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Palm Sunday: Reception of a King

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On 10 March we celebrate Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday and the day which sees the commencement of Holy Week. The jubilant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem marks the high point of his earthly ministry.

On this important day, the Catholic Liturgy is like an overture for all of the week ahead, a week in which the joy of Christ’s reception will be overturned by his arrest and sentence to death. The shadow of the cross is looming even as Jesus enters the city in triumph.

At the beginning of the Mass the palms are blessed, and a short Gospel is read describing Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem riding on a donkey. During the Mass the Passion Narrative is read, often in three parts.

They Did not Understand

The crowd in Jerusalem on that day was swelled immensely by Jews who had gathered for the Passover celebration. Many in that assembly were unaware that the Saviour of the World was in their midst, and those followers who honoured him with palms were doubtless in the minority – as evidenced by his arrest a few days later and the cries of the crowd for his crucifixion. The Lord himself knows that this trip will end in his sacrificial death for the sins of humanity.

The contrast between Palm Sunday and the Friday which is to follow are extreme.  This is explained by the fact that the people of the city did not fully understand the mission of Christ.  They saw him as an earthly king who would defeat the oppressive Roman Empire. Their vision of him was limited by their own worldly views. They failed to understand that Jesus had come to triumph over a much greater enemy.

In chapter 12 of Revelations, we read about Satan being defeated by Michael the Archangel and being driven out of heaven. Satan and his angels were hurled down to earth. That is why when Jesus came, he referred to Satan as ‘the prince of the world’ (Jn 16:11). Sadly, the values of the world do not mirror the values of the Kingdom which Christ came to establish. His Kingdom is diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this world.

A King on a Beast of Burden

When a King or conquering ruler entered a city, people would create a carpet by placing their cloaks and palm branches on the ground to welcome them.  Such dignitaries typically rode in chariots or on horseback, so it is significant that Jesus rode in on a donkey. This was a sign that he was not a king with an ordinary kingdom in this world.

He rode a donkey to fulfil a prophecy about the Messiah. To ensure that their readers recognised it, each of the Gospel Accounts mentions Jesus on a donkey. The writers even record that Christ specifically instructed his disciples to go to a village where they would find a donkey and her colt which they were told to untie and bring back to Jesus. Matthew 21; 4-5 explains this took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Zechariah.

Say, to the daughter of Zion;

Look, your king comes to you;

He is humble, he rides on a donkey

And on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.

When those who welcomed him into Jerusalem threw cloaks in his path it was an act of homage and significantly, along with the throwing of palm branches, served as a recognition of royalty. They saw in the person of Jesus the promised Messiah.

The people’s cries of ‘Hosanna’ came from Psalm 118: 25-26. Hosanna means “Pray, save us”. Many of the Galilean disciples had earlier seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.  Undoubtedly, they were spreading the news of this astonishing miracle.

Despite what Jesus had foretold about his mission, the people were looking for a military Messiah who would restore Israel’s independence.

Two Kingdoms

The kingdom of the world has its own values. Your god can be power, wealth, influence, politics or fame. People are relatively important, depending on their usefulness, social status, or authority. Your power comes from your political influence, your bank accounts, or your ability to make yourself heard and heeded.

The Kingdom Jesus came to establish makes very little sense against such a backdrop.

The kingdom of the world is based on prudence, caution, reason and intellect which makes sense in a world governed by the head. It is a controlling manipulative kingdom in which people are often used as pawns and passing glory is the prize.

The Kingdom of God is based on love, service, sharing and giving and it appeals to the heart. It is a Kingdom for children, for the lowly, the humble and the poor in spirit.

The King who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday would be mocked with a crown of thorns five days later.

On Easter Sunday He would rise from the dead to claim the everlasting crown of a Kingdom which will have no end.

Bring forth the royal diadem

And crown Him, crown Him,

Crown Him, crown Him;

And crown Him Lord of all!

(from “All Hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name”)

Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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