Palm Sunday King, Easter King

They that went before, and they that followed, cried out, saying, “Hosanna; Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord:  Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, which comes in the Name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.”        Mark 11:9-10

Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts.  That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to preach about.  On one hand there is the idea of triumph, the idea of the One Who is to be crowned King.  But then that crown will be of thorns, the throne will be a Cross and the triumph will be death.  Although there is celebration, it is not yet the celebration of Easter – it is a celebration that cannot help but have a tinge of foreboding about it.

I wonder what Jesus felt that day.  He knew what was coming – after all, He had been predicting it throughout His whole ministry.  And this last time as He turned His face to go to Jerusalem, He plainly told His disciples that He was going there to be beaten and mocked and then to die on a Cross.

The crowd swirling around Him didn’t understand this.  Instead there was rejoicing, laughter, singing, dancing and all sorts of gaiety all around Him.  For myself, if I were Jesus, I guess I would tend to go quiet and be a bit removed.  After all, I think I would need some time to toughen myself and prepare for the ordeal to come – sort of like the world-class ice skater who mentally rehearses his or her routine, going over every little move, so that when the time comes, everything is prepared for, everything would be perfect.

Palm Sunday as an awkward event – it is like throwing a “Bon Voyage” party for someone who will be going to the gallows in a few days.  I would imagine that that person’s heart wouldn’t quite be in keeping with all the festivities.

As Jesus looked around at the faces of the people celebrating, faces full of hope and joy, did He say to Himself, “If only you knew what it will take to give you such hope and joy, if only you understood the cost that will be paid so that you could sing like this, if only you knew….”?

Of course, there was no way that the people would have understood.  It would have been unfair for Jesus to have intruded on the festivity, because the celebration was necessary: This was the formal ritual of the transference of power from the god of this world (Satan) to God the Son, from the one who had attempted to usurp the throne to the One to Whom the throne belonged.

Perhaps people in high public office understand a little more about how Jesus must have felt.  Often a monarch is crowned upon the death of his or her parent.  The crowning required a death.  The whole country would be celebrating the new sovereign, but what were the private feelings of this new head of state?

Yet the new king or queen could not afford to destroy the festivity, the new hopes of the people – the ceremony is necessary for the orderly transference of power and the accepting of the new ruler.  And neither would Jesus destroy the rejoicing of the people despite the foreboding of what was to come.

Why was Palm Sunday necessary?  Just because there was allusion to it in the Old Testament [Zechariah 9:9-11]?  Just because this was what the old kings usually did when they went to be crowned?  Merely because Jesus was obligated to go through all the motions of fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies and types?  But then would that be nothing more than the “Bon Voyage” party before the gallows??

And also, we have to be careful here, because this is not yet the celebration of Easter.  The people all around Jesus did not yet know the EXTRAORDINARY celebrating which would come in only a week’s time.  They also did not know the extreme sense of tragedy they would feel in only a few days’ time.

What the people were celebrating was that Jesus was indeed the Ruler, the King.  They didn’t quite know fully as to what He would be the Ruler over, nor did they understand just what kind of King He was supposed to be.  They had seen Him as Ruler over the Good News of forgiveness, and as the King over sickness, disease and death.  They had seen Him as the Master of the physical world, wind and sea, loaves of bread and fish, water and wine.  They knew Him as the Final Authority over Satan and the unclean spirits.

This is what they celebrated and rightly so.  It is actually something very important for us to celebrate as well.  It is the picture of not just the God of salvation but of one which broadens out into ultimately the God over every little item in this universe and in all eternity.  It is necessary that such worship keeps us mindful of the vastness of the Glory, grace, and mercy of Him Who walked the path to the Cross – and to Easter.

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Palm Sunday is useful for us, because as we contemplate what it was that they were celebrating, then we must also ask ourselves what it is that WE are celebrating today.

The distinction between the celebrations of Palm Sunday and of Easter is useful for us.  I suspect that Holy Week, as this coming week is called, is an excellent representation of our lives.  The only thing is that instead of a steady progression culminating in the Easter celebration, we tend to bounce back and forth between the two Sundays.

Often I find myself worshiping at the Palm Sunday level.  Yes, I rejoice, and yes, I sing to my Lord and King, Jesus.  But does it have the ring of the Easter celebration to it, that decided fullness of worshiping Jesus as THE King and THE Ruler, not just over certain circumstances and certain problems, but over literally EVERYTHING forever?  Do I worship with a sense of foreboding about what the coming week will bring?   Does my activity have the no-holds-barred, full-bodied jubilation of Easter or merely the gladness and relief of a somewhat-king-ship of Jesus which is supposed to help me struggle through the week?

The early Church moved the worship service from Saturday to Sunday because of Easter, because every Sunday was to be “a little Easter” — because that was when the blockbuster of the foundation of our faith was revealed: the worst of sin, Satan, and death could not hold Jesus down.  The strong emphasis in John was that it was on Sunday when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the disciples as they were gathered together – what a powerful basis for worship that every Sunday should have: an Easter celebration with the Presence of the Resurrected Jesus!

But more often than it should be, that really just isn’t my Sunday worship.  Most often I am looking ahead to this afternoon, this evening, this week, next week.  I check the calendar of events to know where I am or should have been, or whatever will I do on this day or that day.  Yes, Jesus, I need help here and there, and I bring before you this and that petition, because I know that You are King and Ruler over all things.  You are indeed the King and Ruler of Palm Sunday.

But how hard it is to see Jesus as the King and Ruler of Easter.  Disappointments, heartbreaks, the volume of things to do, the inadequacies, the hopes and dreams and intentions that have the tire-tracks of reality all over them – all these things pull me back to the Palm Sunday King, rather than the Easter King.

So what can I do about this?  I can wish to be at the Easter celebration in my life, but so often I find myself slipping back to Palm Sunday.  I look longingly at Easter, but how do I get there from here today?

Part of the answer is to realize that as I look longingly at next Sunday, I cannot overlook this week, because that is exactly the route I must take to get to Easter.

What is to be found in this coming week?  To my surprise, I find myself sitting in the presence of Jesus – and what is He doing but in very real terms giving Himself TO me!  So often we think about Jesus giving His life FOR us, as a King would give His life for His nation.  But that this King would give Himself TO me – this relationship starts me on the road to Easter.

However, I also need to be there in Gethsemane – to be there when Jesus prays from His breaking heart, to be there at the betrayal where an extraordinary love reaches out to even His enemies.  I need to be there at the trials and see not just the extreme cruelty which resulted from my sin, but also the extreme confidence of Jesus in that even such tragedy is accomplishing the will and plan of God.  I need to be there at the Cross and see such a forgiveness which holds so tenaciously to each of us, giving a wonderful answer to our repentance; to be there in His determination to go through even abandonment, despair and death for OUR welfare.

No, that’s not the King of Palm Sunday which I see anymore.  There is something much greater here, something that has an extraordinary care and love, an extraordinary commitment and involvement in my life.  There is more here than the King Whom I approach with the odd trouble or the occasional need – you know, when I have the “Too bad that He had to die…” sort of attitude; or the fatalism of the Emmaus disciples, “But we had hoped that He was the One to redeem all Israel.”

Easter is coming.  The KING of Easter is coming.  This Jesus Whom I have seen is so much greater than merely the King of Palm Sunday, He is alive – this One Who has given Himself to me on Maundy Thursday is again today giving Himself to me – and this time as the resurrected King, Lord, and Savior.  As I look forward to Easter, now I really have something to celebrate – because “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  Won’t you come and join with me in the celebration of Palm Sunday, but then also in the great festivity of Easter next week.

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