The Palm Sunday story is familiar and important. All four gospels tell it. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. People bring their palm branches and lay them on the ground as Jesus rides into the city.
Jesus enters the city as a new King David. The people see in Jesus the enactment of a restored Israel and shout praises but miss the larger promise unfolding. I Jesus the promised Messiah has come – but the gospels lead us to ask, “What kind of King is this Jesus?” and “What does his entry into Jerusalem mean?”
If we read the Passion on this Sunday alongside the Palm Sunday reading we will hear how quickly people turn on him. The disciples meet in the upper room (in John Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus shares with them the last supper) but later abandon him; Judas betrays him; Peter denies him; the people shout ‘crucify him‘ and after a mockery of a trial Jesus is put to death on a cross beside two criminals.
We see before our eyes that either Jesus is a complete and miserable failure; abandoned, betrayed, shamed and executed – OR – that his Kingdom is centered on sacrificial love and undeserved mercy that the powers of this world cannot contain, control or defeat.
What is your take away from this narrative?
Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-40) leaves out two familiar details we associate with Palm Sunday. There are no palm branches. There are also no shouts of ‘Hosanna.’ Jesus is not the restorer of Israel (at least not in the way many thought of what restoration would mean) and he did not come to start a military rebellion against Rome. While he comes to the Holy City, his revolution of sacrificial love and undeserved mercy burst out to the entire world and is inclusive of all and embracing of everyone.
When the religious leaders (the Pharisees) tell Jesus to tell his followers to stand down, he states, “I tell you, if these were silent the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). He weeps for the city rather than conquering it (Luke 19:41), saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). He warns of the coming destruction of the city (Luke 19:44) which by the time Luke would have composed this story had already taken place and would be fresh in his hearers memories.
This story serves not as an ending but the very beginning of Jesus’ global reach and mission (hence part 2 of Luke’s story, the Acts of the Disciples). The Kingdom comes in small moments with huge implications. To another man dying on across beside him who asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:44). We are reminded that even when it feels like the world (or our world) is ending – his sacrificial love and undeserved mercy will endure.
What are a few takeaways from Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday?
- The story is neither about the Palms nor the Hosannas. Jesus enters Jerusalem not to restore Israel but to die. His weeping over the city reveals his compassion for people in he present and hi understanding of the pain that is coming. His imminent death joins the suffering of people everywhere. His Kingdom comes from Israel for all.
- Disciples of Jesus are not to keep silent. Too often we make faith a private affair and/or don’t want to get involved in other people’s struggles. We are called to live into and share the love and mercy of God we see in Jesus with others in their pain and suffering. But be not afraid – God’s Kingdom comes beside us when we fail; Christ’s compassion and grace meet us even if we lose our lives in the process; and all of creation shouts especially when we don’t believe we are up to the task. We are invited to join the cosmos in God’s restorative mission.
- The time is now. Sometimes we become so focused on our future (or think we are focused on God’s future) that we miss important moments. The pharisees in this story are risk averse and worried about what might happen if Jesus presses on. The crowd prepares for a King to give them what they want. The powers play their part to maintain the status quo. The disciples are eager but fall prey to their fears. Jesus acts in the moment to bring the Kingdom to us.
As Holy Week unfolds, we move from praising to mourning, from hope to despair, from communion to isolation, from prayer to abandonment, from life to death, and from certainty to surprise.
Pay attention to the moment. See the details. Grab hold of the promise. Embrace the mystery. Enter this story fully – and take part of the Kingdom unfolding around you.
Without any “hosannas” – get your “alleluias” ready. Easter is coming soon…