Summary: This Palm Sunday, and every day, as we wave our leafy branches and worship our God and King, we have to remember who this really is. We can never forget just how very much he loves us, and we have to go out and love others in the same way.
Perhaps you have heard all the news lately about Queen Elizabeth’s “Diamond Jubilee.” This year marks the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth’s reign as the Queen of England. She ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952. The “Diamond Jubilee” is the international celebration throughout 2012 that marks this significant anniversary. The celebration has been in the news quite a lot lately as the Queen and other members of the royal family have been making special appearances throughout England and all the British Commonwealth of nations. All around the world special events and activities have been planned. In honor of the occasion, special funds have been created and designated for worthy causes that seek to improve the livelihood of people around the world. The Queen has paraded around London; Prince Harry has been greeted like a rock star in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries where he toured. And there’s more to come, events around the world all year long!
I don’t know your thoughts on the subject, but the whole thing strikes me as a bit odd. After all, England isn’t even really a monarchy anymore. They have a Prime Minister and a Parliament that rule the democratic nation, much like our own President and Congress. The modern monarchs of England really do quite little in governing the day-to-day affairs of their country. It seems that Elizabeth is really nothing more than a figure-head. It’s enough to make you scratch your head in wonder at this Diamond Jubilee. People around the world are celebrating this monarch who has reigned 60 years and yet has almost no power. You want to ask, “Do you understand?”
I think that was probably the same question that was running through Jesus’ mind as he entered Jerusalem on this day so many years ago. “Do you understand? Do you really understand who I am? Do you really know why I am here?” On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem during the Passover festival. From all around, Jewish people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the great Jewish stories of the past, stories of freedom and of hope. They would meet with relatives and friends. There would be singing, prayer, dancing, feasting. Spirits were high, outlooks bright. And it wasn’t just that the Jewish people were celebrating the stories of the past, they were also anticipating the great promised restoration of Israel. This was kingdom time: the time when Passover dreams, the great hope of freedom, would be revealed in a new way!
So with such a backdrop of celebration and anticipation, it is really no surprise that Jesus receives the welcome he does as he rides into Jerusalem. For years now, Jesus has been traveling among them. He’s been telling them of God’s coming kingdom, the promised restoration of Israel. He’s been sharing God’s love with them and talking about release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind. They’ve even seen him living that out; healing people, raising them from the dead, freeing so-called “criminals,” and feeding the hungry.
So, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he becomes the center of the show. It’s like the rock star making his way to the stage. People are shouting, ripping their clothes off, waving anything and everything they can find. It’s quite a welcome, isn’t it? A royal welcome, really. In fact, this was sort of a military procession into Jerusalem, a welcome reserved for conquering kings! The crowds throwing the their cloaks before Jesus and waving their leafy branches fully expected that in no time at all, Jesus, in a great feat of military strength, would overthrow the oppressive regimes and establish himself on the throne of David, restoring Israel’s glory.
They didn’t even seem to notice that he rode in on a colt, or a donkey, as the Greek could also be translated. This was no stallion, no great war horse. Whether young colt or donkey, the animal Jesus rode into Jerusalem was the same animal princes rode when they wished to signify peaceful intentions. Jesus wasn’t there to fight. Jesus had no intentions of pulling off some unlikely military feat. In fact, he knew it was just the opposite fate that awaited him. And has he rode into Jerusalem with crowds all around singing and shouting at him, he must have thought, “Don’t you understand?”
You see, in that first palm processional so many years ago, the crowds weren’t worshipping the real Jesus. They were worshipping an ideal, an image that they had in their minds. It wasn’t that they really loved Jesus; the crowds loved what they thought Jesus was there to do. The Gospel of Mark describes the infatuation that many people had with Jesus--as if he were a rock star.
Let’s think for a moment about just what that means. Can you think of all the rock stars you have “loved” in your lifetime? It all began with Elvis, then there were the Beatles. We’ve seen the rise and fall of Davey Jones and the Monkees, Michael Jackson, and most recently Whitney Houston. The New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys, who were once loved by girls worldwide, are now all but forgotten; teenagers today unaware that they ever even existed. The latest trend seems to be Justin Bieber, though I suspect he too will fall by the wayside. In fact, Mary Ellen’s declaration of love for Justin Bieber last summer and her excitement over possibly going to a Justin Bieber concert in Atlanta have more recently turned into declarations that “Justin Bieber is gross.”