Summary: Jesus enters Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey, symbol of humility and peace. Jesus as the true Messiah-King is different than all would-be Messiahs and Kings.
Palm/Passion Sunday Yr C, 20/03/2016
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Jesus the Messiah-King”
The first hymn that we sang today, “All glory, laud, and honour, to you, Redeemer King,” is a favourite one for Palm Sunday. Christians sing the hymn around the world on this day. There is an interesting story about the hymn’s origin.
The story—although it may be apocryphal—goes like this: On Palm Sunday a crowd had gathered in the ancient French city of Angers to see the annual procession of dignitaries headed by the king, Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, pass through the streets.
Their route went by the cloisters where Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, had been imprisoned and deprived of his bishopric for supposedly plotting. As the procession drew level with his cell it came to a halt, for a voice could be heard singing something that they had never heard before, “All glory, laud, and honour!”
The king listened, deeply moved, and when he discovered that the singer was the imprisoned Theodulf, he ordered his immediate release, and restoration as Bishop. Further, he commanded that the lovely hymn should be sung every year during the Palm Sunday processions.1 Most likely since then in many places around the world, this hymn has been sung every Palm Sunday. The hymn is often a favourite for processions both inside and outside churches on Palm Sunday as worshippers wave either their palm branches or palm crosses and remember that first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
Speaking of Jesus entering Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, it is rather ironic that this event is referred to as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Contrary to the story of Bishop Theodulf being released from prison and restored as Bishop, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, by human standards, was not a triumphant one but a failure, since it led to his cruel death on a cross on Good Friday.
Moreover, when a king entered a city in a triumphant way, he usually rode on a horse or in a chariot drawn by horses. There was likely much fanfare as trumpets were blown and all the rich and powerful folks, dressed in their finery, followed their king in the procession.
How different was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem! Jesus entered the holy city not riding on a horse to symbolize military power and victory. Rather, he came riding on a donkey, an animal that symbolized humility as well as peace. Yet, such an entrance into Jerusalem was viewed by God’s people as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” Many believed this prophecy referred to the coming of the Messiah when he would come and right all wrongs and bring justice and peace to God’s people. So when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on that donkey, many thought this was it, the Messiah had come to deliver them from Roman oppression.
Rather than all of the pomp of a military and political king with his entourage of the rich and famous—Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron valley and enters Jerusalem on a donkey with “the whole multitude of the disciples,” most of them likely not rich and famous. Yet this multitude of the disciples are filled with high hopes and expectations of what Jesus, as the Messiah would do for them and their nation. So they place their cloaks on the road, giving Jesus the best of what they have, as a gesture of welcome as their Messiah-King.
Then they begin to quote Psalm 118:26, one of the Hallel Psalms. Just as Psalm 23 is the Shepherd's Psalm, so Psalm 118 is the Conqueror's Psalm. It was shouted and sung by the crowd of Jerusalem when they welcomed back Simon Maccabeus after he had conquered Acra and wrestled it from Syrian dominion more than a hundred years before.2 The Psalm was part of the great festivals, like the Passover, reminding God’s people that God had been their deliverer in the past by freeing them from Egyptian slavery, and now God may very well deliver them again from the Romans.
However, as we know, the kind of deliverance that even this “multitude of the disciples” were expecting and hoping for did not materialize. Jesus was a different kind of Messiah-King than they had believed in, expected, and hoped for. As the events of Jesus’ last week on earth unfolded, even that multitude who welcomed him on Palm Sunday would no longer cry “Hosanna.” On Good Friday, sadly they would become a hostile mob, and cry “Crucify!”
Rather than gaining military and political victory and freedom for his people, Jesus gained spiritual victory and freedom for all people. So today as we journey into Holy Week, we focus on what Jesus had to endure for us all: denial, betrayal, a miscarriage of justice, arrest, beating, mocking, crucifixion, excruciating suffering, and finally death. All of this to win a different kind of victory and freedom for all people. A victory and freedom through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection of: forgiveness, communion with God, humble service and unconditional love. This victory is what we remember today on Palm Sunday, as we celebrate Jesus our Messiah-King. Jesus’ victory and freedom is one of peace and non-violence, love over hatred, and new, resurrection life through suffering and death. For that thanks be to God!