The church I was a member of in East Tennessee does Palm Sunday up right: During the service, each person is given a palm frond. We march around the sanctuary singing the chorus to Palms of Victory, Crowns of Glory, waving our palm branches. Not the way it’s sung by Gospel singers, slow and sedately. No, when we marched, we sang it with fervor and excitement. I could almost sense the excitement of the crowd, the jubilation of Jesus’ disciples, knowing that their time has finally come: They had backed the winner.
And so, I must confess: I’ve always secretly liked Palm Sunday better than Easter. Children waving palm branches. People throwing their cloaks on the ground for the donkey to tread on. The crowds. The cheering. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” is one of my favorite praises.
The problem is, Palm Sunday, while joyful and exciting, isn’t real. Oh yes, it really happened. Exactly the way the Gospels describe. But underlying the exaltation and triumph, there was the truth of betrayal. The crowd that sang in adulation on Sunday, only a few days later yelled just as fervently, “Crucify Him!”
And yet, this is one of the reasons why I think it’s important to reenact Palm Sunday, to give mighty praise to the Lamb of God, entering Jerusalem at the same time as the Passover lambs were entering more quietly through another gate, just days before their slaughter. It’s important that we do our best to remind ourselves that we, too, in all likelihood, would have claimed Him as King and then turned against Him a few days later. It’s crucial for us to know with all certainty that we are reliant on Him, even for the ability to stay faithful.
At the same time, we have the ability, that infamous 20/20 hindsight, to know that the real victory was not in entering Jerusalem, but a week later, in rising from the grave. Oddly, though, that event wasn’t welcomed with fanfare. No one laid their coat on the ground for the risen Christ. No one found a donkey for Him to ride. No one shouted Hosana.
The most important victories often arrive without fanfare. The cheering crowds cannot be counted on to calculate the critical conquest.
He knew that. I wonder if He was somewhat muted as He rode the donkey on Palm Sunday, knowing what was to come. He continued teaching His disciples, fully aware that this last week would be the most difficult yet. He faithfully encouraged them, right up to the moment when the horror of what He was about to go through stared Him right in the face and He had to beg, “Father, let this cup pass.” The stark reality was too much to bear. Yet knowing it was necessary, He accepted His Father’s will, not His own.
All this He knew as He rode through the streets on the donkey, the crowd exploding in love and acclamation, palm branches waving. The crowd is fickle. The glory, while true, is falsely praised.
As we enter into Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time each day meditating on what Jesus was going through that week. Talk about spiritual whiplash: The week is full of emotion and the highs and lows of human experience.
Remember that we, too, are fickle. And then, look to the time when the crowds will be true. Because one day, “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow of those who are in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11)
That day, the Hosanas will be real.