Palm Sunday: A Familiar Story?

This Sunday, as winter gives way to spring, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. For Christians, per the Christian calendar, it is that time when we anticipate Jesus entering into Jerusalem to lay his life down. It’s a story were familiar with in which Jesus is crucified and resurrected. But are we really familiar with this story?

This week’s Gospel text from the Lectionary is Luke 19:28-40, the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt. It’s a story we’ve likely heard before. It’s a story I’ve preached before.

As Jesus went towards Jerusalem, he sent two of the disciples ahead to find a colt and bring it to him. They did. They brought the colt to Jesus and put him on it while the people began spreading their cloaks on the roadway. As Jesus approached the place to go down near the Mount of Olives, people began joyfully praising God saying,

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

The Pharisees don’t like it and rebuke Jesus for it, which Jesus quickly rebuffs. And that’s where we usually end the story. That’s where the Lectionary would have us end the story. And if the story were to end there, we’d have this beautiful story that we can joyfully offer praise to God for just like the people in the story. But the story doesn’t end there!

While the people are busy praising God, Jesus continue on toward Jerusalem when he begins weeping. Crying! As Jesus weeps for Jerusalem, he says,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.

If they only knew what would bring them peace… But they didn’t! For all of their hope and faith in God, waiting for that moment when God would restore his kingdom, they were waiting for a Messiah who would come with the power of the sword, not a Messiah who would be crucified. For all their hope and faith in God, they were waiting for a Messiah who would make Israel great again by crushing their enemies, not a Messiah who would be humiliated by the Romans nailing him to the cross.

So again I ask, are we really familiar with this story?

Do we, who call ourselves Christians because we profess faith in this Jesus who died on the cross, know what will bring us peace? As politicians court our votes, making big promises of moving the nation forward and making America great again, do we know what will bring us peace? As the tensions of racial divisions, economic hardships, and social injustice fuel the fire of angry citizens, do we know what will bring us peace? As the threat of global terrorism and mass-shootings arouse a call for more guns and a stronger military, do we know what will bring us peace?

Or are we just like the people of Jerusalem, ready to praise God but when given a choice between the meek and merciful Jesus or the murderous insurrectionist named Barabbas, we shout, “Away with Jesus, give us Barabbas!” (cf. Lk. 23:18-19)?

That’s something we should reflect on as we gather to praise God on this coming Palm Sunday!

So again I ask, are we really familiar with this story?

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2 responses to “Palm Sunday: A Familiar Story?

  1. When you attend a liturgical church, you hear that some of the same people who said “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” on Sunday said “crucify him” on Friday. In fact, the congregation says them out loud together. Tragically, I never heard them in the cofC.

    • Yes. And even though Luke never mentions the use of palm branches (the Gospel of John does), the palm branches were a symbol of a military conquest because the people thought the Messiah was going to lead a revolution. But instead of the sword, Jesus the Messiah embraced the cross.

      Thanks for your comment!

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