Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passover. The chatter of young children is heard in the foyers of churches all over the country as they anxiously await the sanctuary doors to open. Once the path is open, they proudly walk down the aisles and litter the floor with the branches of artificial palm trees. Is that really what today is all about?
The first Passover did not carry with it the same kind of anticipation associated with the events leading up to Easter as we know it today. The preparation Moses and Aaron led for Passover did not include stripping greenery off local foliage, delegating menu items for the following week’s Easter dinner, or counting out just the right number of eggs to make sure every child would leave with equal spoils from the egg hunt that week. Their instructions were simple, each family was to offer a lamb sacrifice to God. After the sacrifice, the front door of their home had to be painted with the lamb’s blood. On the night of Passover, a plague would hit the nation, ending the lives of the first born child in every household; unless the home was marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb (Exodus 12). Homes marked as God directed would be passed over, hence the day we remember, Passover. As a result of this plague and those spared, God’s people were released from generations of slavery and free to follow the God who freed them. Stealing a line from Dean’s message, the Passover celebration became equivalent to America’s Independence Day.
By the time Jesus came along, the Jewish community had once again become slaves in their own land. The people were looking for their Messiah to free them from their oppressors. Jesus and his followers joined the crowds of thousands traveling to Jerusalem to observe Passover. While they were in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus sent a couple of his disciples ahead on a specific mission, to untie a colt and bring it back for him to ride on (Luke 19: 29-34). Seems like an odd request, but I’m sure his feet were tired. But wait. Passover celebrates the freedom of God’s people and they are now in a situation to need that kind of redemption again. The people are looking for the Messiah to bring that redemption. There has to be more significance to hitching a ride on a colt than just Jesus resting his legs. In doing this, he is fulfilling yet another Old Testament prophecy (Zechariah 9:9), and in front of the entire crowd. Jesus mounting this colt to ride into the city was tantamount to William Wallace mounting his stallion and leading his band of Scotsmen at Stirling Bridge, or George Washington stepping the boat to cross the Delaware. The entire Jewish crowd knew what Jesus riding in on this colt meant; it meant their time had come, this is our Messiah. The people threw down their coats on the dirt road for Jesus to travel on and began tearing off palm branches to pave the way when they ran out of coats; all the time shouting ” Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Mark 11:8-10) The word ‘Hosanna’ is a single word to say ‘save us now’. The people recognized who Jesus was and what he was doing, they were ready for him to step in and overthrow the iron fist hanging over them and they were ready now.
As they drew close to the city, Jesus saw the people in their brokenness and was overcome with sadness (Luke 19:41). He knew his role in the coming days, he remembered the criteria for his people’s freedom from their oppression at the first Passover (the lamb’s blood), he knew the same voices he heard shouting ‘Hosanna’ today would be heard shouting ‘Crucify’. He knew he was the lamb being led into slaughter.
This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of salvation marked by the savior being lead into a city turned slaughterhouse, by the hands of the very people he came to free.