By Pastor David M. Choi
Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19
Today is Palm Sunday! This day not only launches us into Holy Week, but it commemorates that day when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in triumph. The gospels tell us that large crowds have gathered together, and that the people have lined up, to see their King and their long-awaited Messiah. All around, they are celebrating with shouts of joy and chants of “Hosanna!,” while laying down on the road their cloaks and leafy branches in order to ease the path of the King who now comes riding on a colt.
When we celebrate Palm Sunday in our churches, however, I think we often forget that there is a startling question hidden beneath this story. We assume that where the crowd is is where we want to be. We think, “If only I was there, I, too, would be joining along in their celebratory chants, while laying down cloaks and branches next to them!” But I’m not convinced that this was the intention of the gospel writers.
To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t commemorate Palm Sunday, nor observe the church’s traditions with respect to it. But what I am saying is perhaps we want to carefully rethink what it means for us to do so, because the question I think we’re being asked is this: Are you sure you want to be where the crowd is? Are you sure you want to join in what they’re doing?
Don’t forget that this crowd shouting “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday is the same crowd who hands Jesus over to Pilate on Good Friday, shouting “Crucify Him!”. Indeed, they were right to say that Jesus is the Blessed and the Son of David, but they were wrong in what they thought that meant.
They thought Jesus was the one who would restore Israel’s political power and might. They believed that Jesus was the King who would raise up armies, conquer Israel’s enemies, and rule the land from a throne of gold, while wearing crowns of fine jewels and precious stones. So, can you imagine how disappointed they were once they found out what sort of King Jesus truly was? Jesus says, “I am the King, but let me tell you what sort of King I am.”
I am not a King who rules from fortified palaces, but a King who rules from a rugged cross. I do not wear crowns of precious jewels, but the crown I wear is a crown of thorns. I do not sit on thrones made by human hands, but I sit at the rand hand of my Father who is in heaven. I have not come to conquer and destroy, but through humiliation and suffering I have come to show you what it means to forgive your enemies and to love your neighbors.
You think I’ve come to raise up armies, when, in fact, I have come to bring lost sinners to myself. I am not in the business of raising up soldiers, but I am in the business of raising up disciples. You think I will restore Israel through political might, when the truth is my kingdom is not of this world. I will restore Israel, yes, but I will restore her through the new community I am now establishing by the grace of my Spirit, and she shall be called my church. She is my bride. She is the apple of my eye. And in her, my Father’s kingdom will be established.
The crowd’s disappointment lies in the fact that unlike earthly kingdoms Jesus’ kingdom is not based on deception and death but rather truth and life. And during Palm Sunday, the question we’re being asked is “Where do we stand?”. Do you stand among the crowds who belong to the world? Or, do you stand among disciples who belong to Christ and His kingdom?
Indeed, when we commemorate Palm Sunday, we should not be so quick to think we already know where we stand. That is, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves in thinking that we also wouldn’t have been there, shouting along with them, “Crucify Him!”. This day should be an occasion for us to solemnly reflect on the nature of this humble King, who defies all of our intuitions of what it would mean for God to rule the world. For Christ rules not by making other people suffer, but by taking all of our suffering upon Himself. Not what really comes to mind when we think of a King.