PALM SUNDAY: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 11:1-10; Mk 14: 1--15:47 or Mk 15: 1-39
Today we celebrate both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The liturgy combines contrasting moments of glory and suffering – the royal welcome given to Jesus by his followers and the unjust drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion.
The royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem echoes many details from the life of the ancient kings of Israel and contemporary history.
Why did Jesus walk 90 miles from the Galilee to Bethany and then secure a donkey for the final two miles to Jerusalem? In those days, Kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace. I Kings 1: 38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation. The crowd around Jesus was aware of King Solomon's royal procession on David's royal mule as he was taken to be anointed as king. That is why they shouted to Jesus, Hosannah to the son of David. Riding the royal mule, and then later being seated on David's royal throne, were both acts that confirmed that David's kingship was legitimately being transferred to Solomon.
The Jews were eagerly waiting for the fulfillment of the Prophecy made by Zechariah, about 500 years ago. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, ….. He shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zech. 9:9-10).
Jesus entered the Holy City as a king of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant, which was the very presence of Yahweh in Israel.
Jesus also gave kingly orders to his disciples, "Go off to the nearby village, you will find a tethered colt, untie it and bring it here." These words reflected the power of authority. So the disciples did not dare to question him.
The palm branches and the shouts harked back a century-and-a-half to the triumph of the Maccabees and the overthrow of the brutal Antiochus Epiphanes, in 167 B.C. Antiochus had forbidden the practice of Judaism on pain of death, he set up, right smack in the middle of the Jewish temple, an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig on it. Hard to imagine a greater slap in the religious face to good Jews. Stinging from this outrage, an old man of priestly stock named Mattathias rounded up his five sons, all the weapons he could find, and a guerrilla war was launched. After 20 years, finally they won the Judean independence. Of course, there was great celebration. "The Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and cleansed and rededicated the temple. This will point to why Jesus cleansed the temple after the Palm procession according to Luke’s account.
Another implication of the procession is that nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the "Pass Over," but the lamb which was sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day. On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.
Jesus knew to get from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday he had to walk through a graveyard in the dark. The only road from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday runs right through the middle of Good Friday.
The real meaning of Palm Sunday for us today can be found in the question, "What kind of Jesus are we looking for?" Do we want a Miracle Jesus or Ritual Jesus? Do we want a Military Jesus or a Messiah Jesus? If you are looking for a military Jesus we will be disappointed like the Jews.
Philip Yancey, an editor at Christianity Today magazine, grew up in a fundamentalist church which didn't observe the major events of Holy Week. He never attended a Good Friday service and shied away from crucifixes because they were "too Catholic." He writes, "The church I grew up in, skipped past the events of Holy Week in a rush to hear the cymbal sounds of Easter."
The Bible "slows down rather than speeds up when it gets to Holy Week." One early Christian commentator went so far as to say that the gospels are actually the record of Jesus' final week . . . with extended introductions. One third of the gospels is about just one week’s of Jesus’ life and only two thirds cover his rest of 33 years of life. Let’s slow down between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and ponder and meditate the life of Jesus on his last week of life on earth and receive him as the messiah of my life.