At the church I grew up in, Palm Sunday was always an event to remember. Every year, those running the morning service would get the kids to dress up in the appropriate clothes from the costume box (complete with tea towels on heads), grab a palm frond from the gathered pile and march down the centre aisle crying out, “Hosanna, Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
It was great stuff. I must have seen it 20 years in a row. I never got tired of it.
And this is pretty much what we think about when we think of Palm Sunday. Jesus, on a donkey, riding into Jerusalem at Passover time, with crowds around him waving palm fronds and shouting about how he is the one who God has sent to save them. That he is the long-awaited Messiah. This event is often referred to as ‘The Triumphal Entry’ of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). It’s the occasion that marks the beginning of Passion Week, the week that leads up to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the most important event in the Christian calendar.
I like to think of this as ‘Palm Sunday – Part 1’.
And we often don’t get to ‘Palm Sunday – Part 2’… but this over-the-top, Messianic parade is not the only thing that Jesus gets up to on this first ‘Palm Sunday’ (Matthew 21:21-17).
When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he goes on to the temple. When he gets there, he finds that the temple courts, the part of the temple that has been set up for outsiders to engage with God, has been turned into a place to buy and sell temple sacrifices. The little space that outsiders have been given in the temple for worship is being denied them by those who run the place. Jesus makes a huge scene, overturning tables, scattering money and condemning those in charge for turning his house of prayer into a den for thieves.
The blind and the lame then come to the temple and Jesus heals them. The children start shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and those in charge of the temple try to get Jesus to stop them from doing that. But he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus encourages the children, saying to the religious leaders that their own scriptures tell them that God’s praises will come from the lips of children like these.
I tell you, Jesus is really asking for trouble here. This kind of stuff could get a person killed…
I’m not sure that the people who were shouting for Jesus to save them earlier in the day knew what kind of saviour God had sent them. Some say the hype from the earlier parade flowed from a deep, collective hope that Jesus might be some kind of warrior king who would unite them to fight off the occupying Roman force.
And while it doesn’t look like Jesus is going to be that kind of Messiah, it doesn’t mean he’s not a fighter.
When Jesus goes to the temple, he fights for the religious outsiders to have a space where they can engage with God. He fights for those who have been dealt a bad hand in this life so that they might experience the good things God wants for them. And he fights for the children to know that God is for them and for their chance to shout that hope out to the world.
Jesus fights for our good, and particularly for the good of those who are missing out in some way. He stands with us, pushing against the powers that seek to hold us back.
That’s what kind of Messiah Jesus is shaping up to be on this Palm Sunday, both Parts 1 & 2.
“God is saving us…!!!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…!!!”
PS – a challenge to the organisers of next year’s Palm Sunday services. Please keep the re-enactments of ‘Palm Sunday – Part 1’ coming, but I’d love to see someone do a re-enactment of ‘Palm Sunday – Part 2’.
That would be something…
About the author…
Steve has over 30 years experience in school, community and church-based youth work. He is currently working as the Training & Development Manager at SU QLD, overseeing teams that deliver training and produce resources for SU QLD staff and volunteers. He holds post-graduate qualifications in Social Work, Politics & Government, and Christian Studies.