GOSPEL | JOHN 12:12-13, 16-19
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord —
the King of Israel!”
…16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered” (v.16)
Palm Sunday yesterday has left me in a world of confusion about my role this week. This whole Lenten journey, I have found myself standing squarely among the disciples, watching Jesus, hearing Jesus, following Jesus. But yesterday, my role was confused. I’m partly to blame: I led the congregation in a prayer of repentance and petition in which I was so bold as to approach Christ’s throne and confess our place in the fickle crowd, crying “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify!” on Friday.
But I’m not sure, as I reflect on yesterday’s story and today’s text, that the crowd is where we belong. Nor are we part of the Pharisees, inciting the people to turn on Jesus. So where are we? Once again, like all Lent long, I find myself standing among the disciples in this story: “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him” (v.16). Remember that Jesus’ triumphal entry occurs after Jesus miraculously resuscitates Lazarus — that this last sign is actually the cause of the problem with the crowd, the Pharisees, and the disciples! — and that the disciples knew Jesus’ journey to Lazarus, to Judea, was a sure journey to death (John 11:16).
Jesus is entering Jerusalem mournfully, knowing he is here to die at the hands of the very people who wave their branches today; the disciples, though, enter Jerusalem in apprehensive terror, knowing Jesus will be killed by the Pharisees, and that as Jesus’ disciples, they will almost surely be executed with him. This is not a triumphant day; this is a dreadful day!
We do not enter Holy Week as part of the crowd, naively waiting to see how this supposed Messiah’s story turns out. We do not watch Jesus enter Jerusalem with the Pharisees, jealously conspiring against him for our own position. We don’t even enter Jerusalem, really, among the disciples (although this is closest): we do better than guess at what is coming this week. We know exactly how this Messiah’s story plays out. And though it may be our sin that compels Christ to the cross, but we are not ultimately responsible for killing Christ — we don’t need to woefully confess our driving the nails in his hands, or kill him again every Good Friday — Jesus laid down his own life (John 10:18).
No. We, like the disciples, are looking back on this week from after Easter, and we can see the bitterness, abandonment, and suffering of this week from after Jesus’ glorification. This is the only way Palm Sunday makes any sense! This is the ironic, paradoxical sense of “triumph” when we call this story “The Triumphal Entry:” this “triumph” is not the reign of another merely human, warrior, political king; this “triumph” is not the violent episode of Jesus clearing the temple in a fiery gesture of religious reform; this “triumph” is his death — putting sin to death once for all — and his life again — inaugurating the life to come for the sake of the world.
As we begin Holy Week, Lord,
let us remember your suffering, your abandonment, your crucifixion, your death, and your burial.
But let us remember that these bitter emotions well up from what is good news for us:
you were executed, so that we might live.
Let us remember that this journey to the cross is for us,
and let us remember Holy Week with deep gratitude, heartfelt praise, and profound joy,
even in these moments of immense, bottomless suffering.
Let us remember, like your disciples,
so that we too might bear joyful, grateful witness
to your suffering, death, and new life for the sake of the world.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.