I love to see little children waving palm branches as they enter the sanctuary on Palm Sunday. They are so happy, so innocent, so believing. As they walk in joyous abandon to the front of the church and lay their branches on the altar I’m reminded of that day so long ago when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
The week before Passover when Jesus entered Jerusalem the street was lined with people of a myriad of emotions. Some were jubilant because they thought this man riding on a donkey was finally going to take his place as King of the Jews and bring freedom from the oppressive Roman government. Some were simply jubilant just to be with Jesus, like the children, the disciples, hundreds who had heard this rabbi teach and seen him heal and restore life. There were the radicals looking for a chance to stir up trouble. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees who could not see the Truth and ignored the fact that their hatred of Jesus was anything but godly. Controlled by Satan, they had nothing but conniving and evil intentions in their hearts. The emotions of Jesus are overwhelming to contemplate. At the same time the crowd was shouting “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13) He was weeping over Jerusalem whom He would have gathered as chickens under her wings, “and ye would not.” (Matthew 23:37) Jesus knew what kind of a week was ahead of Him. Yet He was not wholly sorrowful that day. He took time to rejoice.
Sometimes the children sing “Hosanna” as they flock into our church on Palm Sunday. Good teachers have told them about the day Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, about how the people shouted and waved their palm branches, then laid them in the road for Jesus to ride over. Some even laid down their coats for the donkey to cross. A few times during the years we lived at “The Lane of Palms” we contributed palm branches for this festivity. It was a very happy thing to do, to be part of the celebration in that way and to see our own children waving branches.
Such a happy day Palm Sunday is! Yet it has a shadow over it. It is only a few days until Good Friday when we will remember sadly the torture and darkness and sorrow Jesus and His followers went through. Though the people on that day before Passover didn’t know what would happen that week, we do know what happened. We know that Jesus became sin for our sakes, that He fulfilled every prophesy of the Old Testament for the redeeming Messiah. We know He became a Man of Sorrows, not just for the disciples who loved Him, not just for the women who learned of Him, not just the little children singing His praises, but for us, for each and every one of us. He died for the soldiers who drove the nails in His hands and feet. He died for the priests who condemned Him. He died for Judas and Peter who betrayed and denied Him.
Our young Kaison viewing the film “The Son of God” (his choice to watch) asked sorrowfully, “Why were the people so mean? Why didn’t they understand who He was?”
We could only explain, “As so many people today, they simply did not believe.”
We love to celebrate. Palm Sunday is a happy, joyful day. The palm branches speak of life and joy and good things. But there is a shadow over the day. In a few short days we will be remembering Good Friday and the wrenching pain and sorrow of the cross. And then–on the third day–the most joyful, sacred celebration of all–Easter Sunday! We can pull out all the stops in praising Him on that day! The shadow of the cross will be overcome by the open, empty tomb!