Palm Sunday

by Pastor Pete Vander Beek:

This coming Sunday is what we call Palm Sunday, the commemoration of the “Triumphal Entry.” I want to reflect on it with you via the way the Gospel of John tells it in chapter 12 verses 9 to 19.

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;     see, your king is coming,     seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. 17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

I’m going to miss the cuteness of the Palm Promenade by the children while singing a Hosanna! Song. I presume most of you will too.

What is going to be more difficult than missing some of the worship activities is again seeing how Jesus was misunderstood on that day, in that moment. And how mistaken I and we can be about power in the Kingdom of God. We still persist in understanding power only one way — the way the Kingdoms of this World do. The gospels tell us of this misunderstanding again and again. It’s here in verse 16 of our passage.

Jesus had just publicly demonstrated his God-given power over death. Now word gets out that he’s heading for Jerusalem! Excitement builds. The popular expectation, even among his closest followers — who were having arguments about who was going to be his “right hand man” in his new power position — is that he is going to demonstrate he has power over the Roman Empire as well. Kick them out of the Country.

The very method by which he entered Jerusalem was a message they did not understand until later. He did not come on a horse, with a chariot. He came humbly, on a donkey’s colt, as the prophets had long foretold he would. It is a symbolic contrast!

Even so, this became a populist movement. A heralding of a saviour thought to have the magic power to free the nation from oppression. And more!

It is so interesting to notice who we are told felt their power was under threat. Look at verses 9,11 and 19: The religious leaders felt threatened. Moreso than the Romans.

And sometimes I try to imagine what it was like to be Jesus, riding humbly into Jerusalem and being adored in that way, and seeing the hope in the people’s eyes, and knowing it was mistaken hope for the wrong kind of freeing. Did Jesus feel the raw power and temptation of being so popular? Did he feel a call to give in to it, to play along? To accept the power the people were giving him? Probably. And still he was able to stay resolute in his mission of obedience to God the Creator, his mission to become a new kind of sacrificial lamb, not a world conqueror. The Palm branches were waving power in his direction. That power went right past him. He let it do so.

He chose not to accept or take up that kind of power.

In fact, he chose to become power-less before that kind of power. In a matter of hours these palm wavers would become fist shakers when he disappointed them in their mistaken hopes and expectations.

Wow, what would that have felt like for Jesus the human being? To be “on mission” and be completely misunderstood and despised for it?

And then he came to a point where spikes were powered through his palms, and he even felt God, his Daddy, had abandoned him. And it was over. Until Easter.

Until his true power to set people free from a greater trouble than Pharaoh, or Rome, or the constraint of Religiosity was revealed: freedom from the oppression of death itself, and of distance from God.

But I’m getting ahead of things, that is a message for Easter.

Until then, let’s think of Jesus embracing a certain kind of powerlessness so we could be empowered. Think of the threat of a virus, and the threat of economic hardship that also threatens our world today, think of it through that lens, that Jesus cared so much he endured people’s scorn for not saving them (which is actually us) in the way we thought we should be saved, but saving us from an even greater threat, something greater, eternal disconnect from God.

And then, when the song comes around at Easter, in your easy chair or on your couch or in your computer chair, join in whole-heartedly in singing “Hallelujah! What a saviour!”