Palm Sunday, or, its full name, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, will be upon us next week. Crowds of people will go to church, mirroring the crowds in ancient times who greeted Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem. Sometimes a crowd comes together for a singular reason, for one need; sometimes a crowd represents the human heart, yearning for something more.
Preachers have long speculated about the crowds that greeted Jesus on his entrance into Jerusalem. They have emphasized their fickleness; they acclaimed Jesus on Sunday and shouted for his death on Friday. Implied in that is their malleability, how they could be played by their emotions or by their leaders. Preachers have also underscored the sheer excitement; here were people coming to greet their Messiah, who had finally arrived.
This kind of reflection might lead us to ask about the crowds that come to church on Palm Sunday. What do we suspect their motives are? What are our motives?
We might be tempted to judge much of the motivation of those who come on Palm Sunday as fairly base: “They are only coming for the palms. They are only coming out of emotion.” That judgment might even, in certain instances, be fair.
But the crowds might also signal something else: how deeply the story of the Passion of Jesus corresponds with their own hearts, and how much their hearts long for fulfillment and salvation, just like the Jews in Jesus’ time. The drama that happens between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and, one week later, his resurrection from the dead, involves every human heart, involves the meaning of humankind itself. People sense that something important is happening; it’s not just from ancient history but it touches their own hearts. People hear the story of the Passion and struggle to find their own place in it.
When it comes to the death of Jesus, perhaps we simply cannot ignor it. If the death of Jesus can grip even the rare church goer, then it still has the power to sweep the world.
How would you describe your feelings about Palm Sunday? What does the Passion story unlock in your own heart?
Think about Palm Sunday last year. Reflect on what this year has meant in terms of your own spiritual growth. Take inventory: what has changed since last Easter? What waits to be changed?
Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path.
(Psalm 139:1-2, 23-24)