I’M ALWAYS STRUCK BY the quiet lesson of Palm Sunday.
Last Sunday, in my little church here in Yorba Linda, we waved palm branches and sang hosannas as we remembered Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.
We were not alone. Hundreds of millions of Christians around the world celebrated much as we did here in Southern California.
But Palm Sunday, as wonderful as it is, always gives me pause, because in the end it’s a bittersweet paradox with a serious life lesson that’s hard not to remember.
I’m pretty sure that’s how God planned it.
What Palm Sunday commemorates
According to Catholic online:
“Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified.
Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often receive palm fronds which they use to participate in the reenactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect.
Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.
The use of a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic, it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a steed in war.
A week later, Christ would rise from the dead on the first Easter.”
My Palm Sunday lesson
That’s a great description of Palm Sunday, but it leaves out something — the subtle message from it that we should all remember.
It’s this: Although Palm Sunday reminds us of the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem that kicks off the Easter narrative, it reminds us all of the fickle and tenuous nature of life.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was telling me about his rapidly changing fortunes. His life was going along very nicely, he thought, and then suddenly, it wasn’t. Seemingly overnight, his job, his finances, and his family life all took a huge hit. He wondered, “how could things take such a bad turn so quickly?”
I think all of us wonder, “why” when life sharply turns against us, and that’s where the lesson of Palm Sunday comes in.
As I told my friend, bad times come to everyone, no matter who they are. After all, look at what happened to our Lord: one day, Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, a hero, with thousands shouting hosannas and singing his praises. Four days later, he is arrested and treated like a criminal, tortured, mocked, with many of those who cheered him now calling for his death. Then he’s executed in the most painful and terrible way the Romans, or just about anyone, had ever devised – by crucifixion.
(By the way, if you spend a little time reading the Wikipedia entry on crucifixion, it REALLY makes you understand just how horrible it was to die like that. It’s not something you would wish on your worst enemy, yet that’s how Christ was destined to die. It’s something to remember whenever you look at a cross.)
Here’s what we should always remember
If Christ can go, in less than a week, from triumphant hero adored by thousands to death in one of the most horrible manners ever devised by man, should we be surprised when we sometimes see our life turn from good to bad so suddenly? If it can happen to Jesus, the greatest person to ever walk the Earth, why can’t it also happen to us?
That’s the lesson I take away from Palm Sunday. We think we can control what happens in life, and for a great deal of the time, that may be the case. But as Christ’s entry into Jerusalem shows us, none of us are really in control no matter how much we think we are.
No, God controls our lives and that’s true for believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians alike.
Fame is fleeting. Life is short. Good times and bad times come and go. The lesson of Palm Sunday is that anyone can have their fortunes, and their lives, change dramatically overnight.
But, the lesson of Easter is that God remembers that and keeps his promise to us, always. To me, that’s what that week in Jerusalem, that began with the first Palm Sunday, was all about.