Written by Pastor Ed
What a day of celebration – it was and is. Today marks Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus mounted a donkey and rode into Jerusalem. And the crowds went wild, so to speak. Obviously there’s a lot in this story we don’t know – how big the crowd really was, who they were, etc. but it is clear from all the accounts of the Gospels that this was an event. One can imagine it may have started small, and then as they approached the city the crowd grew as people were drawn to see what was going on.
It was generally conquering kings who rode into the city like this, well maybe not quite like this. They were usually mounted on a great stallion, but still the scene is reminiscent of a victorious ruler returning from battle.
And the expectations were high. The shouts of the crowd are ones of victory and pleading. Hosanna! Save us, they shouted. And their references were to the conquering King David, the epitome of Old Testament kings whose legacy was well known. His was the kingdom that was to have no end. He was the great ruler of the people who had been called and blessed by God. Here was a new leader who could overthrow the ruling Romans and restore the kingdom of God here on earth.
No wonder people joined in the celebration. While there may have been many different motives and ideas of what this was all about, everyone loves a parade, and everyone wants to be on the winning side. And so we recall that day and sing our Hosannas as well.
Now, of course, we know the rest of the story, but for the people lining the street that day, this was a day full of promise and hope. The disciples must have been beside themselves with excitement – finally it seemed they would be able to quiet those who had ridiculed them for wandering off with this itinerant preacher. Finally they would come into places of prominence, just the thing they had been arguing about only the day before when the mother of James and John had come requesting places of prominence for her boys.
Jesus had given them some kind of strange answer, as he often did, and talked about being servants rather than rulers, but then he often talked like that. And now, with the crowds shouting and waving branches and spreading their cloaks on the ground, all that seemed like a distant conversation, probably forgotten in the excitement.
Yet, Matthew, who obviously also knows the rest of the story, gives us a hint that perhaps all is not as rosy as it seems, for he notes that “the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’” (21:10) And the crowds answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Which must have seemed strange to those who asked, for they all knew, as Nathaniel had known years before, that nothing good could come out of Galilee.
Yet, here they were, and here he was, a triumphal entry into Jerusalem amid the shouts of the crowd. It was a celebration of hope and expectation, heartfelt by all who participated.
Today, we too celebrate, not only in recognition of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but also at the new life among us in the persons of Tessa and Justin. Now I’m not suggesting that we expect either Justin or Tessa to be great rulers, although parents do often have lofty hopes for their children, but most of us are realistic enough to not aim quite that high. But we rejoice at each new birth, and we all, whether parents, family, or friends, all have high hopes for our children. We expect them to do well, to be healthy and live long lives, and maybe even to care for us in our old age – although that expectation probably doesn’t come until later.
But like the disciples and the crowds on that first Palm Sunday didn’t know what lay ahead of them, we don’t know what the future holds for our children. Again, I’m not suggesting that they will meet a cruel death, as Jesus did, but the truth is, we have no guarantees of what the future will hold.
I’m sure we all know stories, or have experiences of people who had a great future and perhaps even a celebration, a wedding, graduation, whatever, and then were gone shortly thereafter. Just this past week a congregation that I pastored in Nebraska, and that Ralph & Rita’s daughter Diane attends, experienced the sudden death of their pastor who had only been there a year, but had a stroke and died several days later.
Less dramatic, but sometimes no less painful are the broken expectations of peace and harmony within the family, or of children who have lost their way and entered into lives of crime or poverty. Whatever the case may be, celebrating life today is done in the face of an uncertain future.
Perhaps if we think in those terms, it is easier for us to understand the bewilderment and shock the disciples and crowds felt as their hopes were turned upside down and Jesus was arrested only days later. The range of emotions undoubtedly ranged from disappointment, to anger, to even rage at the lost expectations and hopes that people had of this prophet from Galilee.
This is the beginning of what we know as holy week; a time when the crowds and disciples will experience that whole range of emotions. Thankfully, for us, we know that the story doesn’t end on the cross, but that there is hope beyond Friday. And because of that, we can also celebrate the children in our midst, because we trust that the God who raised Jesus will walk with them and us in whatever lies ahead.
We know that whatever happens, we will have brothers and sisters to support us, and them in the days, months and years ahead. While there may be brokenness, we know that reconciliation is possible. And while there is death, we know that death is not the end but that life in Christ goes on.
And so we can celebrate, both Palm Sunday and new babies, even with an unknown future, because we are convinced that the future, any future, belongs to God and that we are in God’s hands. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!