The familiar Palm Sunday account tells us of how Jesus and his disciples approach Jerusalem via Bethany and Bethpage at the Mount of Olives. There, two disciples are sent to bring Christ a colt which no one has ever ridden. They do as he says, and Jesus sits on the colt and rides towards Jerusalem. As he travels along, the gospel of Mark tells us – “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11: 8-10)
And so Jesus enters Jerusalem.
Each Palm Sunday, we celebrate this triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. And so we should. After all, He was on the journey that God had set for Him, towards the cross for our salvation – to die for us all. As such, in that sense, it was a joyous entry into Jerusalem. However, there is the awful, sad and bleak side of it that we don’t often meditate enough upon on Palm Sunday.
“He was on the journey that God had set for Him, towards the cross for our salvation – to die for us all”
Luke’s gospel account of Palm Sunday alerts us to this bleak side of things. In Luke 19, the gospel writer starts his account in a similar way as Mark, but he goes on in verses 41-45 to say – “As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
From Jesus’ perspective, Palm Sunday was a painful and sad day. He wept! Not only did he know the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem – betrayal, rejection, torture, having to bear the sins of the world on his shoulders, crucifixion and death – but he also knew the sorry fate that awaited his beloved Jerusalem. From the verses in Luke, we see that Jesus foresaw the downfall of Jerusalem. True enough, in AD 70; the Roman army captured the city of Jerusalem. The siege of Jerusalem lasted for about 5 months, whereby the Romans encircled the city to cut off supplies to the city completely intending to drive the Jews to starvation. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus estimates that a million Jews were killed or captured and the temple destroyed. Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled completely.
Thus, Jesus knew the catastrophes lying ahead of Palm Sunday – the imminent one to him personally, and the one that would follow just 40 years later to Jerusalem. Surely He wasn’t in a celebratory frame of mind as he approached Jerusalem on his colt. Yet – he set his face towards Jerusalem as the crowds rejoiced and cheered him on.
Perhaps then, Palm Sunday should be commemorated not just with celebration, the waving of palms and the shouts of “Hosanna!” but also with tears and sorrow as we take some time to reflect and contemplate on how Christ must have felt on that day as he put on a brave (and possibly cheerful face) as he faced the jubilant crowds on the road to Jerusalem.
This account also brings to mind the many times we put on a brave face and head out to face the world, when inwardly, we are tired, broken and in despair, or afraid and shaken to the core. It is comforting to realise that Jesus knows exactly what this feels like. He is not a mere bystander, observing our struggles. He understands, he comes up and stands right beside us and walks with us along the way, giving us the strength and comfort we need along the way. Palm Sunday is a reminder that the Christ whom we worship is close at hand, and never leaves us to fend for ourselves.
“Palm Sunday is a reminder that the Christ whom we worship is close at hand, and never leaves us to fend for ourselves”
Finally, Palm Sunday should also serve as a reminder to us that many people we come into contact with daily may also be struggling. Despite their calm exteriors and cheerful demeanor, who knows what fears lurk beneath. As Christ is our comfort and our help, may we seek wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit so that we become aware of and sensitive to sufferings of others in order that we may be a comfort and help to them.