Friday, April 15, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflection!

I had an 'Aha!' moment, though explaining it so far has been difficult.

I have been reflecting on the problem of the Palm Sunday. The commemoration of Jesus riding into Jerusalem so many years ago. I know a ton of facts about the event: that the Jews would have been singing the Hallel Psalms on their way up to the Passover Feast, that Jesus was making a ton of statements with his donkey, the symbolism of the Palms especially in connection with the Maccabees, Jesus as the Solomonic figure (but better) (Witherington, Commentary on Matthew), etc... There was still one problem that plagued me.

We as Christians have used the praise of the people to symbolize our praise of the risen Lord. We have celebrated with them, as it seems. My problem is that those people didn't understand Jesus and his message. They thought he was making a move for the throne, or a land grab, or some other geo-political action. "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee" the crowds said. A prophet in the middle of the huge crowd spelled trouble.

But Jesus doesn't ride in victorious in the way the people wanted. He isn't some sort of fulfillment of a Maccabean revolution. He isn't some King with a fixed, earthly Kingdom. This whole thing doesn't seem Triumphal at all.

Adding all the more to the confusion, the crowd in Jerusalem, not 4 days later, called for Jesus execution on the cross. Peter denies, Judas betrays, the disciples sleep and Jesus is left alone, holding the cup.

The whole scene didn't add up. Why do we as Christians, who understand a whole lot more of Jesus' mission, use the praise of a people who had all the wrong motives, as our celebration? Two things made me stay with the problem: (1) Jesus never rode anything in the Gospel's before (which is interesting in it's own right about Jesus not placing himself over others) and (2) in the Lukan account, Jesus is specifically ordered by the pharisees to have the praise stopped and he says one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture, condoning the actions of the worship; even of a people who terribly misunderstood him.


Why would Jesus accept their praise? Why does he allow them to worship under false pretenses? Why does he reinforce a negative stereotype (of the messiah)? YET, obviously something more is going on here. He is obviously meaning something with the colt/donkey/ riding into the city.


And then God gave it to me as if I had always had it. As if it were plain as day. Obviously Jesus is a King with a Kingdom and his resurrection firmly establishes it. I see the connection to the resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but God opened up Palm Sunday to me in Jesus' death.


It is through the Cross that Jesus is victorious, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2). It is through the cross that Jesus defeats death, sin, the yoke. The passover psalms become his psalms. He, the passover lamb, whose blood would be spilled so that the people could live; victory.

Yes, Jesus is King and has his Kingdom. Yes, the people's misunderstandings still are present in the text. But we assume their praise this day for they understood Jesus as the way to victory. They desired it, we live it. They saw it coming, we breathe it constantly. This King who rides in victoriously, dies a rebel's execution, and that's the good news, "we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Romans 5).

May you find victory in the cross. May you see Jesus triumphant over death, holding the keys of Hades. May your shame, guilt, sin, depression, arguments, competitiveness be nailed to the cross. And may you embrace the cross, always seeing it as the greatest way of being triumphant over all things.

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