Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Palm Sunday, Year C
I am trying to imagine what the triumphant entry into Jerusalem must have been like for Jesus’ disciples, remembering that they did not know all that would unfold later in the week.
Jesus, of course, told them what to expect. Three times he said plainly, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” Even so, I suspect they didn’t understand, not fully, the horror they would witness. Especially, in light of the response to Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem. Everything seemed to be going so well as they entered the city.
Jesus told two of the disciples to get a donkey with only the words “the Lord needs it” as deposit, payment and collateral. And so it happened. The crowd swelled and with it shouts of praise. How heady to be a part of such adulation and adoration. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with Jesus on this day? Would it have been akin to riding in the parade with a returning war hero or the championship sports team or the newly elected president? Power and status, praise and triumph — yes, I am with Jesus today of all days.
I can imagine how it felt to be Jesus’ closest friends and followers when the world bowed at his feet, threw cloaks in his path, and sang of his greatness. I recognize this kind of victorious faith and I worry too often we contemporary Christians stop at Palm Sunday and neglect to keep following or forget what happens later in the week. Palm Sunday praises devoid of the passion make for a hollow, dangerous religion. When we fail to keep following Jesus the next day and the next and the next, all the way to the cross, we envision a Christianity synonymous with winning, rather than a faith that requires vulnerable love and sacrifice.
And yet, I don’t want to skip over the joy and glory of this Sunday. In the face of far too much violence and too many shouts of hate, I want to dwell in the beauty of unstoppable proclamations: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” I want to bask in the truth of these words, the power of speaking them even after Jesus’ declaration of the suffering and death to come, the audacity of ignoring the Pharisees’ rebuke and instead declaring the reign of the Lord despite the current rule of sinister worldly powers.
This year, Palm Sunday feels more like a protest march than a triumphant parade, a witness to the courage of the crowds to worship the One who knows their worth right in front of those who want to keep them quiet, a prescient display of the relentless rule of God that destroys death, refuses to be silenced, raises up the least, recovers the lost and saves sinners. Palm Sunday proclaims Jesus’ certain triumph, his ultimate rule over heaven and earth, and the great reversal that he promised in his inaugural sermon at his home synagogue in Nazareth. Palm Sunday is not about Christians aligning themselves with power and status, adulation and adoration, it is about joyously standing with the One who stands with those on the margins, recognizing that we are the sinners he sought and saved and refusing to be silenced by the Pharisees or any other earthly power attempting to maintain the oppressive status quo.
It must have been a heady day for the disciples: people shouting their approval, the road lined with cloaks, a day of victory after leaving all they knew and enduring hardship and wondering some days if it wouldn’t have been easier if they’d stuck with fishing or tax collecting. The disciples might have questioned Jesus’ thrice-repeated warning about suffering and humiliation and death on that day of glory and praise. But maybe, just maybe, they recognized that this triumphant entry foreshadowed the promised resurrection. Perhaps they understood the courage required to proclaim the lordship of Jesus on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday and certainly after the Risen Christ sends them to the ends of the earth. Maybe, on difficult days after Jesus ascended and the Spirit came rushing down, the disciples looked back on this Sunday and remembered that even if every person remained mute about the reign of the Lord, the stones would cry out because nothing, no one, can prevent the triumphant, life-saving, evil-defying, death-crushing power of the Triune God.
This year, I want to be utterly present on Palm Sunday. I want to look around and see the faces of those throwing their most valuable garment at the feet of Jesus, unable to hold back their joy and praise at being seen and valued and healed and loved. I want to be among them, unashamed to show my gratitude for the grace and mercy given to me. I want to be ready to hand over whatever I have simply because the Lord needs it. No questions asked. I want to get lost in the joy of this day, the beauty of worship, the assurance that Jesus’ words are trustworthy and true. He will enter Jerusalem and everything, everything the prophets wrote about the Son of Man will be fulfilled: the suffering, the violence, the death and the unstoppable third day in which he will rise again. I want to demonstrate the courage of all those who refuse to be silenced by oppressive powers and instead, in joyous defiance, proclaim the life-saving rule of Jesus Christ. On this Palm Sunday, I want to stand with those who stand up to any power that imagines God’s redemption of the world can be stopped.
Contemporary Christians need to remember Palm Sunday not as a victory parade for the powerful, but as a protest march of the least of these where Jesus is recognized as Lord of all.
- Can you imagine what it would have been like to be among Jesus’ disciples on Palm Sunday? What would it have felt like?
- What does Jesus ask you to give because he has need of it?
- Note where you find “cloaks” elsewhere in Luke. What is the significance of the crowd throwing their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus?
- Is there a tendency for us to go from “glory to glory,” Palm Sunday to Easter, without stopping on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday or Holy Saturday?
- When have you unabashedly praised God? Do you find yourself holding back your thanks and praise? If so, why?
- Is it important to be present to beauty and glory even though much ugliness and pain simultaneously exists?
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