Palm Sunday is a day of great movement. We process into the church carrying palms and singing: “All glory, laud, and honor, to you Redeemer King.” We move with celebration and joy as we march into the sanctuary, to the place where the gifts of God are given, where His Word rules supreme. We come with great movement and fanfare as we begin the most holy of weeks. Just as the pilgrims in the ancient city of Jerusalem have been doing for well over one thousand years, as they march down from the Mount of Olives, they sing and celebrate the arrival of the King. So, we also move, marvel, and celebrate the wonderful arrival of God in our midst even now.
In the narrative of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, there is something which occurs, or rather does not occur, that has always fascinated me. This large crowd comes out to our Lord to greet Him as He enters the city. No doubt they have heard about His miracles, about the wonderful things He has done, the feeding of the five thousand, casting out demons, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. They come to welcome Him as the messianic king, the Son of David. They are cutting down palm branches and lining His path and the whole scene is frantic and emotional. But have you ever noticed how Jesus does not say a thing? He utters not one word on His whole triumphal ride into Jerusalem. It is all one sided, all the action of the crowds. They are all hanging on the rumors, stories, and experiences of the past. But our Lord seems focused on something more, something greater than all that. It is almost like He is looking through this moment. He looks to something which will eventually silence their shouts of joy and turn their cries to, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
One thing is for sure on Palm Sunday, there is no ignoring the Son of God. Whether the crowd or the disciples or even the Pharisees understood what was happening, whether they knew how this week was going to unfold or not, Jesus is now front and center in all their minds. He can be received and celebrated, or He can be rejected and despised, but He cannot simply be ignored, not anymore. In fact, it is the Pharisees themselves who confess this reality. All their scheming has not had the effect they hoped. Instead of lessening the impact of Jesus’ presence, things seem to be going the opposite direction. So, they say to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him.”
But as I said, this is a day of movement for us. We move quickly from the celebration of the triumphal entry to the passion of our Lord. So, we listened once again to the account of His suffering and death. Jesus comes as a challenge to everything which had previously provided identity, security, and meaning in our age. All the systems of humanity, all their wisdom and strength by which they built their own legacies and so believed they were climbing upward towards Heaven, are revealed to be a lie. The arrival of a Savior is the arrival of the One who proclaims we cannot, by our own reason or strength, save ourselves. And the world despises Him for this. It despises our Lord because it empties us all of any ability to save ourselves and somehow contribute to our own justification before God. But now Jesus is no longer silent. As they drive the spikes into His hands and feet He speaks. What does He say? He cries, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And as He hangs there in agony, He is not completely alone. There are two reserved seats of honor, one on His left and one on His right. The one who was greeted with such joy on Palm Sunday now suffers between two thieves. While one of them joins in the mocking of the crowd, in the taunts and shame heaped on the Son of God, the other calls for mercy. The other knows full well he cannot do a thing to help himself and clings to whatever might come from the Kingdom Christ bears. So, from His passion Jesus cries out, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Paradise… this is the gift He comes to bring, the promise He delivers. It was not for the praise and adulation of men. It was not for the celebration among the kingdoms of this age. No, it was to bring something new, to bring Paradise, eternal paradise to a fallen and bound world.
Today, we witness the passion which drives our Lord. It moves Him silently through the crowd of Palm Sunday as He deigns only to speak on behalf of those who crucify Him, to pray for their forgiveness. What this forgiveness means, what it gives, what it offers, is precisely what He promises the thief on the cross: Paradise. The forgiveness of Jesus is the entrance into the eternal Paradise. So, the passion of your Lord, the passion driving Him, the passion consuming Him, is you. It is your salvation, your eternal confidence, your entrance into Paradise which stretches on for all eternity He is focused on. This is the movement of Holy Week. This is our hope and assurance. For He moves into your life this day, His Word echoes in your ears, His righteous garments clothe you, His body and blood are given to you for your forgiveness, and for entrance into Paradise.
This week is the story of our Lord’s passion. It is also the account, the only account of your salvation as well. We go with Him. We go through the movements and the emotions. We hear His words of love and compassion. And one week from now we will celebrate, once again, the sure and confident victory found only in His passion.