Thoughts on Palm Sunday
Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, the colt or foal of a donkey, with the people waving palm fronds and laying their outer cloaks on the ground before him, is commemorated on Palm Sunday. Well aware of the political storm gathering against him, Jesus has tried to prepare his closest followers for the inevitable as he rides directly into harm’s way to celebrate Passover as the Law of Moses dictated, fulfill the words of the prophets before him, and demonstrate the infinite extent of his Father’s love.
Symbolically, the donkey shows Jesus coming as a king of peace–in the ancient world, if he were coming to bring war, he would ride a horse. Jesus is fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah here, but also showing us once again the nature of his mission: to bring spiritual peace and liberation–not political or physical. The palms are the ancient symbol of triumph and victory; to the ancient Hebrews, the date palm was also the symbol of peace and abundance. To wave the palms before a king, to cover his way with cloaks and palm branches was to recognize his authority and power over his people.
Save Us Now!
The shouts of “hosanna,” or as transliterated directly from the Hebrew “hoshiia na,” which from Psalm 118 translates, “save us now, we beseech you.” The people were begging Jesus to save them. The question remains for them and for us–save us from what? Each of the principal groups of people watching this spectacle had their own agendas and expectations built over Jesus’ ministry. The Romans were concerned with maintaining peace and an unbroken flow of taxes and other resources from the region; the Jewish authorities were also concerned with maintaining the status quo and their own power base built on temple, law, and Roman permission; the Zealots and common people dreamed of liberation from Rome’s occupation; Jesus’ followers looked to securing places of honor and authority when Jesus established his own reign and Kingdom. If any of these groups had been really paying attention, they would have realized that Jesus was neither threat nor political savior. If they had taken to heart the significance of the young donkey he rode and years of teaching, they would have realized that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, but pointed in a completely different direction.
In order to enter the real Kingdom of Heaven, the life right herenow to which Jesus beckons, we must pay close attention and begin to see him as the savior he intends to be, not the one we expect or wish him to be. The tragedy of Palm Sunday two thousand years ago, as Luke narrates, is that the people did not recognize the hour of their visitation–they didn’t see Jesus as he was, but only as a reflection of their own desires and agendas. Their tragedy is still ours today. Jesus didn’t come to meet our expectations, but to give us an invitation to see, really see God as God is.
Meaning of Holy Week
Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, and liturgically, each day of Holy Week has a name and Gospel passages traditionally associated with it that follow the story of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before his death and resurrection. But digging deeper, each set of Gospel passages has deeper meaning that follows Jesus’ and our own progress along his Way to Kingdom and Father. Here on day one, Palm Sunday, we find the call to see beyond ourselves, our egoic self, our agendas, desires, expectations, our programs for happiness and survival set in place early in our lives: all of which obscure the truth and reality of this moment, the only moment that exists, the moment of our visitation.
Why does Jesus repeatedly hammer home this concept to his followers in both word and deed and in different metaphors and imagery: sell all you have, lose your life, deny yourself, pick up your cross, the sign of Jonah? Because this first day, this first step along the Way, is the constricted gate that precedes the narrow Way to truth. Until the gate is negotiated, until we can see past ourselves and our obsessions and compulsions enough to be aware of this lived moment of visitation, no further progress is possible.
Every moment is Palm Sunday…Jesus is always riding into our lives with his radical invitation to see what is right before our eyes. Are we ready to see? We’ll only know for sure when we are ready to let go of every expectation and desire that blinds us to what really is–way, truth, life.
Matt 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19; Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 118:24-26
We hope these readings and short comments help prepare you this week for Resurrection Day next Sunday. If you’d like to dig even further, here is a daily devotional for Holy Week with some really nice elements.
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