Passover, 33 AD.
As someone who typically only gets to see my friends and family once every couple of years, I can picture in my mind so clearly the excitement that must have surrounded Passover each year for the nation of Israel. Family and friends are all getting to reunite together back in the same place. Covid isn’t a thing yet so they’re hugging everyone, singing the songs of Ascent, and remembering the Exodus stories told by grandparents while they walk up the hill together towards Jerusalem. It was Israel’s own version of spiritual formation and they were good at it.
On this particular Passover climb into Jerusalem, right before they got to the entrance of the town, their path merged with Jesus- THE Jesus. Everyone already knew who he was so I bet it felt exciting to be so close to him at such an important time. These Jews were a real group of people who were being so oppressed at this time and whose entire culture and identity and center of life had been overthrown by Rome. From both a political and a religious sense, they were waiting and hoping to be rescued by a new king that had been promised to come.
Expectation was always high for liberation to come, but especially so at festival time, and people had started to ask what everyone was already thinking –
Could this be the king like David who will crush the political leaders who hate us? Could this be the king who will save our people?
Could this be our Messiah, the One we’ve been waiting for?
…Could this be our King?
So on that day, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem quietly on a small untrained horse, something inside the hearts of the people there decided yes. Yes, finally. This is who they’ve been expecting to come! They all started taking off their coats and laying them on the ground as a sort of red carpet entrance for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. They grabbed palm leaves from the trees around them and started shouting from the desperate place of their oppression and hope for rescue- “Hosanna!”, “Hosanna!”
“God save us…God save us” is really what that word means.
And I’m sure this was such a thrilling moment for everyone there- and it’s a moment we still mark and celebrate in church today on Palm Sunday. And we should. But maybe not without checking our own hearts?
Because these Jews on Palm Sunday…man…they had it right for just a moment, but then they absolutely missed the entire thing the rest of the week. This IS their king. And he IS here to save them. But it isn’t going to look anything like they thought.
Just one week later, these same people who were crying out “Hosanna” and throwing down the red carpet for Jesus are the very same people who will mock his kingship and cry out “crucify him!”.
Why? Because they expected their king to reign in power, but instead he served for years in obscurity as a carpenter. They expected this new king to come in glory and might, but instead he rode into the festival that day on… a baby horse? They wanted their king to fight like all the kings they’d ever known, but instead he submitted himself to the brutality and shame of the cross. They wanted their king to crush the political powers of their day, but instead he gave himself over to be crushed by them.
Jesus didn’t act like the king they wanted. So they missed that he was the very King they needed.
And gosh, I’m afraid today we are still so much like them.
In our own hopes for flourishing here on earth, we miss him too. If we’re honest, so often we fail to give Jesus his rightful place as king in our lives because he isn’t operating in the ways we want him to or how we think he should. The world can be a really dark place and I sometimes find myself wishing that since he is king could he just show his power and intervene more clearly to prevent all this injustice and suffering and violence in the world? Jesus, if you’re really who you say you are, then shouldn’t it look more like ___?
But Jesus was there in Jerusalem that day to give the people exactly what they were asking for. That’s the irony. He had come to save them- his entire existence was about lovingly rescuing them at the cross- but his own people didn’t recognize what he was doing because it looked like weakness.
And today for you and me, He is our king too. He gave his life that week so even we could truly live. But his ways won’t always look the way we expect. And when that happens, will we cry out “Hosanna!” to other things to save us? Or can we trust that his upside-down, backwards way of living and serving and building his kingdom on earth together with him is good and right and worth following?
I don’t know about you, but I want to do better. Let’s learn from their Palm Sunday story together. Jesus is king.