Palm Sunday is Coming But What Does it Mean?
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and many of our churches are busy making palm frond crosses or preparing for a walk around our churches as a start to the day. Most of us know that this day commemorates Jesus triumphant procession into Jerusalem on donkey’s back but few of us are aware of the deeper implications of this event. Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem may have begun with crowds shouting Hosanna but it ends with Good Friday and the apparent triumph of the powers of the Roman Empire and of Satan. It does not end with a gold crown but with a crown of thorns. Jesus triumphal entry ends with his willingness to take into himself all the pain and suffering of our world so that together we can celebrate the beginning of a new procession on Easter Sunday – a procession that leads us into God’s banquet feast and the wonder of God’s eternal world.
Over the last couple of years I have written several posts that talk about the subversive nature of this event. I have reread these this morning and realized how much I needed this reminder. So I thought that I would adapt them here for all of us to remember once again and meditate on the meaning of this event. This is also written for the April synchroblog Do You Live Under A Rock
The beginning of the Easter celebration is just over a week away and stores are full of Easter eggs and decorations to help us celebrate by diverting our attention from the real meaning of Easter to their commercialized version of it. And how many of us are sucked in? What is the focus of your celebrations for this Holy week – is it on the life, death and resurrection of Christ or is it on the upcoming Easter egg hunt and that new spring outfit that you intend to debut on Easter Sunday morning?
Our Easter celebration should begin with Palm Sunday a celebration in which we excitedly enter into a preview of Jesus announcing his Messiahship and the advent of God’s kingdom of wholeness and abundance. What many of us don’t realize is that there were actually two processions into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning – one that symbolized the Roman culture of Jesus day and the other Jesus proclaiming his upside down kingdom.
In the year 30, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor assigned to Judea and Jerusalem. It had become the custom of the governors to live outside Jerusalem, but it was also their custom to come with their soldiers to Jerusalem for Passover. To provide a very visible and powerful Roman military presence at that volatile time, to prevent any potential uprising, for there are already been uprisings and many crucifixions.
His procession would have come from the west at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers – an impressive and lavish procession specially designed to impress the people with a visual display of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.
On the other side of the city, down from the Mount of Olives in the north came Jesus and his humble procession – no pomp, no ceremony, dressed simply like the people, riding on the back of a donkey and followed by his disciples drawn from amongst the peasants and the common people. I can imagine the lepers he had healed and the once blind man dancing and rejoicing with him. And there is Lazarus with Mary and Martha a living symbol of the triumph that this procession represents.
Here was the truly triumphant procession and the true rejoicing of the season. Jesus and his friends were greeted with cheers and shouts by crowds all along his path. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!”
Much of what Jesus’ life and teaching was about was the conflict of the kingdom of God with the empire of Rome. Theologically and politically. The Romans believed their emperor was to be worshipped as the son of God, the savior of humankind.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and his followers acknowledged him as Lord and Messiah, this was not only a personal theological statement but a political statement as well. Jesus’ belief in a liberating, inclusive, non-violent, peace-seeking kingdom of God was over and against the oppressive, greedy, elite-loving, peasant-starving kingdom of Rome. No wonder his was so angry with the Temple hierarchy – the chief priest, the elders and the scribes – who had become servants of the empire and not of the kingdom of God.
Jesus ride into Jerusalem was obviously headed for a collision with the powerful Roman empire – collision that would cost his life and change history forever.
The question for all of us as we approach this Palm Sunday and enter into the celebration of Easter is: Where is our allegiance? Where do we find ourselves in these pictures? Are we part of that ragamuffin discipleship band following Jesus fully aware that we are on a collision course with the values of our secular culture? Are we some of the misguided enthusiasts, cheering our own idea of a messiah, that looks more like the Roman emperor than the humble Jesus? Are we enarmoured of an idea that has little to do with what Jesus has come to teach? Do we only want to follow a Jesus when we think he promises health and happiness here and now. Have we so misunderstood him and his purpose and that we are ready to turn against him when he turns out not to be who we thought he was?
Perhaps however, we’re not part of Jesus’ procession at all. Perhaps we’re standing at the other gate, cheering for the symbols of empire. Dazzled by power, attracted to wealth, wanting to identify with the victors, not the vanquished, hoping to be counted as one of the elites of our time.
Actually most of us are probably part of both processions – wanting to follow this Jesus whom we find so don’t fully understand but also caught up in the excitement of Easter egg hunts and spring fashion displays.
And the beauty is that Jesus, in his humanity, sees and knows all of us. . . the flawed humanity that surrounds him. . . the flawed humanity of each of us. . . and he sees it and he forgives it, and loves us, and gives his blessing to all of us as he clops along the dusty road toward his confrontation with power, his time of trial, his abandonment, his death.