The Gospels describe quite a cinematic scene: Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey colt, the way it had been prophesied that the Messianic King would enter the city; the bursting-at-the-seams crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover lining the streets and shouting out “Hosanna!(save us!);” all that palm-waving and laying down of coats as Jesus and His disciples passed by; and finally the Jesus’ stare-down with the religious leaders at the temple, those leaders telling Jesus to quiet down his followers, Jesus responding that if they were quiet even the rocks would cry out.
Palm Sunday is an epic spectacle, with its colorful parade, hyped up crowds, and confrontation with power. Is it any wonder that churches (including mine) mark Palm Sunday with celebration and pageantry? We hand out palm branches to everyone. Children process happily around the congregation waving their greenery while we sing festive songs. The church resounds with shouts of “hosanna!.” (Or maybe something else . . . when I asked a group of children yesterday what the crowd was yelling on Palm Sunday, one young man responded, “Johanna!” Maybe he’s a “Sweeney Todd” fan.)
Of course the center of Palm Sunday is Jesus, and it’s easy to imagine him like a Super-bowl winning quarterback in the midst of a ticker-tape parade, waving at the adoring masses as he rides in his convertible (donkey) down Jerusalem’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue. We can even picture him high-fiving the occasional fan (giving a whole new meaning to “palm” Sunday) as he grins for the cameras and says, “I’m going to Disney World.”
But Jesus wasn’t going to Disney World. He was on the way to the cross.
And he knew it.
A few years back I played Jesus in our church’s Passion Play (and I still have the wig to prove it. I may post more about that later this week.) It was disconcerting to soak up the cheers of the crowd in the first, Palm Sunday scene, and then just minutes later listen to those same folks yelling, “Crucify Him!” at ME in the Pilate scene.
What must it have been like for Jesus who was on the way to his death for REAL? The only hint of Jesus’ emotions on that first Palm Sunday in the Gospel accounts is not that he was triumphant or exultant or jubilant or proud. No – Luke tells us that Jesus looked over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and . . . wept.
Why? Because those folks waving the palm branches and laying down their coats and yelling “Save us” missed the point. They were looking to be saved from Roman occupation. They were looking for a conquering king.
What they got was a suffering savior.
From what do we want Jesus to save us? What are we looking for him to conquer in our lives? Are we, like the crowds in Jerusalem, aiming too low, looking for happiness and health and prosperity right now, without considering the implication in our lives of a suffering savior who calls on us to carry our crosses if we desire to follow him?
Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll be changing Palm Sunday worship too much. I too love a parade, and there is comfort and assurance in traditions. I’m glad we now end Palm Sunday worship with the reading of the Passion narrative. It might help us, as we’re waving our palm branches in our churches and yelling “hosanna,” to consider not just what Jesus died to save us from (sin, death, etc.) but what he died to save us FOR.Too
Certainly for freedom, but not selfish freedom to do what we want. Jesus died so that we could be free to serve him, to serve each other, to love as he loved us . . . all the way to the cross.
Hosanna! Save me . . . from myself.