12The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” 14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

Imagine what the triumphant entry into Jerusalem must have been like for Jesus’ disciples, remembering that they did not know all that would unfold later in the week.

Jesus, of course, told them what to expect. Three times he said plainly, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” Even so, I suspect they didn’t understand, not fully, the horror they would witness. Especially, in light of the response to Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem. Everything seemed to be going so well as they entered the city. The King is Coming!

Jesus told two of the disciples to get a donkey with only the words “the Lord needs it” as deposit, payment and collateral. And so it happened. The crowd swelled and with it shouts of praise. How heady to be a part of such exaltation and reverence. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with Jesus on this day? Would it have been akin to riding in the parade with a returning war hero or the championship sports team or the newly elected president? Power and status, praise and triumph — yes, I am with Jesus today of all days. The King is Coming!

Imagine how it felt to be Jesus’ closest friends and followers when the world bowed at his feet, threw cloaks in his path, and sang of his greatness. Do you Recognize this kind of victorious faith and do you worry too often we contemporary Christians stop at Palm Sunday and neglect to keep following or forget what happens later in the week. Palm Sunday praises devoid of the passion make for a hollow, dangerous religion. When we fail to keep following Jesus the next day and the next and the next, all the way to the cross, we envision a Christianity synonymous with winning, rather than a faith that requires vulnerable love and sacrifice. The King is Coming!

And yet, I don’t want to skip over the joy and glory of this Sunday. In the face of far too much violence and too many shouts of hate, I want to dwell in the beauty of unstoppable proclamations: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” I want to bask in the truth of these words, the power of speaking them even after Jesus’ declaration of the suffering and death to come, the audacity of ignoring the Pharisees’ rebuke and instead declaring the reign of the Lord despite the current rule of sinister worldly powers. The King is Coming!

This year, Palm Sunday feels more like a protest march than a triumphant parade, a witness to the courage of the crowds to worship the One who knows their worth right in front of those who want to keep them quiet, a prophetic display of the relentless rule of God that destroys death, refuses to be silenced, raises up the least, recovers the lost and saves sinners. Palm Sunday proclaims Jesus’ certain triumph, his ultimate rule over heaven and earth, and the great reversal that he promised in his inaugural sermon at his home synagogue in Nazareth. Palm Sunday is not about Christians aligning themselves with power and status, praise and esteem, it is about joyously standing with the One who stands with those on the margins, recognizing that we are the sinners he sought and saved and refusing to be silenced by the Pharisees or any other earthly power attempting to maintain the oppressive status quo. The King is Coming!

It must have been a heady day for the disciples: people shouting their approval, the road lined with cloaks, a day of victory after leaving all they knew and enduring hardship and wondering some days if it wouldn’t have been easier if they’d stuck with fishing or tax collecting. The disciples might have questioned Jesus’ thrice-repeated warning about suffering and humiliation and death on that day of glory and praise. But maybe, just maybe, they recognized that this triumphant entry foreshadowed the promised resurrection. Perhaps they understood the courage required to proclaim the lordship of Jesus on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday and certainly after the Risen Christ sends them to the ends of the earth. Maybe, on difficult days after Jesus ascended and the Spirit came rushing down, the disciples looked back on this Sunday and remembered that even if every person remained mute about the reign of the Lord, the stones would cry out because nothing, no one, can prevent the triumphant, life-saving, evil-defying, death-crushing power of the Triune God. The King is Coming!

Contemporary Christians need to remember Palm Sunday not as a victory parade for the powerful, but as a protest march of the least of these where Jesus is recognized as Lord of all. The King is Coming!

This week ponder Jill Duffield’s questions:

  1.  Can you imagine what it would have been like to be among Jesus’ disciples on Palm Sunday? What would it have felt like?
  2.  What does Jesus ask you to give because he has need of it?
  3.  Note where you find “cloaks” elsewhere in Luke. What is the significance of the crowd throwing their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus?
  4.  Is there a tendency for us to go from “glory to glory,” Palm Sunday to Easter, without stopping on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday or Holy Saturday?
  5.  When have you unabashedly praised God? Do you find yourself holding back your thanks and praise? If so, why?
  6.  Is it important to be present to beauty and glory even though much ugliness and pain simultaneously exists?

The King is Coming!

Commentary provided by Jill Duffield, Scott L. Barton, Andrew Prior, Suzanne Guthrie and David Lose