What Palm Sunday is All About

Palm Sunday is March 29th this year. This is the day when many people have traditionally remembered what is called Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. If you grew up going to church or Sunday school, you probably remember the story of his disciples getting him a donkey, and Jesus riding it into the city with people spreading palm branches and even their clothes on the road ahead of him and shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Praise God in the highest Heaven.”

Jesus’ people, the Jews in ancient Palestine, expected a Messiah who would throw off oppressive Roman rule, and establish Israel as an unending earthly kingdom. Messiah means anointed, and this refers to impending kingship. In the past, this denoted God’s selection of a king, even though his reign might start later. (For example, Samuel anointed David king years before he took the throne of Israel.) In this sense, a person who is anointed king could be a little like a president elect who is not yet in office.

Throughout the last three years of his life, Jesus had said that the “Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God” was immanent or accessible. Because of the miracles, especially feeding and healing people, they were ready to try to make him king by force.

So they had a clear expectation of an immediate political change — maybe a war, but they didn’t understand that the nature of his kingdom was much bigger and much more profound. The kingdom Jesus started was not earthly.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry prefigures his second coming, when he will take his rightful place and when, “To [Him] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath,” and pain, sadness, suffering, and death, and opposition to him will cease. Even then it was as if all of creation began to resonate in expectancy. Even though his entry was on “the foal of a donkey” not on a king’s battle steed. Even though most of the people would be calling for his death in a few days, their praise expressed a real ecstasy of creation itself. Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem evoked such joy that, when told to silence people, he said, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.