Palm Sunday starts off our Holy Week, a day where we sit back and enjoy the end of our Lent sacrifices as well as watch the kids in our children’s ministry wave plastic palm branches screaming “hosanna!” at the top of their lungs. As I picture the scene as it might have been when Jesus came from the Mount of Olives down to Jerusalem, thinking about the events that so quickly transpire throughout the week, my heart reflects on the mania that I go through in frantic hopes that the god I worship will come through in exactly the way that I want.
The misunderstandings happen quickly. Date-palms are native to Jerusalem, but the symbolism behind date-palm branches have great significance. Palm branches are associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, yet, at the time of Jesus, these branches had become a “national, if not nationalistic Jewish symbol.” When the Maccabees came on the scene, these branches played a large part at the rededication of the temple. In 1 Maccabees, they also played a large part in celebrating the victory over the Syrians. Palms even “appear on the coins minted by the insurrectionists during the Jewish wards against Rome and even on Roman coins themselves.”
The palm branch was a sign of victory, and here with the Jewish people under the thumb of the Roman Empire, they are hoping for this to be the messiah that brings the militant insurrection they’ve been hoping for. Here is the deliverance promised and long awaited. Here comes the day of the Lord.
While I have in my head this picture now of the children in Sunday School waving palm branches screaming instead, “anarchy,” these pieces all woven together have made a very confused crowd who are desperate for true justice to show up, for all the wrongs they feel to be made right. Here comes Jesus, the answer to all they had been longing for as His power can even raise people from the dead.
We all crave a power to come in and change what we feel is wrong, finding ourselves desperate and listless until something comes that just might have the power to fix it, which only pushes us right back on this upswing in ravenous worship. We need saving, not only from the power of sin and darkness that runs rampant in the world, but also within our lives. We need a Savior, and He will not use His power in the way that we see and understand the world wielding it. This power that Christ holds will be used differently, and in a way that will tear not only the veil of the holy of holies, but welcomes a new age, new Kingdom, of true and abundant life.
The Kingdom of God has broken in through the Son of God, Jesus, and we roar and rave until He doesn’t do exactly what we want Him to, claiming His promises as false, misunderstanding full well that following Christ means a complete reordering of all of it. He leaves nothing untouched.
How often have I been a part of the palm-waving crowd, rightly worshipping yet scorning Him the second things don’t go as I’d want them to? How often have I waved the palm to worthless idols, running after power, comfort, control in my life as I long for not the life abundant that Christ offers, but a religion that puts me first? This quick amusement park ride is less than amusing, leaving my heart open and sprawled out for whatever will take me as not victim, but a willing slave.
Hosanna: save us, give salvation now, save.
For freedom Christ has set us free, and in this freedom that He purchases for us, He changes what we once knew to be foolish to be wise. He changes everything. It is other-worldly in this world, this New Kingdom inaugurated, and yet we are still getting Egypt out of our bones. As I look back at Sunday, and forward to the spiral that is the rest of Holy Week, taking the crown off of my own head as the master-of-what-is-best-for-me is a great first step. The posture of the New Kingdom is cruciform.
For the article that goes along with the quote by Duke Kwon, check out this link, another helpful perspective on the imagery of Jesus riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday, and the shift of power that our Savior models and calls us to.