With palm branches waving and people singing, we finally see Jesus granted the welcome he deserves. Passion Week begins and ends in exaltation, yet in between is a cornucopia of other emotions. We see Jesus overturn tables; people hanging on Christ’s every word; cloak-and-dagger deals made to kill the Messiah; proclamations made and prayers offered.
From our perspective today, Palm Sunday is just another milestone on the road to the Resurrection, but think about what it must have been like to be in that moment—the King you have waited and wished for is finally here! Here’s how the Gospel of Luke describes the “triumphal entry”:
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
I have to think that even if the stones were crying out in that moment, they would have gone unheard for the joyful song coming from the crowd.
It’s hard to throw ourselves into the celebratory spirit of Palm Sunday knowing Jesus will be crucified by the same hands that are here waving in adoration. Soon the sea of gratitude will become a a storm of mockery, and even Christ’s disciples will lose faith. But when we gloss over the exaltation of Palm Sunday, we miss a valuable part of the Easter story: the sense of expectation.
Palm Sunday is a vivid example of Jesus giving us not what we want, but what we need. The crowd wanted an earthly king, someone to free them from the oppression of the Romans. But Jesus’ ultimate goal was not freedom from sin, not from earthly governments. He came to bring life where there was none.
Palm Sunday remains a day of expectation, even if our expectations differ from those of the crowd that welcomed Jesus. Today, we are expectant of the glorious event at the end of the week, when Jesus returns as the King of Kings to bring forgiveness to all those who want it.
The image above is from the IMA and is titled Entry of Christ Into Jerusalem.