THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE EASTER — PALM SUNDAY
Introit: Pueri Hebraeorum. (i) The children of the Hebrews, bearing palms and olive branches, went forth to meet the Lord, crying out and saying: Hosanna in the highest. Ps. (122) I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem. (The children of the Hebrews …)
(ii) The children of the Hebrews spread their garments in the way, and cried, saying: Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Ps. (125) They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as the mount Sion: which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever. The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord round about his people from this time forth for evermore. The children of the Hebrews …
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee: saith the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 9.9-12)
Gradual: (Ps 24) The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is: the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein. V. For he hath founded it upon the seas: and established it upon the floods.
Epistle: Brethren: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-10)
Tract: (Ps 24) Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart: and hath not lift up his mind unto vanity. V. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord: and righteousness from the God of his salvation. V. Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in. V. Who is this King of glory? Even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: When Jesus drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (St Matthew 21.1-11)
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.”
“In like a lion, out like a lamb.” We all know the expression, usually referring to the month of March, and the belief that if the month begins with stormy weather, it will end mildly, and Spring will be near. But the phrase could also be used in reference to Holy Week. With His triumphal entry, it seems Jesus is entering Jerusalem like a lion. When we look closer, however, we see His deep humility as He begins His journey toward the cross, and by the end of the week, He is led as a lamb to the slaughter. But make no mistake, He is still the lion, albeit in lamb’s guise. Palm Sunday is a day of dramatic and frightening contrasts. We go from shouts of joyful acclamation to cries of vicious repudiation. Through the disturbing contrasts of this day, the drama of our salvation begins to unfold, and through the extreme intensity of this week, we come to contemplate the two great realities of our sin and God’s love.
As Our Lord makes His entry into Jerusalem, the crowds surround Him shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These are the words of Psalm 118, part of the ‘Hallel’ that the priests and Levites sang as they received the Passover processions. They are also the words that families sing during the Passover meals in their homes. “Hosanna! Grant us salvation! Save us now!” which is exactly what our King and Messiah is doing. The whole purpose of our Lenten pilgrimage begins today to be fulfilled. It is reasonable that our excitement might begin to manifest, because soon we will experience again the joy of the Resurrection. Yet at the same time, we must never attempt to approach Easter without going through Holy Week. In fact, we have no right, and no reason, to celebrate Easter unless we also experience Good Friday. And that means we must turn now toward the Cross. During this holy week we need to pause and reflect, because the manner in which we sing our Hosannas today says much about how we approach the death of Christ on Friday.
As the procession moved along, the people cut branches from the trees along the road and spread them in the way. They carpeted the street with their own clothes in honour of the coming Messiah. And this was one of the few times that Jesus actually accepted homage as a King. As they made their way into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, and the people of Jerusalem were asking: “Who is this?” “This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.” All this for a poor man, riding on a donkey—and from backwater Nazareth, of all places? He doesn’t look much like a king! But the Pharisees knew exactly who Jesus claimed to be and this sent them into a frenzy. All their attempts to stop Him had failed up to this point. They had already put out the order that He should be arrested, and now here He comes, riding openly into the city, acclaimed by a huge throng. In their anger they protested, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the whole world is gone after him.” (Jn 12.19) It is the hatred of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders that makes the Palm Sunday Gospel so dramatic. And Jesus knew all this, but He entered Jerusalem anyway.
And then we see how immediately He upsets our expectations. He enters the city and proceeds not to the Governor’s fortress, nor to the High Priest’s palace, but straight to the innermost sanctum of Judaism, the Temple, and purges it of all the hucksters and usurers. And then He sits down and teaches. Jesus isn’t following the programme, not doing what Messiah is supposed to do. He persists in failing as the glorious conqueror we welcomed at the gate. He doesn’t meet our expectations, doesn’t do what we have made clear we need Him to do. Maybe He is not who we thought He was at all. Certainly, He did some amazing things, but maybe the Pharisees were right, maybe we have been duped and led astray from our true religion. How could we have been so blind? Who can we blame for this? And thus we proceed from joyfully waving our palms to furiously shaking our fists shouting for judgement and death. This is the drama of Holy Week, and we must live it, because it is the drama at work even now in our hearts.
Because this week is meaningless if we suppose that we are not to be found in this story, that the fault somehow lies in the actions of others long ago, and not in ourselves. Holy Week is the week of betrayals—our betrayals of Christ and our betrayals of one another. We have to contemplate the full spectacle of human sin, and know ourselves to be part of all that we see. We are all betrayers of Christ in one way or another. Holy Week does not allow us to cast an accusing finger at others without acknowledging those four fingers pointing back at ourselves. We are not mere spectators, but participants in the very drama of salvation itself. You and I are those who have cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who cometh in the Name of the Lord,” and then, almost immediately, turned around and cried just as insistently, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Yet the crux of Holy Week does not lie simply in the heart-rending acknowledgement of our betrayals, but in the mercy of Christ who overcomes the betrayals of our hearts.
Such is the paradox of Palm Sunday. The King enters triumphally into the royal city where He knows He will be betrayed, spitefully entreated, spat upon, mocked, beaten, and crucified; where He will die and be buried. And we are the crowd, the chief priests, Pilate and Caiaphas, the false witnesses, the soldiers and the disciples; we are Peter, and Judas; we are the faithful women, and the beloved disciple. We are everyone in this story. The whole of our humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly – is on display, and we are all involved and implicated in the drama. We will see ourselves in all the confusion of our conflicted and contradictory hearts and lives, on the one hand, and we will see the patient suffering and hear the loving words of Christ, on the other … IF we care enough to enter into the liturgy.
The people seemingly recognise Jesus as the Messiah promised of old by the prophets. They shout “Hosanna, Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” But which Messiah is He? Is He the insurrectionist come to drive out the Romans and restore Israel’s glory? Is He the religious leader come to heal the divisions among the Jewish factions and bring God’s people back to Him? Either way, this Lion of the tribe of Judah is certainly a most unusual King. And what about us? What Messiah are we seeking? Are we looking for a solution to all the problems in our lives? Or are we seeking the solution to what will happen after this life? We should be asking: “What did I seek to make my god and king this week? Was it the Lord Jesus Christ, or myself?” When all is well, we take all the credit, but when times get tough, we seek someone else to blame. The one time when we really should be turning inward to seek the problem, we blindly ignore our own shortcomings and sin. We fail to submit to God’s authority. We forget to thank Him for our blessings. We try to rely on ourselves, puffing up in self-righteous pride over our achievements, or feeling angry when we don’t get what we want.
When we cry “Hosanna!” and welcome Christ, we must know that He will go straight to the heart of who we are and clean it out, removing all our comfortable compromises both small and great. He will not be satisfied with our perceived needs or stated agendas, because He knows they are not our real problems. But if we cry “Hosanna!” on the condition that Jesus cast out from our midst only those things we want Him to remove, if we do not allow Him to cleanse the most sacred and interior parts of our souls—those frail places in which we are most afraid of being seen and known, those places of which we are most ashamed, those places we do not wish even to acknowledge—then we will join the mob later this week. For to reject the work Christ comes to do in favour of the work we want Him to do ultimately boils down to a cry of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.” Jesus, our King, comes to us. He doesn’t leave us searching, nor even summon us to His court; He comes to us, and gives Himself to us. By His meek and submissive actions, everything that is His becomes ours, as St Paul writes: “[God] who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8.32). We call today’s event “the triumphal entry.” This phrase would connote a big show, a display of power and authority by a king or general who had led a successful military campaign and emerged victorious. He would then make a grand entrance into the city and ride around in pomp, basking in the glory of the cheering multitudes lining the route to catch a glimpse of him. But Jesus comes in humility. He rides in not on a white stallion like a conquering hero, but on a plodding donkey, the sign of peace.
Behold your King – see how He comes to you! He is indeed marching into battle, but not clad in armour, sword and shield flashing in the sun. He has no need of such weapons. He is the weapon. He is righteousness and salvation. Your King is coming to you as righteousness personified, coming to make you holy, because He is holy. The grace and mercy of God are poured out upon us through Christ. Our King is coming to us in peace and humility on a borrowed donkey’s back. He may not look like a lion, but know this: He is a lion in lamb’s clothing! The battle will be bloody, the battlefield a small hill outside Jerusalem. We had much rather stay here in this parade than walk that dark road to Calvary. We prefer to revel in earthly things, but Jesus comes to give us heavenly things. Sin, death, and the power of the devil are conquered, not by a five-star general with all his forces marshalled about him, but in a humiliating, painful, and shameful death. Our King is robed not in regal finery, but stripped and covered in blood. He is crowned not with gold and jewels, but with sweat and dirt, blood and thorns. In the Epistle lesson, St Paul encourages us to remember that, though Jesus is God, He did not presume upon the privilege and honour that status afforded Him, but rather, He humbled Himself by becoming a man and living the life of a suffering servant. And by so doing, Jesus our King binds us to Himself and gives us everything that is His. Even as He sets aside all the glory and worship due Him as the Son of God, He gives you all the benefits and honour that are rightfully His. He gives you the power to be a child of God. He comes for you today as conqueror of all you cannot conquer. Where you are weak, He comes to strengthen you. Where you are anxious and tormented, He comes to lead you to still, quiet waters. In place of despair, He promises you Paradise. In place of wretchedness, he offers you forgiveness. He comes to you today as “righteous, and bringing salvation.”
We sing our Hosannas to Jesus. We proclaim: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The problem then was that those people missed what Jesus was really about. They thought He came to establish an earthly kingdom, and expected to share in His earthly triumph. When they realised that His destination was not the throne on Mount Zion, but was actually the cross on Mount Calvary, all their praises quickly died away. He came to His own, but when He failed to meet their expectations, His own did not receive Him—they were looking for peace, but they were blinded by their misconceptions and false expectations of what the Messiah would do and who he would be. Just as then, His purpose is to bring salvation and holiness, to rescue us from sin, and to bring us into the everlasting peace of His Kingdom. And even in His church there are still many who sing “Hosanna!” on Sunday and then flee from the Garden on Thursday night. We call Him Saviour and King, but refuse to make Him Lord—to follow Him faithfully and do His will. We vow, like Peter, that we will follow Him forever, and then deny Him when things get rough. We forget the humility of Jesus, and like the disciples, fall into disputes over who is greatest.
But the Jesus who comes to us today is the same Jesus who stood with a dirty soldier’s cloak upon His scourged and bleeding back, with a crown of thorns pressed on His bloody head, and a mock sceptre in His hand; taunted, reviled, and rejected. He is surely not like other kings. He does not come with armies to beat down our doors, and drag us by force into His kingdom. He comes with patience and humility, and stands at the door and knocks. And we are hesitant to open the door, because we know that if we let Him in, He is going to call us away from those things we love so much in this world. And yet our Epistle reminds us that because of His humility, because of His willingness to be a servant, that “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Good News is that Jesus didn’t humble Himself for nought. There were many people—and still are many people—who received Him and who have let Him make a triumphal entry into their hearts and lives with His gifts of forgiveness and redemption. Our relations can never be right until our hearts are right with God and until He has transformed us from the inside out. We have a choice today, whether or not to open the door. St Paul says that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Many will have refused Him because His call was too costly. Others will have refused Him because He wasn’t the kind of king they wanted. But even those who refuse Him will bow on that Day—not as His beloved subjects, but as those who stand condemned before Him as their Judge.
Palm Sunday reveals to us how quickly we turn. It reveals to us the stark conflict of the human heart when actually faced with God. “Come to us!” “Come into my life!” we may cry. But perhaps while praying these words, there is yet that small voice in the corner of our mind saying, “But don’t come to me in a way I don’t like; don’t enter that area; don’t change too much!” And yet, our Lord humbles Himself to enter our Jerusalem, humbles Himself to feed us with His own Body and Blood. Despite our double-hearts, our mixed and misguided intentions, Jesus calmly enters our chaos with a humility unswayed by the cries of our fleeting affections, our fragile resolutions, and in the midst of our shouting says quietly: “I am here to save you and to give you my peace.”
In Revelation chapter 5, St John weeps aloud because no one is found who can open the Book of Life. But then he hears behind him these words of comfort: “Weep no more; behold! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that the book may be opened.” But when he turns around, what does John see? Not a fierce and majestic lion, but a gentle lamb, that appeared to have been slain, and yet was alive again—the Lamb of God, who went to His death without complaint, willingly sacrificed for each of us, so that our names might be found in the Book of Life.
The lamb-like Lion of Judah comes to save us from our sins, to enter our hearts, and to make them His Kingdom. He comes to us riding on a humble donkey, to die on the cross so that He can open the gates of heaven for those who believe and trust in Him. As on that first Palm Sunday, when He entered Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the temple, today He wants to enter the temple of our heart, to redeem it and cast out those deadly sins, and fill it with a life and love that spills out to everyone around. So let us sing Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! If we open the door to Him, we join ourselves not to the fickle Palm Sunday crowd, but to that other multitude who, with palms in their hands, sing forever: “Salvation belongeth to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!” (Rev 7.9ff)
For Judah’s Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent’s head;
And cries aloud through death’s domains to wake the imprisoned dead.
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who hast willed that thy Son should bear for us the infamy of the cross that thou mightest remove from us the power of the adversary: help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion, that we may obtain remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer Over the People:Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the ways of thy servants towards the attainment of eternal salvation: that, amidst all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the Lord bless us and keep us.