An Acted Parable
The entrance into Jerusalem was an acted parable. It gave the faithful the sign they had been waiting for. It inaugurated the Master’s final mission to his people and was a fitting prelude to the days of intense activity and emotion which were to follow. It focused the whole city’s attention on Jesus, so that wherever he went during that closing week, crowds followed him, and his name was on every tongue.
And, not least important, it flung down the gauntlet to his enemies. It defied them. Much they could endure, but this procession through the streets was intolerable. This fanatic and usurper must be put down finally. Jesus in that tumultuous hour was issuing a challenge. Every token of royal honor which he accepted that day gave point to the challenge, and every hosanna of the crowd drove it home. Let the powers of evil do their worst; he knew his power. He was the Lord’s anointed. He was riding to the throne which God had given him. He was ready for the last campaign.
He is Coming: A Triumphal Entry
Just under 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see.
But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler.
At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reichssportfeld. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler.
Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?
And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey.
Stuart Strachan Jr. Sermon: “Witnessing to the Light”, June 2015. Source Material from Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Penguin Books, 2014.
If I Can Be the Donkey
Corrie ten Boom was once asked if it were difficult for her to remain humble. Her reply was simple. “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” She continued, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”
Mark Schaeufele, A Messiah Who Serves.
The Orthodox Program & Jesus’ Different Way
Judged in the light of any ordinary standards of regal splendor, military display, political campaigning, or effective advertising, it was a rather pathetic and anti-climactic affair. Jesus rode from Bethany upon a young ass, followed by his disciples, who were somewhat puzzled and anxious, and welcomed by a motley crowd of folk from the country districts who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover and were hoping to find in him the expected Messiah.
The procession started according to scheduled specifications, for there was a well-recognized prophecy that the Messianic King would come in such guise;
Tell ye the daughter of Zion,
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee,
Meek, and riding upon an ass,
And upon a colt the foal of an ass.
But it failed to end in Messianic style, for Jesus did not leap to the pinnacle of the temple, rend the clouds of heaven, summon a vast army of angels and archangels, expel the Romans from power, and compel them to bow their faces to the earth before his throne and acknowledge him to be sovereign.
That was the orthodox program. That was what the Messiah was expected to do. Jesus did none of these things. He wept as he came in sight of the city, and prophesied its coming destruction. When he reached the temple, he “looked round about upon all things,” the record says, and then returned to Bethany. The crowd melted away. It was a tame ending to their extravagant hopes.
The Trojan Horse of the Church Year
Palm Sunday is the Trojan horse of the church year. You remember the story from Greek mythology: a huge, splendid wooden horse was accepted by the Trojans as a present from the Greeks (so it really ought to be called the Greek horse, but never mind). The horse was wheeled in through the walls of the city of Troy. In the night, Greek soldiers hidden in the horse slipped out and admitted the Greek army, who proceeded to sack the city.
Palm Sunday is a little bit like that. My grandchildren say it’s their favorite Sunday of the year, but when pressed to say why, they say they like the palms and especially the palm crosses that their father makes for them. It’s really a set-up. What we do is, we lure you in here with palm-waving and festivity, but we have smuggled in the Passion narrative and you have found yourselves shouting “Crucify him!”
On this day, the ancient liturgy of the Church brings us to Jerusalem to participate in an atrocity. Thus the proper name for this day is not Palm Sunday, but Passion Sunday. Today in Jerusalem a crime is committed, and we are the perpetrators.
Two Triumphal Entries
Palm Sunday is the occasion on the Christian calendar when we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem. The concept of a triumph requires some explanation, because it’s foreign to modern believers. A triumph was a ceremonial and celebratory procession through the streets of a city. When the Romans wanted to celebrate their latest conquest, they celebrated with a triumph. In fact, in 70 CE the Roman general
Titus destroyed the very city into which Jesus entered that first Palm Sunday. Titus’s triumph, with the spoils from the Jerusalem temple, is depicted on a monument that remains in Rome to this day. That first Palm Sunday, Jesus wasn’t the only person leading a procession into Jerusalem. There was another one coming from the opposite side of the city.
Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem from his home in Caesarea. His procession was in the Roman style—complete with a terrifying display of Rome’s military might. Pilate was perched atop a majestic stallion, and he had all the trappings of Roman wealth and prestige. His procession was a proclamation of his and Rome’s superiority. And it came with an undeniable message directed to the pilgrims who had gathered in the city from near and far for the Passover festivities: “Keep the peace, or we will control you by force!”
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Palm Sunday. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!