It’s Monday morning. Thank you for starting it here, in a prayerful mood. And what a beautiful day! As we face forward we can see the end of our Lenten Journey approaching. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Holy Week. Good Friday and Easter follow. It will be a busy week, full of celebration and contemplation. Between now and then we pray that you will continue your daily prayer and Bible reading.
Almighty and Eternal Father, we welcome your Son as our King and Savior. We cry “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD.” On this Palm Sunday, we pray that you will illuminate your word and your will for us through the Scriptures, and so strengthen our faith. Give us the grace and the courage to follow you from life through death to resurrection, from light through darkness to the fullness of eternal light. Come Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. Hosanna in the highest heaven! Amen.
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
So they brought the (donkey) colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” Jesus replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly. We are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.” —Pope Francis I, in his first homily (14 March 2013).
PRAYER FOCUS: Hero to Zero
Palm Sunday is a crowd-pleaser.
We very much enjoy Palm Sunday. It is perhaps the only Christian holy day that remains undiminished by distractions like candy bunnies and colored eggs, or evergreen trees and commercialized greeting cards. And who could disagree with the liturgical procession of the cross, children skipping through the aisle waving palm fronds, the air of festivity and triumph? The Scripture readings of our Lord Jesus are all so positive—he’s entering Jerusalem to heal multitudes of broken people and finally straighten things out with the Jewish religious leaders. Almost everybody is happy. There is this pervasive sense of impending victory.
How interesting that Jesus rides into Jerusalem, not on a mighty war horse or holding the reins of a great big chariot, but on the back of a donkey. Nevertheless, the crowds went wild. Here, certainly, was the Messiah, the Son of David, the Promised One. At last. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
At this point, to the observers of Jesus, his life isn’t very different from the lives of other charismatic leaders. Some people are watching him out of curiosity (mostly the Romans), growing numbers follow him (although many with wrong reasons), others oppose everything he’s doing (Jewish religious leaders). A few know him well and have heard his expressed intentions (his Disciples), yet their minds can’t go to the place where this story has to end.
Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem to hear shouts of hosanna. Nor did he seek some previously unsought theological common ground with the Sadducees and Pharisees, or some political compromise with the Sanhedrin so they could all just get along. One of the first things Jesus did in Jerusalem was to raise his voice, grab a whip, turn over tables and violently drive out those who had sullied his Father’s Temple. Jesus came to Jerusalem not for the first part of the week, not for Palm Sunday. No, Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Cross.
Much of what happens next was predictable. Three years into a ministry of miracles and other demonstrations of supernatural power, Jesus had what you might call a regional reputation. The crowds simply adored him. Consequently the Romans were watching him. The Jewish religious leaders were, too, and they had already identified him as a threat. Jesus of Nazareth was the talk of Jerusalem. Everyone thought they knew what he was there for.
What amazes us is how quickly the crowds turned against him. Apparently, the distance from hero to zero can be covered in a matter of days.
We suppose it has ever been thus. In our modern time we turn on celebrities with the same mercurial malice. We do ourselves no favors by tearing down our heroes because they walk the earth with clay feet. But we do it anyway.
• A gifted young golfer who captures the imagination of the world. He seemed unstoppable, unbeatable. He married an elegant young wife; they had beautiful children. He lived a life that seemed perfect in every way, as expected. Suddenly, news about countless affairs and infidelity punctures the image of perfection. With dizzying speed, his fans and the media turn on him. In disgrace, the golfer becomes widely mocked.
• A photogenic young cyclist who races to victory time and time again, making headlines and history. He dominates his sport, as expected. He is cheered as well for beating cancer. He devotes his time to promoting the virtues of personal health and fighting disease. Then hard evidence emerges of his long-term use of performance enhancing drugs. The applause and cheers turn into jeers and jokes. The champion cyclist becomes the object of mockery and late-night TV skits.
We do not mean to suggest a comparison between any human sports figure and the Son of God. Rather, we use the illustration to underscore that our human nature today is no different from that of the people who lived in Jerusalem then. They looked at Jesus in terms of “What can he do for me?” The Romans sought a device to tighten their grip over politically restive Palestine. The Jewish religious leaders wanted to use him to extend their own power and to validate their pretense of righteousness. The Hebrew people wanted him to bring down biblical judgments upon their vile Roman oppressors and drive them out of Israel. Besides, isn’t this the guy who dispenses free health care and feeds thousands of people at one sitting?
Everybody held some expectation of Jesus that day. Only the Romans would remain undisappointed.
The frustrated Sanhedrin would sentence Jesus to death. The disciples would abandon their master and flee in terror. The same people who waved palm branches and sang “Hosanna to the Son of David” would soon shake their empty fists and shout, “Give us Barabbas.”
The events surrounding the last days of Jesus of Nazareth are some of the best documented in all of history. The four Gospel accounts of Scripture, the independent written accounts of Jewish historians and the Roman archives of Palestine all tell the same story through different eyes. We can effectively apply a modern historical standard to these ancient events.
• A popular young preacher with a message of restoration and redemption, with a reputation for supernatural feats and miracles of healing, rides into the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey and is greeted as a king. People lay their cloaks down in front of his path. They shout “Hosanna” (Aramaic for “save us”) and wave palm branches in the air. Expectations run sky high. After all, this is the man for whom the impossible is possible. Why, he was even seen walking on the water…
We celebrate Palm Sunday with open eyes. Because from this point forward, the majestic arc of Jesus’ life would bend sharply towards rejection and a humiliating, painful death on a Roman cross.
But on this day, our Lord and Savior rode among men, as a man, in triumph. On this day we gave him praise for his achievements, for his miracles and his teachings. On this day we accepted him. We gave him the cheers and applause he deserved. This day we gave him our acclaim and adoration, sang our hope and hosannas. This day was different.
This, dear friends, is Palm Sunday.
So let us pray that we are different from them. Please Lord, let us be different. Lord, save us, indeed.
It’s Monday Morning. Holy Week begins in a few days. Are we ready to greet the King of Kings?