Palms are not very trustworthy. Even after drying for a year, you cannot be sure that they will burn. We have a huge metal bowl in which we sometimes burn them as a part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. One year we put alcohol on the palms to ensure they would ignite. It worked. Boy, did it work! If we had been burning them outside, the fire would have diverted planes from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
You just can’t trust palm branches. That is a lesson Jesus learned. The Gospel for Palm Sunday begins, “Jesus went to Jerusalem.” What began in the wilderness ends in the city. Jesus entered the Holy City knowing it held great danger for him. People warned him that those in power were determined to destroy him. Perhaps his disciples hoped that, by going at Passover, Jesus could slip into the city unrecognized.
Jesus, however, had other ideas. He never allowed fear to determine how he lived his life.
The crowds streaming to the city for Passover swelled its population by hundreds of thousands. Jesus sent his disciples to fetch a donkey and then created a procession right out of the prophecy of Zechariah. The people of Jerusalem had lived under Roman oppression for so long that they knew well the promise of a messiah from the house and lineage of David. This king who would set them free would not come on a mighty charger, but on a donkey, a beast of burden. As the disciples placed Jesus on the donkey to begin the procession, thousands of pilgrims making their way into the city craned their necks to see who this was that journeyed with such an entourage. Whispers began to pass through the crowd. Most had never seen this rabbi from Galilee, but they had heard of his mighty works. Could this be the One sent from God to liberate them?
They were so desperate for their dreams to come true that they joined in by singing and waving palm branches. The problem was they had no idea who Jesus was. They thought he was the one who would overthrow Rome and reestablish David’s kingdom of power and Solomon’s kingdom of prosperity.
The crowds who lined the streets that day wanted to be sure that they were on the right side when Jesus took control. Their palm branches represented their praises for whom they wanted Jesus to be. I wonder if Jesus ducked every time someone waved a branch. He knew that the very people waving branches in praise today would be waving fists in anger on Friday. Jesus knew how quickly the cry of “Hosanna” would turn to “crucify him.”
We gather each Sunday and sing our praises, but what happens to our faith on Friday when following Jesus is tough? I guess we will see, won’t we?
Rev. Michael Piazza