Into Holy Week

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
— John 12:12-19

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 often want what Jesus can do for us, more than we want Jesus himself.
— Sharon Hodde Miller

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.

“Humble” and “gentle” don’t indicate that Jesus was impoverished of power; rather, these words describe how he used his royal power—namely, not for his own advantage, but for the advantage of others. This is the point of Philippians 2 (cf. John 10:18). For all his apparent “nothingness” and “emptiness” on the Cross, it was his divine authority that made his blood eternally valuable for sinners. Jesus leveraged his “equality with God”—his power—for you and me.

Again, in this King’s kingdom, humility is not powerlessness. It is but a redirection of resources away from myself and toward others. Jesus is described as “humble” and “gentle” not because he was riding a donkey, but because he was riding one to the Cross. If Palm Sunday is a remembrance of the King who arrived with cruciform authority, then lying at the heart of Palm Sunday is the repurposing of power and authority.
— Duke Kwon

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.