Easter is definitely the highlight of the church season but there is a sort of pre-party in Palm Sunday. Get excited! Sing Hosanna and wave the palms. Watch cute kids parade through the sanctuary. Yay Jesus!
We miss something important in the midst of the celebration.
The whole thing is misplaced ecstasy. The joyous welcome was a gross misunderstanding of what Jesus came to do. The crowd believed he would be their militant hero, leading a violent, political rebellion against the Roman occupation and oppression of Israel, restoring Israel to glory and power. This is what they want.
In the midst of this joyous welcome, we miss what is actually going on with Jesus. Scripture tells us that as he nears Jerusalem, he weeps, a stark contrast to the celebratory welcome described a verse or two earlier. He mourns their misunderstanding, lamenting:
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
There is such a contrast- the crowd rejoicing and welcoming Jesus as a hero and Jesus weeping over their misunderstanding, that they do not truly know him or why he has come, that they would rather make war than embrace peace.
Jesus weeps over their violent hearts and the violent results of sin. If they had only known the things that make for peace. Peace. Shalom is God’s heart for humanity.
What they had not known, but we have the privilege of knowing now is that Jesus came, not for violence and politics, but to submit to suffering in order to win freedom of a different kind, the freedom humanity desperately needed, but could not recognize their own need for it.
Jesus weeps because they do not recognize God in him. Jesus is the best revelation of God to the world. God in human flesh. God revealed in the way we could best understand and know him. But they did not recognize the presence of God among them, so consumed with violent thoughts and narrow focus on political power.
God is a relational creator. He created humanity in his own image (Genesis 1:27), with a relational capacity. He made us for relationship, with God and with one another. We have an innate need to be known. God created us to know him and to be known by him. It hurts when we are misunderstood and misrepresented by people who are supposed to know us. How must Jesus have felt- these people celebrating his coming, but misunderstanding his purpose?
We miss Jesus
What we are imitating in Palm Sunday, is not a celebration of Jesus, but a misunderstanding of who he is and what he came to do. We focus on the celebration and miss Jesus.
This reveals something about our human condition both then and now: We would rather cast Jesus into our own image, making him the hero and full supporter of our plans, our wars, our selfish purposes. We do this instead of humbly listening to his teachings of peace, repentance, and loving others, even when it is painful.
We cast Jesus into our own image- what we want and need him to be for our own purposes rather than doing the relational work of actually knowing him and allowing who he is to transform us. We drop his name into our conversations to back up our ideas and politics but do not take the time and make the effort to learn about him, be with him and to know him.
Jesus already knows us intimately, but do we know him? What he did on the cross made knowing him a true possibility for us, so sin no longer stands as an impassable barrier between us.
Instead of using him as a tool to get what we want, if we truly get to know Jesus, I believe we will never be the same again.