Sunday was Palm Sunday. It’s the one day during Lent that the church is joyful with palm branches waving, ‘Hosanna’s’ ringing, talks of donkeys. The one day in an other wise dark season that there is a bit of light.
In church we waved palm branches and sang. The children and I paraded around the sanctuary.
I brought palms home to Mom, Grandma and my aunt. Grandma’s face lit up when I gave them to her. (I love seeing those moments of pure joy on her face, something I experienced as a child but really have embraced over the last few months.) And now my dining room table looks as if it has a tree growing from it because the rest of the palms I put into a vase on the table.
A great reminder of the beginning of Holy Week.
And the shadow that’s looming.
As Christians we know what’s to come later in the week.
Sunday the focus was on Jesus and his arrival into Jerusalem.
There was a meme going around Facebook with a picture of Jesus on a donkey and the title, “The party don’t start till I walk in,” a nod to Kesha’s song, Tik Tok, from a few years ago.
It’s true though: on Palm Sunday the party doesn’t start until Jesus walks in.
Pictures and movies I don’t think grasp the pure giganticness of that parade into Jerusalem. I’ve been to some pretty big parades in my life and nothing compares to what I envision that Palm Sunday thousands of years ago to be in my head.
First, Jerusalem was already swelling from the number of people in the city. The Feast of Passover brought Jews from all over to the city for worship and observance of Passover. Then add Jesus’ followers, who numbered (in my opinion) into the thousands as well. The Gospels tell us about the 12 Disciples and Mary Magdalene but I’m guessing Jesus had more followers than that after word spread about what he could do and what he was preaching.
Second, Rome was watching. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Jewish priests, were watching. And, shocker, they weren’t happy. The crowds were getting out of hand. They were loud. Caiaphas (a Jewish high priest) sings it best in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar:
“Tell the rabble to be quiet,
We anticipate a riot.
This common crowd,
Is much too loud.
Tell the mob who sing your song,
That they are fools and they are wrong.
They are a curse.
They should disperse.”
Later Jesus replies with a (rather pompous) reply about why wasting your breathe to calm them, there’s no point since the noise would continue even if everyone were still. I realized in the car yesterday that Jesus is referring to a Psalm that says even the stones and rocks sing praise to God. Or at least it seems like a Psalm. And ok, maybe Jesus was a little full of himself. Maybe he was simply enjoying this moment, the good before the end. (Keep in mind, JC Superstar is an interpretation of Christ’s passion so…there you go.)
Thirdly, this grand entrance of Jesus was something a king or a Roman emperor would have, not some lowly Jew who claimed he was God. To prove he wasn’t a king (or at least not like a king – king, like Herod), Jesus came in on a donkey, not a horse. Kings would ride into towns on horses. Donkeys are small and ugly. Their nickname is ass – need I say more? Point made Jesus.
Finally, Palm Sunday kicks off a week of events – Holy Week: the money changers in the Temple and angry Jesus flipping tables, the Last Supper, Jesus washing the feet of his Disciples, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ arrest and trial, and eventual crucifixion and resurrection. Some scholars suggest this didn’t take place in one week but over a few weeks. I’m not sure of that, not that those details disrupt my faith in anyway.
However, Palm Sunday sets in motion the shadow that’s been looming over Jesus’ head for three years, well his whole life actually. It’s almost as if Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was a trap – the culprit who’s been causing trouble comes to the city where everyone is watching and now those officials have him and probable cause to arrest him.
I wonder sometimes: What was Jesus thinking as he walked with the crowds along those celebratory streets that day?
He had to have known, right? That by entering Jerusalem it meant the end to 33 years of life. He had to have known. I mean, he’s been preaching about the Spirit coming in his absence; he breaks bread and tells his friends that it’s his body, broken for them.
And yet, Jesus is seen praying in the garden, asking God to intervene and to do something, to take this burden away. Jesus’ humanness comes forward in the moment when his divine nature was sent to create a new covenant for the world.
Holy Week, the week of Christ’s Passion story.
It starts out with joy and celebration and ends with tears. Well, up until the stone is rolled away anyway.
It’s a week of raw emotion from the characters in the stories, in Jesus, in us the faithful believers. It’s the central week of our faith.
And it’s a week filled with Hope.
Stay hopeful this week, my friends. God is walking with us on this journey towards the cross and that empty tomb. Listen to the words of Christ and his story with open ears. Remember how the cross connects us with God and with each other. Remember the hope the cross brings – of life eternal, of a resurrected life.