Palm Sunday, and all of Holy Week, is packed to the brim with Old Testament predictions coming to fruition. Jesus’ entire life and message can be seen as a fulfillment of what the Jewish people were waiting for. Christ comes to fulfill the promises God had given to the chosen people, while also taking those promises to the maximum. Understanding these prophecies which stretch back thousands of years will only solidify further the unprecedented nature of Christ’s words and actions during his final days.
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” These are the words that welcome Jesus into Jerusalem as he rides in on a donkey. The word “hosanna” was used in ancient times on highly specific occasions. The words come from Psalm 118 which would be sung as pilgrims entered Jerusalem. During Jesus’ lifetime, they were specifically connected to the coming of the Messiah, the chosen one of God sent to set Israel free. The “one” who comes in the name of the Lord, will act for God and bring order back to a broken world.
Some important details regarding Jesus’ entry into the holy city can easily go unnoticed. The donkey that Jesus sends his disciples to retrieve for him is “tethered” when they find him. Genesis 49:11 states that the one who rides on the donkey, who will be tied up or tethered, will be the man who wins the obedience of the peoples. Zechariah 9:9 promises the city of Jerusalem that their king will arrive mounted on a donkey. Mounting or picking one up to put on the donkey was a tradition involved in the installation of a king since Solomon replaced David. The spreading out of garments, here palm branches, was also a sign of kingship which was prevalent for generations prior to Christ. All of these details would have been known to the common Jewish observer two thousand years ago. The entire scene screams out that this man is the promised king.
Jesus enters his place of suffering riding on a donkey. Donkey’s were known to be royal animals and kings had the right to requisition animals of strangers as modes of transportation. Around Jesus’ time, the horse was replacing the donkey as the royal animal because of its power and strength. Jesus, however, chooses to use the animal of kingship that evokes peace and meekness. His power as king comes from something other than force and worldly power. Christ will be a king who sacrifices, lays down his life and pours out his blood. To most people, and definitely to our world today, Jesus may be seen as a man who in the end lost. He was a good teacher and a great miracle worker, but the powers of his time were able to trap him and execute him: they silenced him.
For weeks now, all nonessential businesses have been ordered to shut down. Churches are closed and Christians are prohibited from attending worship services during the holiest week of the year. Some are using the spread of the coronavirus as further evidence for the irrelevancy of the divine and as more proof to recite a call for atheism. If there is a God, he knows what is going on and is deciding to do nothing about it. If he is real, he is powerless and irrelevant, but if we look closer into Palm Sunday we will see what true power is.
Jesus’ choice to ride a donkey was on purpose: his power was not that of warriors, armies, and human force. His strength came from his Father; his glory would be shown in the most selfless, sacrificial, and sacred act known to man. The crowd present on that first Palm Sunday were the ones following Jesus throughout Galilee. They were the ones who listened to his preaching and witnessed his miracles. However, they all disappear when the Pharisees, high priests and others arrest Christ and put him on trial. Going into Holy Week, let us ask for the strength to be in the crowd from Palm Sunday and stay with Jesus during his tremendous hardship knowing that he is with us in our own suffering.
Palm Sunday makes things crystal clear: Jesus is the king who was predicted by the Hebrew Scriptures and the one who would set things right. He rides on a royal animal and he is showered with a song of welcome and victory. Even though he is going to be arrested, beaten, and killed the proper way for him to enter Jerusalem is to be showered with victory. With Palm Sunday Holy Week begins, and this week shows us that even when it seems like all is lost and that God is defeated, God always wins in the end. Christ has to go through Jerusalem and suffer, but before all of that happens we must have the empty tomb in mind and remember: he has already won.