Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the week that has Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in it. Lent, and especially Holy Week, is the season in the Church year in which Christians should give most solemn, sacred thoughts to the fundamentals of their religion. Germans often speak of this week as “Stille Woche,” silent, quiet, week. And there is, quite appropriately, a certain quiet solemnity about the services attached to this week compared to other times of the year. But on Palm Sunday, there is a note of majesty, or stately procession, of triumph, of victorious shouting, that seems to be out of order with later developments. It is because, rightly understood, the thoughts of this day go to the root of all things, where there can be no gloom, no pessimism; because in God’s plans there can be no defeat; Gethsemane and Calvary were only steps on the way to ultimate and total victory!
Jesus on his last visit to Jerusalem knew what was going to happen; he knew it in every detail; but he did not hesitate or turn back. Indeed we are told that moved ahead with an eagerness and resoluteness that made his disciples stand in awe of him. On what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus prepared to make his triumphal procession into the city of Jerusalem. He sent several of his disciples ahead of him to borrow a young donkey. Then the procession began. A crowd from Bethany followed him. Another group from Jerusalem met him on the way and followed him into Jerusalem. As they proceeded many joined the ever growing excited crowds.
In the ancient Middle East kings could enter a city in two ways. Horses were used for war, so if the king road on a horse, it usually meant trouble. If they came in peace, they would ride a donkey, a humble act. Jesus was sending two clear messages to the people of Jerusalem. The first was that he is a king, the second message is that his intentions were peaceful. The point was not lost on the religious leaders.
Jesus came down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron valley, to the east of the temple. It is a very steep descent. The road was a dirt path. The spring rains made the passage slippery. The people hailing Jesus placed branches and clothing on the road so that the footing was safe. John is the only gospel that mentions that the branches were from palm trees. Matthew and Mark only refer to “branches”. Luke leaves out the branches entirely and simply says that the people put their clothes on the road.
As they marched down the slope of Olivet the enthusiasm grew. In their exuberance the people took off their robes and spread them on the road. As the crowd moved along the way they broke into song, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”
What was the meaning of this procession? It was to fulfill the Scriptures. Hundreds of years ago the prophet Zechariah declared his message: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Mark reaffirms that message in the person of Jesus Christ. “Behold, your king comes to you.” He didn’t look like much of a king. He was not riding a chariot of war. No crown was placed on his head. He had no earthly royal residence. He did not eat the best of food. He was not wearing kingly clothes. But one must look beyond the obvious. This is the eternal Son of God who became man to carry out his plans to save the world from their sins. David, in the Old Testament, said in Psalm 24:7-8-9, “Lift up you heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this king of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle…Who is this king of glory? The Lord Almighty, he is the king of glory.” And Jesus was identified by his Father a few years before as the one whom has his power and authority when he said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
The days that followed Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem would be filled with highs and lows. Jesus knew as Holy Week progressed that the powers of good and evil would tangle in a life and death confrontation. Jesus would be in the centre of the action. In spite of the titanic struggle ahead Jesus would remember his disciples on Maundy Thursday with his holy supper. He would take them to Gethsemane where they would witness firsthand the struggle of the suffering Saviour. On the road to Calvary he would surrender himself to death.
All of this is done by Our Lord for forgiveness of our sins, and for life everlasting with Him.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).