This Sunday is Palm Sunday. It marks the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Sunday before His execution. It was the week of Passover and Jerusalem and the surrounding area had begun filling with the crowds that would soon find people from all over the Roman world congregating. The crowds could be as much as 30 times the areas normal population.
As Jesus comes into the city He rides on a donkey–a symbol of a king who comes in peace. Crowds of people wave palm fronds and shout for joy at His entrance. The palm fronds were a symbol of the last Jewish monarchy which had been displaced by Herod and Rome. They all believed something big was about to happen. After all, this Man on the donkey had just raised someone from the dead and for many this no doubt reminded them of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones being knit together again, God breathing new life into Israel.
Of course, scarcely any of the people there that day understood what was happening. Probably only Jesus truly understood what was going on. The crowds thought He would lead them in a war to overthrow the Roman yoke. The Pharisees and Temple leaders weren’t exactly sure what He would do, but they knew it would undermine their authority and so they were determined to stop Him. Even the disciples closest to Jesus were uncertain about what their Master intended to do, despite His frequent references to His coming passion in recent weeks. No matter except Jesus really knew what was about to happen. And so it began.
Each year at this time it begins anew for Christians. Each Easter we stand in awe of what happened that week. The atmosphere in Jerusalem and especially in the Temple would have been electric. Only the most dense people could have been oblivious to all that was going on around them. The structure of the Church Year is to remind us of that week. The texts we read from Scripture, the colors in the chancel area, the stripping of the altar on Thursday night, the plain wood on Friday. All of the these things bring us again into the week that shook the world to its foundations. And so it begins.
I can’t help but feel sorry for people who don’t have a sense of awe and wonder about this week. Everything in the world changed that week. Everything that men believed was reshaped–God had kept His promise and done a “new thing” in the world. But many people–maybe most people–will not experience the sense of God’s power and working in the next days. They’ll be worrying themselves about candy rabbits and gifts and home and garden supplies, oblivious to the might and power around them.
Sunday marks the start of the most important week in the year. Let it be so for you this year. For so it begins.