Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are the same days in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Passion Sunday commemorates the suffering of Jesus.
On the next day a great multitude had come to the feast. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”
Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it. As it is written, “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King comes, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him, and that they had done these things to Him. The multitude therefore that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, was testifying about it. For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that he had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “See how you accomplish nothing. Behold, the world has gone after him.”
In all of the movements or even eras of history there is a specific event that brings into focus the truth of that particular movement, or cause, or development, or era. It may be an event that captures the spirit of a movement or a particular part of a battle that is the turning point of a war.
There are many changing streams, countless confusing issues, and numerous intertwining happenings in history; but that one moment will contain the truth as to what a particular movement means and where it will end. Perhaps I need some examples at this point.
I think of Joshua Chamberlain in command of that depleted regiment of volunteers from Maine who were assigned to what should have been a quiet sector on the left flank of the Union line on July 2, 1863 - a place called "Little Round Top." As the battle developed the Confederate attack kept searching for the flank to turn and found Chamberlain and his 20th Maine Volunteers. Again and again Confederates attacked and were thrown back. Finally, Chamberlain’s men ran out of ammunition – completely. If the flank was turned the Union army would collapse. What was he to do?
In one of the most daring and important decisions in the history of the United States, Col. Chamberlain ordered his soldiers to fix bayonets and charge. The Confederate charge was stopped on that day; but the audacious charge at Little Round Top not only save the day for the Union army; it turned the battle, known as Gettysburg; it stopped Gen. Robert E Lee’s attempt to sweep North and capture Washington, DC; and end the Civil War with a Confederate victory.
Then there was John Peter Zenger, who was arrested in the colony of New York in 1722 for printing editorials criticizing the Royal Governor. Serious charges were brought, but against strong political pressure the jury found him “not guilty.”
There would be many fights, battles, and defeats ahead; but this scene almost 300 years ago showed what was to be and the importance of the principle of Freedom of Speech.
Then there was a scene in Pisa, Italy where a man with the euphonious name of Galilei Galileo observed the sky and came to a marvelous conclusion – the earth moved around the sun. He was charged with heresy. His trial lasted six months. Finally, broken and persecuted he bowed and recanted: “I reject my former heresy. I now declare and swear that the earth does not move around the sun.”
As he was led exhausted and trembling from the courtroom, he stopped. He straightened himself and shouted, “The earth does move!”
In that brief moment there was truth; and there was a symbol of all the great discoveries of humanity to come.
Then a final example: There was one German monk on trial for his criticisms of the corruption of the Church. Representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Bishop of Rome questioned him and accused him. Great nobles sat in judgment. At the end of his trial he was given an evening to ponder his future. The next morning they brought him before his judges, and ask him to recant. Martin Luther responded, “Here I stand. I can do no more.”
From this statement came a religious awakening that swept Europe and America and eventually the world.
This is how I see Palm Sunday. Certainly, it is not the most important event of our faith. I leave that for Easter.
Palm Sunday celebrates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. It begins his last week before He is crucified. In that event we may find the final outcome of God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The triumphal entry is a pattern or a forerunner of the final victory of God.
The palms of this day first call on me to remember that truth – Eternal Truth – was not with Governor Pilate and the Roman Empire and its power. It was not with Caiaphas and his priests and their corrupted justice. It was not with Judas and his expediency. The Eternal Truth was in the palms and the shouts of hosanna (God saves) and focused on Jesus.
This day comes again and again as a part of the year-long liturgical calendar. This constant enntering of Jesus reminds me that He needs to enter in triumph my life and our lives together.
That day of entry into Jerusalem by Jesus shook things up. I like to say that as Christians our job is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Jesus shook things up when He entered Jerusalem.
I know that we like to think that things would be better if those people could somehow be shaken awake – whoever those people may be. I know that we think that way, because I do.
But the thing is that I get comfortable in my patterns, in my habits, in my security, and even in my faith. Maybe the shaking up should start with me. Well, there’s no “maybe” about it.
Palm Sunday – that event long ago – is the key or the symbol of the way things shall finally be - a glimpse: Jesus Christ glorify, triumphant, at the center. That is where God is taking history. That is where God is taking your life and mine. That is where God is taking His creation. Palm Sunday is a defining glimpse. Easter shall come; Christ shall come again. Certainly in between the Day of Palms and Easter there was betrayal, arrest, accusations, the trial, the torture, the denial, and death. But finally there is Easter and the resurrection and victory.
We can experience the same power in our own lives. We can see the same truth that was proclaimed on the Day of Palms. There is nothing that confronts us – no grief, no barrier, no sin – but that shall be resolved. It shall be resolved in the spirit of Jesus Christ. The triumphant Christ will bring us the comfort, the solution, and the redemption.
We may try to find other answers, or other ways of filling the emptiness in us. We may try to evade answering the invitation of God in Christ; or we may say “no.” Whatever our response is to God’s offer to each of us in Christ in a sense does not matter. Jesus Christ shall be triumphant; and if we do not turn to Him, then we will not find what we need for life.
Let me pause here to say that your response and my response to God’s offer of love and life in Jesus Christ does matter to God. What I mean when I say “our response does not matter,” is that Jesus shall be triumphant whether I go with him or not. God’s invitation to you and to me is to be a part of the triumph – a part of God’s victory that is already won. Palm Sunday is a symbol – a glimpse, a taste of what is to come in the future – the victory of God in Jesus Christ. It is not a prediction, it is a guarantee – a defining moment that tells us that evil is finished.
Then the last thing I would share is that the palms remind me that our faith – our relationship with God through our faith in Jesus Christ – is an adventure. Palm Sunday is a fleeting vision of what can be, and what shall be. It is therefore a challenge to me to make the spirit of that day a reality in my life and in the lives around me.
Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was a great risk. Jesus knew the Temple authorities had decreed a death sentence for him. He knew his enemies were present in large numbers. He had no idea how the unpredictable crowd would receive Him. But here we find Him riding straightforward, publicly into Jerusalem – into the heart of where His opponents were.
Our faith is not a retreat. It is a frontal assault.
Jesus, when He was out in the provinces preaching, could be ignored by the authorities. Jesus in Galilee or Samaria was a small problem. But Jesus in Jerusalem in the middle of their affairs challenged their lives.
That is what speaks to me on this Day of Palms. Christianity is an adventure. There are hazards and risks. My faith does not call me to withdraw, or be silent, or even to get along. My faith calls me to confront, to shout, and even to disrupt. That is what Jesus did; and that is what those who followed Him also did on that day.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was a priest of the Church of England. During World War I he became a chaplain in the British Army. In 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.”
Returning from the war, he did not fit well in the various parishes to which he was sent, so he was allowed to take the message of Christ into factories and slums. He died in 1929 at the age of 47 from an illness he contracted in one of his many campaigns into the impoverished sections of English cities.
He wrote poetry – much of which was discounted by critics. One poem in particular stands out. It is about the crucifixion of Jesus (Good Friday), but it fits with what I have said about Palm Sunday:
And, sitting down, they watched Him there,
The soldiers did;
There, while they played with dice,
He made His Sacrifice,
And died upon the Cross to rid
God’s world of sin.
He was a gambler too, my Christ,
He took His life and threw
It for a world redeemed.
And ere His agony was done,
And before the westering sun went down,
Crowning that day with its crimson crown,
He knew that He had won.