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palm sunday

Every year, I find Holy Week comes with a flurry of activity, meetings and gatherings, without time to truly contemplate all that it means. As we move through this Easter season, I’ve worked to meditate and pray over the terrible, miraculous reality of Easter. My goal has been to write about the meaning of each day we mark during Holy Week, but I have continued to struggle to truly sink into a time of devotion and contemplation, to consider Easter itself more deeply.

Easter is a strange contradiction of both mourning Christ’s death and celebrating His resurrection from the grave. In this busy time, with so much demanding our attention of what is directly in front of us, it is hard to consider the true, terrible, miraculous realities of Easter. In writing about it, I hope to bring my heart closer to the centre of the season. As we enter Holy Week this year, my hope is to consider and write through the week, and welcome you to join me in this contemplation of God’s compassion, grace and redemption through the cross.

Today we mark Palm Sunday.

This is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, as foretold in Zechariah 9:9, “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.” Jesus was greeted by throngs of people, eager to throw their cloaks onto the road for his donkey to ride over, and cut down palm fronds to place on the road, and wave in celebration. Jesus appeared to be entering the city in triumph.

This is how it is told in Matthew 21:1-11:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Church services today often have an air of celebration, as we remember those that greeted Jesus with seemingly all their hearts.

But there is a bitter side to this celebration. Today we mark how the people surrounded Jesus, and sing as they did, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” But we also remember the fate of Jesus less than a week later, when the same crowd surrounded him again, trading palm fronds for swords, the cries of “Hosanna!” changing to shouts of “Crucify him!”

It is a day to remember the fickleness of human nature, a terrible potential inside all of us.

It is also a reminder of how our goals for this world can corrupt us.

Jesus had been traveling extensively for years, healing, praying, mentoring and preaching, collecting the twelve men who would become his disciples, the ones who answered his call to drop everything of their former lives and follow him. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people that surrounded him dreamt of an earthly ruler, a strong leader of the rebellion to cast off the oppressive hands of the Roman Empire and install himself as the new leader, a true, just king.

The people’s dreams turned to ash when Jesus soon revealed that the kingdom he spoke of wasn’t a kingdom on earth, but that he promised everlasting life in the next, true freedom from the shackles of sin, much more than earthly freedom. It was the promise he came to fulfill, but not the freedom they wished for. Within the week, one of his own disciples betrayed him to the authorities, another denied ever being a follower, and the rest ran away.

Are we so very different today?

Father God, let us remember today the fickleness of human nature, and work to examine ourselves for you, and find places where envy, anger, hate and pain continue to take root. Let us remember that we are human, and though we know we will always be imperfect, strive to be more sincere in our words, actions, and in our hearts. May we look to you for our inspiration and our motivations, and work to be your hands and feet in this world, even as we know that you have prepared our way to the next. In Christ’s name, Amen.