Lately I’ve been fascinated with why we observe some events and celebrations on our calendars and not others. Take for example Pentecost and Ascension Day. For the life of me I can’t recall when these occur. I’m certainly not gathering the family and preparing a ham or turkey feast on those days. Somehow these dates escape our notice and attention. Somehow we’ve made them into something ‘less’.
Maybe we’ve not rightly celebrated them because we’ve not rightly understood them.
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before the greatest celebration on the Christian calendar, feels a bit like this. Growing up, it was always the day that the preschool Sunday school classes would make their way down the aisle, waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna!’ We sang wholeheartedly and waved those palm branches with great enthusiasm, even fighting over who would get to wave them.
On this day we anticipated the week in the life of Jesus that would be marked by both the greatest darkness and the greatest light. One Sunday later we would wake up to Easter treats and don new dresses. We would gather to sing the beautiful old hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” and greet our neighbor with the phrase, “Christ is Risen!” and respond, “He is Risen Indeed!”
Just like Ascension Day and Pentecost, maybe we’ve not rightly celebrated Palm Sunday because we’ve not rightly understood it. It’s simply been a precursor to Easter, a ‘smaller’ triumph.
So what is this day that marks the advent of Easter? Interestingly, Bible translators have titled Luke 19:28-44 ‘Christ’s Triumphal Entry’. But it’s really the day that was a great tragedy to Jesus; not truly triumphant in the way people hoped and envisioned. Indeed, it was so tragic that He wept. And not just wept. Wept sounds quiet. Wept sounds tame. This was not Christ’s weeping on that Palm Sunday Road.
The Greek tells us so. He looked at the city and wailed. While some waving palm branches worshipped in earnest, Christ looked on those who had missed it. The ones who expected a political deliverer, a king who would rule them on their own terms. They believed he would free them from the oppression of their human oppressors.
Jesus wept because they’d missed the ultimate point. They’d missed who He really was. He knew that in the course of this week He would deliver them from so much more than their human oppressors. He would deliver them from the sin and death curse that had entangled them ever since Eve’s bite of the fruit. As those palm branches were waved and shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ (save us!) rang forth, Jesus knew that He and His mission had been deeply misunderstood.
Less than one week later, that united Palm Sunday voice raised in shouts of ‘Hosanna’ would divide into two different cries. One group would weep at the death of their beloved friend, Rabbi, and son. The other would raise their voices in shouts of hate. Less than one week later, the crowds would be throwing stones, not waving branches. Their combined passionate cry would be ‘Crucify Him’.
This Palm Sunday, let’s reflect on our understanding of Christ’s Triumphal Entry. Are we celebrating rightly? Continually crying out to the only one who can save us? Or are we missing the point?
Let’s endeavour to see Jesus for who He says He is and resolve to rightly celebrate what was truly triumphant about that day. Jesus would triumph over sin. He would triumph over death. He would fulfill the very mission He came to accomplish. He would free all those who call out to Him from their deep darkness and suffocating slavery. And this 2021 Palm Sunday, we know it’s already been accomplished for all who cry ‘Hosanna’.
This Palm Sunday, waving with broad strokes our imaginary palm branches, let’s cry in earnest, “Hosanna. Yes, Hosanna. Save us”.