The Resurrection of Jesus was greater, and our celebration of Easter is more important. But the first Easter was a very strange time for the disciples. There was great joy, but some of the disciples were afraid, often they didn’t understand, some didn’t even believe. The Day of Pentecost was a greater day, and a greater celebration, but the coming of the Holy Spirit was an awesome and unworldly time. It would have been hard to relate to for many people.
If we are looking for a “Riders win the Grey Cup” celebration, if we are looking for a “Raiders win the Memorial Cup” celebration – where we know what we want and it comes true here and now – then Palm Sunday might be the closest time in the Bible to that. The Passover was celebration enough. The people all came to Jerusalem and the population of the city swelled from about 55,000 to about 180,000. The city was crowded with pilgrims. And although the number of people involved in the Palm Sunday celebration would have been small compared to all the people in the city, people would have been watching and waiting for this demonstration on behalf of Jesus.
All through the gospels the people were wanting Jesus to step up and be recognized as King. They couldn’t wait for it to happen. Like Toronto and the Stanley Cup, they have waited a long time! And on Palm Sunday, Jesus finally allowed them to recognize him. The people wave palm branches, the sign of royalty. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, as Zechariah had foretold. They throw their cloaks on the road in front of him. If you think about what that means, you can see that if you put your coat in front of someone riding on a horse, you are offering what you have in his service. You are saying, what is mine is yours, and I will follow you with all that I have.
So there was joy, there was celebration, among his followers and the word must have gone out like wildfire across the city. “The prophet from Galilee is being recognized as the Messiah.” And Jesus allowed it and he took part in it. When the religious leaders criticized it all, he defended the celebration: “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ they were indignant, and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise/”” This was the celebration in the Bible that could have had a brass band! This was the celebration in the Bible where fireworks would have fit right in! Because this was the celebration that was most “here and now.” Not “sometime in the future”, not “in some different way than you had hoped”, but “Jesus is King. Let us celebrate and acclaim him King.”
And the lesson of Palm Sunday has to do with this joyful here and now celebration, and the poignancy of what is right around the corner. Nobody knows what is right around the corner except Jesus, but we know, and there is something for our minds and our hearts as we understand this. We know that between this wonderful exciting celebration and the greater, but less immediate joy of Easter and Pentecost, there lies the Cross.
When parents play with their children, they become like their children, don’t they. I was once out in the playground with our girls and another dad was there. And he said, “The great thing about being a parent is that you get to play again!” We become like our children because they need to be children. They need us to meet them where they are. They need excitement and play. For a father of girls that means accepting that they need Barbies and Barbie videos, and videos about little coloured horses and unicorns.
We had an older uncle once come over to visit from England and he wanted to visit with his two little nieces. So he asked them what they wanted to do. He didn’t just want to sit there asking them how they liked school and so on, he knew that he only had a little time to get to know them and for them to get to know him. Anyway, they said they wanted to play Barbies. So he took the role of Ken, and played Barbies with them for an hour or so.
We become like our children because we need to meet them where they are.
But it takes a long time before they can meet us where we are. We can’t wait to connect with them until they can be like us, so we have to be like them.
I think when Jesus rode on the donkey and allowed the shouts and the palms and the cloaks on the road, that was God meeting the people where they were. They may not have understood even most of who he was. He said, after all, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.” That doesn’t necessarily suggest that he thought the disciples fully knew what was happening. But they understood something! And he met them where they were and they rejoiced together. He met them where they were, but then he would lead them to where he was, and that way led through the Cross.
Palm Sunday is a wonderful celebration because it represents God meeting us where we are, and he does! The events of Holy Week and Easter and Pentecost are greater because in them God leads us to where he is.
If you think of it there is a key here to understanding Jesus himself. Imagine explaining the Christian faith to someone who didn’t know anything about it. You explain that God sent Jesus so that he could meet us where we are. We are human and in Jesus, God met us in our humanity, out of love. And this makes sense to the person you are talking to. Yes, God is meeting us where we are in Jesus. But then he asks a question. “Well, why did he go? If he came to meet us in a human being, why did that human being go away? Why didn’t he just stay with us somehow, and sort out our problems and be with us always?”
He went away so that he could lead us to where he is. And that is the hard part, of course. God meeting us where we are – great! We can celebrate that! God leading us to where he is – that involves a Cross, doesn’t it? It involves a great self-denial, that we would rather not face. What exactly that is may be different for each one of us. But perhaps for each one of us it is not that hard to see what is involved. The ordinary and obvious challenges of our lives are the way that God leads us to where he is.
So why this great celebration, when the storm clouds are already on the horizon? Because God does meet us where we are, even as he is leading us to where he is. He answers our prayers, even as he is leading us beyond what our prayers asked for. He calls us to open up our hearts and rejoice, and not to worry about what is to come. Palm Sunday tells us that it is worth it. Present joy is to be celebrated right now. If there are crosses to come, then we trust that God will lead us through them to a greater joy.
On Palm Sunday we celebrate with the disciples. “All glory, laud and honour, to thee redeemer King!” “Ride on, ride on in majesty!” “Hosanna, to the Son of David!”