Making an Entrance -- A Palm Sunday Meditation
11 When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task,2 saying to them, “ Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’ ”
4 They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. 5 Some people standing around said to them, “ What are you doing, untying the colt? ” 6 They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. 9 Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “ Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! y10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest! ” 11Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:1-11 CEB)
Nearly two millenniums ago, as told to us by the Gospels, a king rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey or a colt (Mark has colt). Now, not everyone recognized this man to be a king, and many who did proclaim him king misunderstood the nature of his kingdom. Still, it is the confession of the Christian faith that here was Israel's king. This king rode into town in the company of other pilgrims gathering for Passover week, and as these pilgrims arrived, those who preceded them stood along the roadside and welcomed them with great shouts, while waving branches. This was a festive occasion for everyone involved, but this time someone special was in the parade of pilgrims.
As this man rode down the road from the Mount of the Olives, some people in the crowd may have recognized him. Wasn't he the teacher from Galilee? Haven't we seen him do marvelous things, like healing the lame and restoring sight to the blind? Weren't we there when he fed a great crowd with just a few loaves of bread and some fish? Some of them may have asked: Doesn't that colt he is riding have some significance? Isn't the messiah supposed to ride into town on a colt that has never been ridden? Soon people began to cut leafy branches from the fields and lay them in the path of the colt. Others took off their cloaks and laid them in the path. Then the people began to shout words of praise to the one riding on the colt. They shouted: "Hosanna in the Highest" and "Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord."
What started as a simple welcome for the gathering pilgrims took on a new purpose. Now they were welcoming a king into their midst, and their joy exploded into adoration of their deliverer. But this celebration occurred outside the gates of the city. Things would change as Jesus walked through the gates and headed toward the Temple. The crowd remained outside, and Jesus went on to face an empty, silent, even hostile place. By the time he arrived in the city it had grown late in the afternoon and the Temple precincts had grown quiet. No throng awaited him, so after looking around at the Temple, returned to Bethany with his disciples. After all the excitement of the first ten verses of Mark 11, verse 11 stands out like a deflated balloon. It is as if someone sucked all the air out of a ball. We are left wondering what will happen next. Is it all over, won't there be more? When will the sequel come out? After all the hype, you expect something more to happen.
The sequel did appear, but it wasn't what everyone expected. The way to victory didn't come easily, and what started as a day of victory gave way to the severe trials of the coming days. Jesus' opponents wouldn't let things get out of their control that easily.
When Jesus returned to the city the next morning, he marched into the Temple and accused the religious leaders of turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers and he began turning over the tables and cages of the merchants and drove them out of the Temple area. This was no Jesus meek and mild, this was a Jesus who displayed his anger at the way the people had perverted God's Temple. In Mark 13 Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple, finishing the judgment begun here. After that the chief priests and scribes began to look for a way to kill him since "they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching." (Mk 11:12-18). The coming days would be filled with tension as Jesus pressed his case against the status quo, and the upholders of the status quo questioned in turn his authority. Confrontation was inevitable, there was no turning back now.
This mood of triumph and confrontation is also found in the designated reading from the Psalms. There is a parallel between the events of Jesus' final week and those described in Psalm 118, for the Psalm declares the steadfast nature of God's love and the certainty of God's victory and triumph. The people take from it the words of adoration given to Jesus as he enters the city. Yet in spite of the profound sense of victory that pervades this Psalm, there is also a shadow here, a counter-voice that reminds us that success does not come without suffering and pain.
This Psalm is quite complex, filled with multiple voices and concerns; it has at least two moods, one of jubilation at the coming of the king and a second one full of foreboding. In this one Psalm we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday to Easter. The triumph is short-lived -- conflict comes quickly, but God's steadfast love will endure forever!