I know the title of today’s column sounds a bit cheesy, but please indulge me, I just couldn’t resist it. As we crawl our way out of Great Lent and prepare for Palm Sunday, I would like to reflect a bit about what we need to take away from the day’s significance. Palm Sunday is a joyful oasis in the midst of the spiritual desert of Great Lent and Holy Week, during which times our demeanor and lifestyle are somber, and our usually joyous liturgical celebrations muted and dark.
Palm Sunday is a joyous day for many reasons. I would like to take a look at some of the significant events of that day and the day before and see if we can understand a little bit better what we must concentrate on NOW, during this time, as we shelter in our own urban wilderness.
The day before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He stopped at the town of Bethany to visit an old friend. By all accounts it was a joyous reunion since the last time He had visited was when Jesus was told the bad news that His friend Lazarus, who had been ill, had died four days earlier. Upon learning this news, Jesus went to see the body of his friend and the result of that encounter was recorded in the shortest verse of the Bible with just three words: “And Jesus wept.” (John 11:33) At first glance, it seems peculiar that Jesus would weep over a person He had every intention of raising up, which He indeed proceeded to do. The townspeople there thought Jesus wept because he was overcome by personal grief at the loss of His close friend. But Jesus did not weep due to personal loss, but rather because of His compassion for everyone grieving around Him. Their sadness saddened Him.
This is the type of compassion Jesus has for us now. During these days of fear and suffering, these days of illness and death, where more than anything we fear the unknown, rest assured that Jesus is weeping for us. He’s telling each one of us that we are precious and loved. He is telling us through this miracle at Bethany that He cares about us and even if we die, just like Lazarus, Jesus will call us back to life.
After a nice dinner, things turned into a bit of a fiasco when the crowds, hearing that Jesus and the risen Lazarus were together, began to flock toward them. Word got to the chief priests, and they decided to put a contract out on Lazarus in order to get rid of the compelling evidence of Jesus’ miraculous power. In any event, nothing ever came of it, and Jesus and His disciples left for Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
Before He even got to Jerusalem, a crowd had gathered hearing that Jesus was indeed going to the temple on Passover. He decided to enter the city in style, riding on a donkey. I’m sure you know the rest of the story. People began to spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus like a carpet. They waved palm fronds and olive branches, hailing the one who was humbly entering the city as King of the Jews calling out Hosanna, a Hebrew expression of joy meaning “save us, we pray.”
But Jesus didn’t get too excited about this. He knew the crowd had only gathered out of curiosity and because they had either seen or heard of His raising of Lazarus. He also knew that within less than a week’s time, that same crowd who hailed Him as King would be yelling out “Crucify Him; Crucify Him!”
At one point, He did get angry, though. It was when He arrived at the temple to see people doing a brisk business there. Money-changers and merchants selling doves to sacrifice were raking in a fortune, all taking advantage of the fact that Jews from all over the known world were gathered there to celebrate Passover. Jesus was angry because they were subverting the will of God to benefit themselves and were blaspheming the highest Holy Day of the Jewish people.
So what do we learn from this series of events that can help us today? First and foremost, we shouldn’t be afraid. When Jesus went to Bethany to see his friend Lazarus who was ill, his Apostles vehemently objected saying: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John. 11:9) But Jesus was not to be thwarted. He was adamant about going to visit his ailing friend even though He knew that Lazarus was already dead. The Apostles, as afraid as they were, agreed to accompany Him. Thomas (yes, the one who doubted) perhaps a bit sardonically, remarked: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The last remark notwithstanding, the disciples, as afraid as they were of being killed along with Jesus, trusted Him and believed what He told them: “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (John 11:9-10)
For these dire times, this is truly a heartening message. Christ is the Light of the world. Whoever has that light within and is guided by it has nothing at all to fear. Ever.
Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, yet humbly. A King sitting on the back of a donkey. In other circumstances, this may have been considered amusing, maybe even bordering on ridiculous. But Jesus pulled it off. He entered Jerusalem with authority and public acclaim after having raised a dead man from the tomb. Can you imagine how very upset (to put it mildly) the political and religious leaders of the day must have been? He was like a rock star; a superhero. He entered Jerusalem like a King inspiring a sense of confidence and joy in all those who greeted Him. Let us do that as well. Let us not be afraid to proclaim HOSANNA! “Save us Lord” (“Getsoh Der”) as we greet Christ and welcome Him triumphantly into our lives.
Jesus knew that by going to Jerusalem that day He was starting a chain of events which was ultimately going to end with pain, torture and the most brutal and painful death you could imagine: crucifixion. And herein lies the great message of hope and consolation for all of us: the fact that He went anyway! He went because of His love for us and the promise of Salvation that God repeatedly spoke to all people. He went because He never wanted us to be alone as he was when his Apostles abandoned Him. By His actions He showed that He never, ever abandons those who call upon His name in faith.
And even after the dark times; after He was pulled down from the cross dead; after He was placed in the tomb and lay there for three days, and it seemed that he was defeated, He won! In the same way that He had called His friend from the tomb the week earlier, Jesus was likewise resurrected. He defeated evil; vanquished death; gave eternal life to the living and changed the whole world. So, who’s got your vote? Who are you going to choose: Jesus Christ or the Coronavirus? I know who I’m choosing.