Palm Sunday: The Beginning of The Holiest Time of the Year
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you… – Zechariah 9:9
This coming Sunday is called Palm Sunday in the Christian tradition. It remembers Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the celebration of the Passover. There are many things going on in the scriptural accounts of this event. Each of them makes the connection between the Old and the New Testaments evident, and reveal the truth of Jesus’ ministry to the world.
This event happens at the holiest time of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the Jewish celebration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses. It also takes place shortly after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. The people gathered in their great numbers in Jerusalem, already joyous with the Passover celebrations, were also buzzing about the news of what this Jesus had done for Lazarus, when they hear that this Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem to celebrate this great feast.
Jesus has his disciples get a donkey for him to ride on as he enters the city, in accordance with the scriptures, “Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.” (Zechariah 9: 9) The disciples would not know the full meaning of this until after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension to the Father.
The crowds, on hearing that Jesus is arriving, gather palm fronds and go to meet him as he enters the city. They shout, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” Their instincts, are correct. Their joy is full of the hope that this Jesus is the One they have been waiting countless generations for. The great symbolism here is that the King is entering on the back of a lowly donkey, not with the pomp and circumstance of a worldly king.
The Pharisees see this and they are filled with worry. They have failed in their efforts to discredit this man, Jesus, among the people. They see how he is greeted by the crowds and how they are following him. Their egos have been injured. Their anger begins to rule over their reason and they begin to increase their efforts to bring this man down.
Jesus knew that the time had come, that the reason for his coming into the world was drawing nigh. He tells his disciples, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever hates his own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am, And my Father will honor anyone who serves me.” (John 12:23-26)
The people in Jerusalem on that day did not know that this truly was the Son of Man, the Messiah. They were filled with hope, but they did not know what we know. We know the full story. We know that the prophecies of the Old Testament, that had been hoped for by the Chosen People for countless generations, have been fulfilled in this Jesus. The ministry and mission of the Son of Man is complete. We know that Jesus, the new Moses, has liberated all of mankind from the slavery of sin, forever.
When we commemorate Palm Sunday in our faith communities this coming weekend, we do it with a joy that the people of Israel could only imagine at that time. We have been preparing for this event, and the coming Easter events, throughout this Lenten season. When we celebrate Palm Sunday this year, let us renew our faith in Jesus. HE IS THE KING the world had been waiting for. He has come. He is with us now and always. Let us remember the reason for his coming and honor it with our renewed willingness to serve Him in this world by being men and women for others. That is what He is calling us to every day. Let us shout a joyful “Yes” to his call with our very lives, now, and for the rest of our earthly lives.