To me, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is like the curtain rising for the penultimate act of all that He came to do. We don’t know how many thousands crowded the city’s narrow streets that Passover. Cloaks were thrown on the road; palm branches were waved and shouts of “Hosanna” rang in the air. Jesus knew what He was doing. In advance, He had sent two disciples ahead to get the donkey. The right choice for the start of Holy Week as He fulfilled the prophecy spoken centuries before in Zechariah and Isaiah: “See you king come to you gentle and humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” What sort of king is this then?
It’s a big year for monarchy in our country. We will watch the diamond jubilee celebrations, even host our own street party here in the car park. You don’t have to be ardently Royalist to appreciate “pomp and circumstance!” It’s what makes us British. There’s the aura that surrounds the Monarch. To be in the Queen’s presence is something special. Later this year people will come out to cheer and greet her on her tour of the nation. She may not wield political or military power – nonetheless she has royal power and the “divine right of kings” behind her. Queen Elizabeth II, though, will not be riding on a donkey. I’m quite sure that won’t happen! However, in the Lord’s day this was exactly what had to happen. A king riding on a horse stands for war. That’s what people wanted. They yearned for a Messiah to set them free from the tyranny of Rome. But here the curtain’s rising on a donkey, a symbol of meekness and of peace. No twenty-one gun salute, but swishing of palm branches and cries of “Hosanna in the highest” – for there is recognition that they needed divine help – which was now here in the Son of David, God’s Saviour – Jesus Christ.
However this is a king, not entering Jerusalem as a hero and preparing for a hero’s death in some great battle, but, instead, preparing for the cross. Jesus knew precisely who He was. He was different from the average king. Prior to Palm Sunday, He avoided large crowds, but not this time – because now was the time of the appointed hour and the coming to pass of OT prophecies. But Jesus didn’t want the adulation of the crowd, which He knew was fickle, He rode into the heart of God’s holy city, to force the issue of His whole reason for being here on earth. He knew His time was up. He needed to stir the anger, hostility and jealousy of the religious leaders – so that the stage would be set for the final act, the greatest event in all human history. He was despised and rejected, crushed for our sins and led like a lamb to the slaughter – to Golgotha – the place of crucifixion. By His wounds we are healed and now heaven cheers for Jesus who came to save. That’s the kind of King He is.
Today we sing our hosannas, which literally mean “Save us now!” Do we mean this? Are we serious? Have we come because it’s the nice thing to do? Or are we here because we truly acknowledge Jesus as King? The world has had its say – but the Son of David has come – God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand on high. So we should be cheering – not standing bewildered beside an empty grave. Salvation belongs to our God and to the Son! Hosanna in the highest! All this week we will reflect on the cross and its meaning for our lives. Please come and gather here over the next few mornings for devotions culminating on Good Friday at our Tenebrae service, where we’ll continue to ask why things happened this way. I hope we’ll better understand the overwhelming faith and love from the cries, agony and passion of Jesus Christ.
Palm Sunday is one of those precious Gospel moments. The good news is that Easter is coming! But if we’re not careful, we’ll miss the King of glory. Are we sufficiently impressed – or is Jesus going to be King just for today? It’s easy to be like the crowd; to wave palm branches today, but then get weary and walk away, especially if our demands are not met in the coming days, weeks and months ahead. Which kind of king and which kingdom will you serve? This week hold your palm cross and remember what Jesus faced as He prepared to die. Also, remember that on the cross the greatest act of forgiveness in all history extends to you and me. We are forgiven by the love of God in His Son who shows us that true power lies only in humility and sacrifice. The final curtain that comes down is a real one. It’s the one in the Temple – supernaturally torn from top to bottom as there are no longer any barriers to separate us from the King’s presence.
That’s the unexpectedness and the challenge of the Easter story.