There are a dozen occasions in Hebrew Scripture when God is identified as Saviour (2 Sam 22:3; Ps 17:7; 106:21; Isa 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16; 63:8; Jer 14:8); as the Lord God declares through Hosea, “I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no Saviour” (Hos 14:4).

Salvation is linked with righteousness; “the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord … he rescues them from the wicked and saves them” (Ps 37:39–40). Being righteous is a quality of the Lord God (Ps 11:7; 35:28; 50:6; 71:16; 85:10; 89:16; 97:2, 6; 103:17; 111:3; 116:5; 119:137, 152; 129:4; Isa 45:21; Jer 23:6; 33:16; Dan 9:16; Zeph 3:5) which is thus desired of those in covenant with God (Gen 18:19; 1 Sam 26:23; 2 Sam 22:21, 25; 1 Ki 10:9; 2 Chron 9:8; Job 29:14; Ps 5:8; 9:8; 11:7; 33:5; Prov 1:3; Isa 1:27; 5:7; 28:17; 42:6; 61:11; Jer 22:3; Ezek 18:5–9; Hos 10:12; Amos 5:24; Zeph 2:3; Mal 3:3).

It is no surprise, then, that this psalm celebrates that “[God] has become my salvation” (Ps 118:21) by holding a “festal procession with branches” (v.27), entering through “the gates of righteousness” (v.19) and proceeding all the way “up to the horns of the altar” (v.27), singing “save us, Lord” (v.25) and “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.26). This is a high celebratory moment!

So the closing verses take us back to the opening refrain, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (v.29; see also vv.1–4). The celebration is lifted to the highest level, with praise and thanksgiving abounding. And that makes this a perfect psalm for Palm Sunday!


On the indications of the political nature of the Palm Sunday scene, see

Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey (Zech 9; Matt 21; Lent 6A, Palm Sunday)

“Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” So reports the Gospel of Matthew, in the Gospel offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (Matt 21:1–11). The same story is told at Mark 11 and Luke 19.

John’s account is much more succinct; that Gospel simply notes, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it” (John 12:14), before explaining that this fulfils what was written in a scripture passage, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15, quoting Zech 9:9).

The narrator in Matthew’s Gospel explains that “this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matt 21:15). The prophet who is referred to in both John and Matthew is Zechariah, a post-exilic figure whose work is found as the eleventh of the twelve Minor Prophets in Hebrew Scripture.

Zechariah was active in the period when the exiles in Babylon were returned to Judah late in the 6th century BCE, by a decree of the Persian King, Cyrus (whom Second Isaiah described as God’s “Messiah”; see Isa 45:1). We are told that in his decree, Cyrus acknowledges “the Lord, the God of heaven” and states that “any of those among you who are of his people … are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel” (Ezra 1:2–4).

Under Nehemiah as Governor, worship had been reinstituted in Jerusalem (Ezra 3:1–7), the walls around the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt (Neh 2—6, 12), and the Temple was rebuilt and rededicated (Ezra 5–6). After this, the Law was read in the city under the guidance of Ezra, a priest who is also described as a scribe (Neh 8) and the covenant with the Lord is renewed (Neh 9–10).

Initially, there was opposition to the rebuilding works from “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin” (Ezra 4:1–16), and with intervention from King Artaxerxes, work on the temple ceased (Ezra 4:17–24). The narrative in Ezra reports that “the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them” (Ezra 5:1), and then work on restoring the temple recommenced (Ezra 5:2).

Further opposition emerged (Ezra 5:3–17), resulting in intervention from King Darius that decreed “let the house be rebuilt … let the Governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site … let it be done with all diligence” (Ezra 6:1–12).

The end result is that the prophets of the Lord and the rulers of the Persian Empire collaborated together to ensure that the temple would be restored: “So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia” (Ezra 6:14).


Zechariah dates his opening prophecy to “the eighth month, in the second year of Darius” (Zech 1:1), which places him as a contemporary of Haggai and perhaps around the same time that the anonymous prophet whose words are known as Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56—66). Zechariah begins witha familiar prophetic refrain: “return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (1:3), noting that when this message was presented to earlier Israelites, “they repented and said, ‘the Lord of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do’” (1:6).

What follows this opening salvo is a report of eight visions (1:7—6:8). They are dated to “the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius” (2:7), two months after the final prophecy of Haggai. The visions combine glimpses of hope with reminders of the need to remain faithful to the covenant: “if you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts” (3:7). The fourth vision (3:1–10) includes the figure of “the accuser” (ha-satan in Hebrew) standing at the right hand of Joshua, to accuse him (3:1).

At the conclusion of the eighth vision there follows words of condemnation (7:1–7) and punishment (7:8–14), citing classic prophetic notes: “render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (7:9–10).

Then come words of promise (8:1–23): “I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain” (8:3). Once again, prophetic injections are offered: “speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath” (8:16–17).

An oracle pronouncing judgement on other nations then follows (9:1–8), followed by a joyful celebration of the restoration of Judah (9:9–11:3), introduced by a rousing shout of joy: “rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9). This verse is well-known, of course, from its quotation in the story of Jesus’s entry into the city of Jerusalem, which we will hear this Sunday (Matt 21:5).

A quirky feature is that some interpreters have taken the words of Zechariah so literally, that they imagine Jesus actually had two animals with him as he entered the city. Of course, the original oracle was formed in typical Hebraic parallelism, a pattern whereby an idea is expressed one way, then immediately repeated using other words. Thus, “riding on a donkey” was the first expression of the idea, followed immediately by “on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. One animal, two ways of expressing that.

The remaining chapters of Zechariah continue the note of exultation about the future, reworking the motif of “the day of the Lord” so that it signals joy for Jerusalem and terror for other nations (12:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11; 13:1, 2, 4; 14:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 20, 21). A triumphant note of universalism is sounded: “on that day “the Lord will become king over all the earth” (14:9) and “all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths” (14:16).

The quotation from Zechariah in the story is a reminder that there is always hope; in the difficult situation of rebuilding the beloved ruins, reconstituting the fractured society, reconstituting the religious practices and customs that had lapsed, hope remains strong. Little did those travelling with Jesus into the city know what lay ahead of him, and them, in the coming days. Their hopes were high, very high, on this day. Joy came easily to them.

It was a day for celebration. This could well be the time when “the Lord will become king over all the earth”—even over the mighty Romans, they may well have felt. Joy was the dominant emotion, as the singing, waving of branches, and celebration demonstrated.


On why Jesus was riding a donkey, and not a horse (definitely NOT a horse!), see