Palm Sunday

Matthew 21: 1 - 11
Psalm 118: 1 - 2, 19 - 29

In the Palm Sundays of childhood, there was excitement…music and palms and hoopla…and just a little naïveté about what was coming next. Easter was next, right?

In our faith journey, we might be more comfortable just holding on to that bright thought. But the fact is, the scripture this week sets us up…sets the disciples up…sets Jerusalem up…sets Jesus up for a myriad of human responses, emotions, bad judgments, losses, grief and ultimately, resurrection joy. On “Palm Sunday” no one (except possibly Jesus) knew that Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, a Trial, a Crucifixion, a Death, a burial, and a Resurrection were coming. We already can see ahead to the Darkness of Holy Week and the Light of Easter.

But to think about these things is getting ahead of ourselves; we’re not there yet.

Our text this week is about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jews are preparing for the Passover. They are traveling to the holy city that houses so much of their heritage to remember how God delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh. It is a season of celebration and hope, but Jerusalem is in its own political turmoil and tension. Jesus arrives at the Mount of Olives, referenced in Zechariah 14 as the location of the Lord’s return and judgment of Israel. Jesus specifically directs the disciples to find a donkey and a colt. The gospel writer references a quote that alludes to both Isaiah and Zechariah, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

What could the bystanders have thought?

Followers have been on a wild ride with this teacher Jesus. They have traveled with him into one community after another. They have watched him walk on water and raise the dead. They have seen him offer redemption to foreigners and with him they have dined with sinners of all stripes. He has told them many times that they cannot understand how this will end. He has alluded to their inability to do what he is about to do.

What kind of a King rides in to Jerusalem on a donkey? Who does he think he is?

Romans occupy Jerusalem and the custom of the day was for rulers and leaders to enter cities with great celebration and display of power and might. Instead of beautiful horses bearing military leaders, Jesus mounts a humble servant animal. His very entry is a statement about his purpose to serve.

Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna means, literally, “help us!”

Let’s remember that Jesus is not just being followed by 12 disciples. He has attracted quite an entourage. Jesus has a following…not unlike the names we see splashed across the tabloids at the grocery store. Crowds come out to see him enter Jerusalem. People are murmuring about him in marketplaces. The whole city is wondering who this man is. Have you heard about the one they are saying is the Messiah?

The Messiah.

In Jerusalem, in the shadow of the Temple, the faithful Jews know Torah. They are steeped in the words of the prophets. They recognize what might be happening at the Mount of Olives. They expect to be liberated by one who will come and raise the dead. …One who will free them from hundreds and thousands of years of disappointment and loss. …One who will suppress the oppressors and place the “Right” (it turns out there were several groups even among the Jews who thought they were ‘Right’) Jewish leaders back in control

Could this really be the One?

There is a frenzy building. This society has expected a Messiah for years. Even the gentiles are aware how central a Messiah is to the Jews. And the gentiles have something to fear. What if these really are God’s chosen people? But this Jesus hasn’t really conformed to their expectations. And he hasn’t just been teaching among the Jews. The Pharisees don’t have nice things to say about this man. He’s been calling age-old assumptions into question. He’s been trodding on the Law as it has been upheld by the Temple elite.

These folks Want to believe that Jesus is the One. We don’t have it proven in the text, but it is easy to imagine that these folks had the tune of Psalm 118 playing in their heads “Give thanks to the Lord…His steadfast love endures forever. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it….His steadfast love endures forever. The rejected stone is the chief cornerstone….His steadfast Love endures forever. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Give us success Lord….I thank you that you have answered me and become my salvation!”

Can we dare NOT to believe it is he?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. Hosanna in the highest.

It is easy for us to be drawn in to the frenzy of Easter…in to the excitement and promise of salvation and resurrection. However, we cannot look past the importance of Jesus humbly entering the city with his disciples.

It is easy for us to only think of chocolate crosses and bunnies that lay eggs and pastel suits and promises of eternal life, but we also need to remember the messages of compassion and commitment he was preaching before he ever mounted the donkey. It was the message and the experiences with Jesus that gave people hope, that caused them to gather along the streets with their hope and branches held high. Their hopes were high, their emotions strong. They needed something…they needed a Messiah. Hosanna…help us.

  • At what times have you experienced tremendous hope that something you have waited for us about to be fulfilled? Were your hopes satisfied? What emotions did you encounter as you waited for an outcome?
  • Why was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem important? What purpose did it serve?
  • How will you encounter Jesus this week as you face the events of the Passion?

A Prayer for Courage
Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we say: I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish. Amen.
W.E.B. DuBois quoted in Every Eye Beholds You

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