The Lenten season reaches a high point on Palm Sunday. It is a day of great celebration yet one also we know has deep sadness soon approaching. On this day, Jesus entered Jerusalem as its king with thousands rejoicing. The scene is written in John 12:
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:12-16 NIV).
One of the typical things Christians do when visiting Jerusalem is to take the “Palm Sunday Walk.” You begin at the top of the Mt. of Olives at the chapel which commemorates the place where Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept knowing what this week held. You can walk down the steep road, past the Garden of Gethsemane, and toward the Eastern gate of the city.
The area looks a bit different now. There are high walls built on both sides of the road and many reminders of death along that way. Since Zechariah 14 prophesied that the Mt. of Olives is where the end of earthly things and the beginning of heavenly things will take place, many people want to be buried there so not to miss out on the resurrection. Zechariah himself is buried there along with about 150,000 others.
There you will also learn a new thing about palm branches. In the days of the Hasmonean dynasty over a century before, the palm branch was a nationalistic symbol of Israel’s independence. It was even printed on their coins. Those who were waving palm branches were making a political statement hoping that Jesus would free them from Roman rule returning their sovereignty.
You put it all together and it’s no wonder Jesus wished they had recognized their hour of visitation. No one really understood who he was or his purpose.
Many of us have learned over the years that Jesus is more than we can imagine; and often does things in ways we would not anticipate. Time and again it is in hindsight we see how he did provide – in a way we had not expected; how he did keep us from harm – when we wondered why he was silent.
How blessed we are to understand the Passion Week from our perspective. Let us be reminded then that our Lord still moves in ways we might not expect. And as surely as the sun will rise he will return for us. So today we have confidence to joyfully proclaim: “Lift up your head, open the doors, let the King of Glory come in. And forever be our God.”