Palm Sunday can seem to be a little schizophrenic. If you grew up, like me, in a tradition that was very much opposed to observing the church year (save for Christmas and Easter), Palm Sunday was a bit of an abberation. Maybe we celebrated it a little bit because the kids looked really cute waving those palm branches around. I don’t know. I do know that the preacher’s sermons confused me.
Because the last thing we wanted to do on Easter morning was have a “downer” service, we’d cover all of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. That meant we’d start off with the triumphal entry (complete with a story about Jesus’ donkey for the kids) and end with the crucifixion. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!
While that may not have been the best emotional roller coaster to go on, Palm Sunday isn’t the easiest day to figure out. On the one hand, we celebrate the king coming into Jerusalem to take his rightful place on David’s throne. That’s certainly what many of the contemporary Jewish people thought was going on.[bibleblock]Matthew 21:9[/bibleblock]
Their cries of “Hosanna!” (which is an exclamation meaning “save!”) echo Psalm 118:25-26.[bibleblock]Psalm 118:25-26[/bibleblock]
And who is “he” who comes in the name of the Lord? The Davidic king. Who rides on donkeys? Kings and those in authority. (See the books of Judges and Samuel.)
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. A reference to the king, who led the armies in battle against the enemy. In the New Testament, the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusaleme with this cry, thinking him to be the new divine warrior. He would win the ultimate battle against Satan (Mt 21:9), but the people would fail to understand or acknowledge it.
Jesus was welcomed as king. We sing Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates. Behold, the King of Glory waits.” Jesus was welcomed as king but he came to do a very unkingly thing in their eyes (and in our eyes, if we’re honest). He came to die. That’s the other side of Palm Sunday. We celebrate Jesus’ entry but we know why he was entering.
Lest we lose hope, however, as somber as Holy Week may be, the story doesn’t end in death. That’s why though on Friday we grieve, on Palm Sunday (and Easter Sunday) we celebrate the king.
The Roman Mass uses the words of the Triumphal Entry in what is known as the Benedictus. Many composers have written settings of the Benedictus to be sung by Christians around the world to celebrate Jesus’ kingship. The words exist in some form in many of the liturgies of the church and are especially poignant to pray today.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
בָּר֣וּךְ ֭הַבָּא בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.