Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, the crowds hailed him as a King. They lined the streets and waved palm branches as he passed by. In ancient Palestine palm branches were symbols of nationalistic zeal. The crowds waving palms for Jesus were like you and me standing on the side of the road waving those little American flags during the 4th of July parade. The people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem thought they were welcoming a conquering king, a nationalist leader who had come to reclaim his rightful throne. After all, several hundred thousand pilgrims had descended on the city for the Passover, what better time to begin a revolution.
That is what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem but what matters is the larger context of how God transformed those events. The crowds wanted an earthly king, a national leader – God gave them the King of heaven and earth. The crowds wanted a messiah to defeat the Romans and bring back the kingdom of Israel. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to defeat sin and death and bring about the kingdom of God. The crowds wanted someone who was strong enough to fight their enemies. God gave them someone strong enough to love all enemies. The palm branches of Palm Sunday were transformed from symbols of nationalistic pride into symbols of self-sacrificing love.
Jesus could have fulfilled the desires of the crowds on Palm Sunday. He could have rallied the people to fight, called down a legion of angels, freed the people of Israel from Roman occupation and been crowned the most glorious of earthly rulers. He had the power. But instead, as Philip Yancey reminds us in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Jesus willingly went to the cross because he knew that “power, no matter how well intentioned, tends to cause suffering. While love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. And so, in a point of convergence on a hill called Golgotha, the Son of God gave up his life and renounced the one for the sake of the other.” Happy Palm Sunday!
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.