As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:1-11)
Those of you who are of a liturgical bent, or who grew up in churches of a liturgical bent, probably know all about Palm Sunday. In many places it is a very celebratory affair, as people wave palm branches during the service in honor of the palm branches that were spread before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday is something of an anomaly. For five weeks we have been moving through Lent, a somber, reflective season of repentance and preparation to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. But from out of nowhere we get this festive celebration to break the mood.
Except that it doesn’t break the mood entirely. At least not for us, who with the benefit of hindsight know what lies ahead in the days to come. And not for Jesus, who knew exactly what he was heading into when he entered Jerusalem.
On some level Jesus must have reveled in the moment. Part of him was probably soaking it all up, drinking in all of the adulation from the crowd who had gathered to see him in this moment. And yet part of him was probably thinking, “These people just don’t get it.”
Because when all those people cried out “Hosanna!” (which translates into “Save”), they weren’t thinking “Save us from our sins.” They were thinking “Save us from Rome!”
And yet Jesus had completely and totally different ideas about what he was going to do in Jerusalem. He wasn’t coming to start a revolution. He was coming to die.
There is a tie-in here, in that many liturgical churches burn the branches from Palm Sunday and use the ashes for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service. These ashes serve to remind us of our mortality as we begin the Lenten journey.
Palm Sunday is great. But we know that the story is about to take some very unexpected turns, and some very dark turns. No one that day could have foreseen that in just a few days’ time the Messiah to whom they were singing praises would be hanging dead on a Roman cross.