February 25, 2018
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, and it sets the tone as one of ultimate victory and joy. The service begins with celebration as we re-live the entrance of Jesus as a King into the city of Jerusalem, the historical capital of the kingdom of Israel.
This kind of entry into the city was well-known in the ancient world. Historically, the “Roman triumph” was awarded by the Roman Senate to generals and their armies who were returning from a decisive military victory. Roman emperors would stride into the city on horseback with a giant parade, dragging along the spoils of war. As the victory party rode into the city, the crowd would join the procession behind them on the way to the temple.
Jesus made an important statement to the people when he rode into the ancient city on a donkey colt, a symbolic animal of peace. Like an emperor returning victoriously from war, he was greeted by the crowds with shouts of triumph and joy and waving palm branches, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). Jesus’ triumphal entry declares to everyone that he is King and Lord and that he will be victorious in his mission to defeat sin and death once and for all.
Like the crowds in the Gospel accounts (Matt. 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-40), during the processional we are invited to worship Jesus in all his glory. We see Jesus for who he truly is: our King. As we wave our palm branches and walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem, we experience Jesus’ eternal victory.
The procession on this day holds special significance because it is the beginning of one liturgical movement that arcs through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Historically, the procession begins outside the church. The palms—an ancient symbol of triumph and victory—are blessed and then waved by the crowd as the cross and Gospel book pass by. The whole congregation joins the procession and enters the sanctuary together. (These palm branches are saved and later burned to be used as ashes on Ash Wednesday of the following year.)
When we arrive with Jesus in Jerusalem there is a dramatic shift. In the service, we hear the Passion reading—the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The same crowd that was worshiping Jesus now turns against him, calling for his death. Again, we see ourselves in the crowd, realizing our own sin of rejecting Jesus. In the grittiness and length of the Passion reading, we realize the depth of suffering that Jesus endured for us.
The prayers of Palm Sunday focus on Jesus’ suffering. We are called to imitate Jesus in his humility and to walk with him through his suffering and death. We do this so that we might also share in his resurrection and victory—a victory that we have had a glimpse of in this service. This invitation is not to be taken lightly. If, by faith, we embrace the call to share in Jesus’ suffering and allow the Lord to meet us, we will be changed. Whether this is your first or fiftieth journey through Holy Week, the Lord Jesus is calling you to walk this difficult and holy road with him.
Join us on Sunday, 3/25 at 8:30am or 10:30am for our celebration of Palm Sunday. Click here for full service details.
This post is Part 1 of our Peek into Holy Week blog series. Check out the full series to help you prepare to hear from God during Holy Week. Click here to read the next post about Maundy Thursday.