What is your favorite part of this story? I wish we were in the same room together, but you can write in the comments here on Facebook, or you can send me a note, or you can tell the people who are with you at home if you aren’t alone. I’m going to talk about some of my favorite parts, but I love hearing from you, too.
One of my favorite parts is that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). You can imagine that people were talking about that, and of course they wanted to see the man that made this happen. Wouldn’t you? It’s really not surprising that there was a crowd after that news got out.
I also love seeing that there are specific details that match with the prophecies of the messiah.
- One of those is that Jesus was riding a donkey. That prophecy is in Zechariah 9:9. We also read about this in the history books, in 1 Kings 1. When Solomon is anointed as king of Israel, he comes riding in on a donkey.
- Actually, what Solomon rode was a mule, the foal of a donkey and a horse. I rode a mule once. When I was in 8th grade and our church youth group went to the Grand Canyon, we rode mules down into the canyon together. It was scary being on that trail and looking over the side down into a canyon that’s so big you can barely see the bottom. Mules aren’t fast or graceful, but they are incredibly stable and sure-footed, and so it was reassuring to know that they would carry us well on that fearsome journey.
- We usually think about Jesus riding a donkey as a sign of his humility, but maybe this image can also remind us that Jesus was also facing a fearsome journey and God carried Jesus through to the resurrection. And God carries us, too.
- Another detail I learned from the book that our Tuesday night small group is reading (The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford) is that Jewish tradition said that the messiah would be entering Jerusalem through the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives, and that’s what Jesus did that day, and another reason the people were celebrating his arrival.
Another thing I love is that we can remind each other about this event in the Bible with a single word: Hosanna. This Hebrew word means “save us.” It’s possible many people were thinking of being saved from the Romans. It might be hard for most of us to imagine what it was like to have been taken over by another country’s soldiers and to be living under an oppressive government, but that’s what was happening in Jesus time. It was so difficult that they couldn’t imagine that God wouldn’t be saving them from that Roman oppression, and so they missed that God was doing something bigger that went beyond their current situation.
I love that the word hosanna is also associated with praise. These words that the people were shouting are part of the Jewish liturgy from what’s called the Hallel service. They’re from Psalm 118:25-26. This is one of the psalms that’s recited when people are gathered in the synagogue for the sabbath.
I also love the palm branches we wave. Palm branches are symbols of victory and peace. They are also a part of the tradition of the Jewish festivals. In the instructions for celebrating in Leviticus 23:40 the Bible says to take branches from palms or other leafy trees and rejoice before the Lord. That’s what the people were doing when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and that’s what we were doing today.
- Today for me these palm branches are also symbolic of our resilience and flexibility. You might already know that palm trees survive well in tropical places because they’re flexible, so that when hurricane winds blow through the trees survive because they bend easily. I love that even though we aren’t celebrating Palm Sunday the way we’re used to, we’ve got our paper palms. And I’ve been so thankful for your willingness to use technology – to get on Facebook and Zoom – so that we can still gather together. That is a victory! And I’m so thankful for it.
Another thing I love about John’s account of this event is that he tells us in verse 16 that the disciples didn’t fully understand what was happening, and they wouldn’t until after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. But then, looking back, they were able to understand.
- That’s true for us in our lives also. We don’t always understand what God is doing when we’re in the middle of things, but afterwards, looking back, we’re able to understand more fully. Right now we’re in the middle of some really big changes, and we can see the obvious things now, but God is doing more than we can fully understand right now, and we will need to be looking back and asking God to help us see what else God is doing.
- I’ve had some time to do some looking back and pondering this week, and in doing so I remembered that back when I first started going to seminary, maybe even before that, I had a dream in which I went to Iowa with my mom to be interviewed for a job at a church. When I started looking for my first call as a pastor, I paid special attention to job openings in Iowa because of that dream. But this week I’ve begun to see that I might have misunderstood. Maybe the point wasn’t to go to Iowa, but to be open to going somewhere I’d never been before. And Iowa is not that far from Kansas. And who knows whether God was bringing Rob and I to Kansas for just such a time as this? (Esther 4:14) The Holy Spirit has been reminding me of that verse from the book of Esther this week.
Now might be a good time to look back and see what God has been doing in your life, too.
One of hard realities of this story that is that this is the beginning of the end of Jesus’ time on earth. Every step from here leads to the cross. Thursday night, on what we now call Maundy Thursday, Jesus had his last supper with his disciples and was arrested. At one point in the trial process, the governor, Pontius Pilate, asks the crowd which prisoner they would like released for Passover. He thought they might say, “Jesus!” But instead they said, “Barabbas!”
Why Barabbas? Why not Jesus? Because they were beginning to see that Jesus wasn’t quite the messiah they expected, and Barabbas seemed more likely to achieve political victory (John 18:40) and free them from their oppression by the Romans. That’s what they thought the messiah would do, but they had misunderstood what God was doing, just like I misunderstood my dream about Iowa.
We know now that what Jesus was doing then was much bigger than conquering the Romans. Jesus was conquering sin and death, breaking the power of the things that threaten to keep us from God. Jesus brought a victory that the people didn’t understand that they needed. They thought Jesus was defeated and that his death was the end. They didn’t know what we know now, that resurrection was coming.
I think you might agree with me that we’re in the middle of something really big now, too. And I don’t know that we’re going to fully understand all that God is doing in this time, but we can start now to ask God to help us see and understand and grow.
Palm branches are a reminder to us that Jesus already won the victory over sin and death. We can celebrate that even more as we look for the ways that victory is at work in our lives now, today. Take your palm branch, or if you printed an extra one to write on, or on any piece of paper you want to use, and write your answers to these questions:
What do we need salvation from today?
- Obviously COVID-19, like obviously Romans. So what else? God is doing more than what is obvious.
- As a nation, as the church, as individuals
- What do we need to see and understand that we might be missing?
What is surprising you about yourself during this time of stay-home orders?
What are you living without that you thought you couldn’t?
What are you surprised to find you’re enjoying during this time?
How are you drawing closer to God during this time?
- I’ve found that Rob and I are praying together more the past few weeks.
Even if we don’t fully understand what God is doing in this time, even if we don’t do all the right things or keep from doing wrong things, even if we stumble and fall or struggle during this time, we have God’s grace. As John says in the beginning of his gospel, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)
Psalm 37:5 Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.
We call today Palm Sunday because people waved palm branches. We also call it the Triumphal Entry. It was a victory parade being celebrated in anticipation of the victory that hadn’t happened yet, that would come a week later when Jesus rose from the dead. That victory is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:35,37 where he says:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Whether we see it or understand it or not, we have the victory through Jesus Christ. And nothing can ever take that away.
 Kathie Lee Gifford, The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi: My Journey into the Heart of Scriptural Faith and the Land Where It All Began (Nashville: W Publishing, 2018), p107-8
 Rabbi Albert I. Slomovitz, PhD, A New Look at Rabbi Jesus: Jews and Christians Finally Reconnected (Murrells Inlet, SC: Covenant Press, 2019), p143-4
 Life Application Study Bible NLT (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishing, 2015), p2342