A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday one year and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “Well you see son, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him, so we got palm branches at church today.”
“Aw shucks!” The little boy replied, “The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!”
Indeed beloved, this week lines up to be virtually the highest week of celebration and commemoration in the life of the church around the world and, I guarantee you in some way, in some moment throughout our remembrance and proclamation, if we are present and paying attention, Jesus will show up.
There are many corporate opportunities to “welcome Him” this week, my friends. I encourage you to think and plan intentionally how you will get from Palm Sunday to Easter yourself this year — don’t leave it to chance — don’t just coast — You could miss part of His passion and message to you if you do. Trust me — Jesus was very intentional in where He went and what He did for us and as His followers we do well to follow His example.
Our gospel text for Palm/Passion Sunday is the story in which Jesus “shows up” in Jerusalem and all the events of this week we call Holy are set into motion. Matthew 21:1-1. This story is filled with images and symbolism that mirror and echo our human experience. How we resonate with the fickleness of the crowd — we see daily or even know from personal experience that “they love you when you’re up” and “they’ll kick you when you’re down.” People easily get on the band wagon for the glory laud and honor part but then can shrink to the shadows when missiles fly. This triumphal entry story only really has meaning as we read the chapters that follow. From Matthew 21:11 to 26:35 Jesus will give some of His most intense teaching and will demonstrate His will and wisdom among both the people and the religious leaders. One way to spend part of this week yourself might be to read the next few chapters of Matthew to help you get to the last supper and the arrest and trial and crucifixion.
Jerusalem itself is a central image, theme and place in Scripture. It was — and still is — the center of Jewish religious identity geographically. There were many synagogues in villages and cities throughout the land but the temple of Jerusalem was central to the faith of Jesus’ people and so His final week “in Jerusalem” is highly symbolic to what His life and death and resurrection says both to the historic faith of Jews and to the world at large.
But today we are waving palms — today we are receiving Him as King-Savior — Messiah. Indeed, Hosanna means “Lord save us” or “the Lord saves.” William Barclay noted: “It was not the kingship of the throne which he claimed; it was the kingship of the heart. He came humbly and riding upon a donkey. We must be careful to see the real meaning of that. In western lands the donkey is often a despised and discounted beast; but in the east the donkey could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding upon a donkey, but when he did, it was the sign that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war; the donkey was the mount of peace. So when Jesus claimed to be king, he claimed to be the king of peace. He showed that he came, not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help; not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.”
For you see, Jesus preached a new paradigm — He modeled a new understanding of spiritual things. You may remember a few weeks ago on the seconnd week of Lent when we discussed Nicodemus questioning of Jesus and Jesus response to Him: John 3:3-8. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God … That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. … Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ … The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
And then the next week when we looked at John 4:21-26 where Jesus confronted the woman at the well and taught her: Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Do we get this beloved? The people in Jerusalem had Him right in front of their eyes — He walked right into the heart of their highest religious celebration of the year, Passover, and ultimately they missed it — they followed the crowd — they remained in their blindness — they chose their own direction and perspective and way — and yet still He came — rode into the city — walked into the temple — taught in the streets and gatherings — indeed — still he walked the via Delorosa — “the Way of suffering.” Did you know there is a street in Jerusalem called Via Delorosa? Its Latin name means “Way of Grief,” “Way of Sorrows,” “Way of Suffering” or simply “Painful Way” and unlike so many other streets in the city that have multiple street signs and names in various languages, Via Delorosa is the only name on that street and is thought to be most nearly the street that Jesus walked as He carried the cross to Golgotha to die. Indeed, centuries later we have a city, a street, and a story that tries to symbolize and portray the reality of “God become flesh — Emmanuel — God with us” — coming to us — entering the “Jerusalem of our hearts and minds” — meeting us — teaching us — suffering for us — dying for us — and redeeming us.
That is what we commemorate this week friends — He is right here in front of us — in the center of our religious observances and our spiritual sensibilities — what will we do with that reality?
A blessed Holy Week and Easter season.
Marc Rice is pastor of the Montesano Church of God.