Day 1: Palm Sunday
By Father Brooks Keith, April 9, 2017
Here we go, plunging into the Great Week! Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry makes the fascinating point that while the Roman Procurator of Judea, one Pontius Pilate, is entering Jerusalem with a phalanx of Roman legionnaires to take up residence in the Antonia Fortress overlooking the Second Temple complex, a very different monarch approaches Jerusalem from the other side of the city. Pilate, with the prestige, power and potency of imperial privilege. Pilate, the personal representative of the most powerful man on the planet. Pilate, hoping to distinguish himself in Roman foreign service by successfully pacifying one of the most contentious Roman provinces before returning in triumph to Italy for higher service to the Emperor. Pilate, charged with keeping the lid on Jerusalem during one of the Jewish pilgrimage festivals, Passover, during which hundreds or perhaps thousands of Jews clog their capital to celebrate their festival of deliverance and liberation from oppression under Pharaoh. And all under the watchful gaze of Roman hegemony!
And Jesus, arriving from Bethany around the back side of the Mount of Olives. The gospels’ aggregate picture proffer a man with no official governance whatsoever. He rides either a young colt or a donkey in humble profile. He dresses like just another local rural Jew from the northern agricultural region surrounding the Sea of Galilee. He is so mysterious that urban Jerusalemites ask each other in astonishment, “Who is this man?” And evidently, either Jesus or His disciples are so magnetic and compelling that the crowd takes up chants of praise and victory while they fling their prized garments upon the dusty, rocky road so Jesus’ mount walks over them. Others have no clothes to throw so they strip branches and palms from the trees lining the road, to wave them as they too are caught up in this mob-procession into town. What they scream in delight is treason to their Roman overlords, but they are so overcome they don’t even care. “Blessed is He who comes in God’s own Name!” “Hosanna to a true Son of David!”
And Jesus rejoices until His mount crests the top of Olivet, the Mount of Olives, and the panorama of Israel’s greatest city expands before His eyes for the first time since He saw it as a boy. In that moment He weeps, overcome by both past tragedy and future calamity; Jesus accurately predicts the complete genocidal destruction of the city in this triumphal moment, which occurred exactly as He foresees some 4 decades later. Jesus, the true Jewish monarch through His father’s Joseph ancestry as the blood Davidic heir. Jesus, who must know these same Jerusalemites welcoming Him today will call for His crucifixion in just a few days hence. Jesus, whose identity as both the Messiah Savior and Son of God will be revealed and fulfilled through the coming Passion He alone will bear. Jesus, holding no formal earthly governance but incarnating divine authority over heaven and earth in all of God’s fullness. Two different pictures of visitors to Jerusalem indeed.
Despite the gospels’ rather empathetic portrayal of Pilate, history records his reign over Judea was marked by ridiculous cruelty and needless malice; he will be removed from power by Caesar after a delegation of influential Jews travel to Rome to complain about his heavy-handed and brutal governance. Pilate sails from the Holy Land, not knowing he will be forever reviled worldwide as the authority who executed God’s Son in the most vicious manner possible. Jesus travels straight to the Temple, driving out the moneychangers and animal sacrifice retailers to teach day by day in plain sight of all. From this moment we march towards the culmination of Jesus’ life mission, and indeed the crescendo of God’s action from creation itself to the foot of the cross: To save us, redeem us, bless us, and claim us as His own for all eternity.
As I ponder Palm Sunday, I wonder when I was this exercised, this excited, this passionate over Jesus’ arrival in my life? When was I willing to literally fling from my grasp the very things most precious to me so that Jesus could, literally, walk over them as I worship Him? When did I see Jesus laugh, celebrate wildly, weep openly, or become so enraged He overturned the obstacles in my life like those moneychangers’ tables? How often to claim to follow Jesus but actually act like and emulate Pilate instead? Can I begin to comprehend Jesus’ utter authority over my life, exercised not in dominance but rather in complete humility? Our Great Week begins.