Palm Sunday is always such a fun day at church. Everybody’s celebrating. The mood is joyful. We all get fun palm branches to wave around during the song and worship time.
Hooray! Hosanna! Jesus is the Messiah! He’s who we’ve been waiting for…the one promised to save us all!
Palm Sunday celebrates the day Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. A donkey that symbolized (to anyone who was familiar with Israel’s prophesy) he was the savior Israel had been waiting hundreds of years for. The one God had promised to save them.
What We Think
At that point in Israel’s history, they really needed a savior. Israel was under Roman rule: oppressed, heavily taxed, and without power. They needed a king to come and crush Rome…to set them free.
The thing is, Jesus wasn’t there to set them free politically. He made ZERO moves to overthrow their oppressors. He wasn’t there to be an earthly ruler or a politically savior. He wasn’t there to give them the thing on earth they wanted most.
He was there to be a heavenly savior. He wanted freedom for their hearts and souls — to give them freedom and peace after death — an eternity with God. But they weren’t thinking about life after death. They were thinking about life on earth … the things that concerned them tomorrow. The present.
What’s Actually Going On
Jesus plan to save them was revolutionary. He came to abolish an old system — where access to God was limited, and required on stringent obedience to a set of rules, policies, procedures, and traditions. Jesus came to crush evil, beat death, and make heaven open to any and every person who chose to follow him and his father. (No sacrifices, offerings, temples, or ceremonies needed.)
But that’s not what the people were expecting as they waved their palm branches on Palm Sunday. They weren’t thinking about the destiny of their souls … they just really wanted someone to crush Rome.
And when Jesus clearly didn’t plan to do that, they turned on him.
How DARE HE? How DARE he take the hope they’d been clinging to for years, flaunt what seemed to be a plan for a political takeover, and then abandon it … abandon them?
Happily Ever After
Easter is the biggest holiday of the Christian calendar, but this year, I resonated so much more deeply with Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Easter can feel so…expected. We celebrate it every year. Yay! Jesus is alive! He beat death. Now we get to live forever with him! It’s an amazing concept: that God’s son would die (and then come alive again) so that every person could live forever. But once you’ve heard the story over and over again, it begins to lose its power. Yeah, his death is sad … but he’ll totally be alive again in, like, 72 hours … so it’s not like it’s that sad.
This year, I relished Holy Saturday. I relished the NOT KNOWING. When everyone who thought they knew what Jesus’ plan was — got a sudden, cold realization that they HAD NO IDEA what God was up to.
For the 72 hours between when Jesus died and rose, it felt like all hope was lost. It wasn’t until Sunday that they realized God wasn’t absent. He’d actually been planning something so much BIGGER, POWERFUL, and MORE MEANINGFUL than they could have ever imagined.
We Really Have NO IDEA
The longer I know God, the more I realize how little I understand what God is doing. For a good 15 years now, I’ve periodically begged and pleaded with him to rescue me from whatever I need rescuing from. I’ve prayed for a better job, to be more confident, to be prettier, to be in a relationship, to be wiser … for whatever it is I think I need to make my life better.
And after I get what I want, I end up realizing that my plan wasn’t the best. The job isn’t what I thought. My plan for my happiness ends up being short-sighted, misinformed, and not actually what I thought it would be.
In those times when it feels like nothing is going right — like God is absent, missing, and has completely forgotten us — remember Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Yes, it seems dark right now. But that’s because we don’t have God’s eyes.
No matter how much scripture we’ve read, and how much we think we know, we don’t understand what God is planning. We’re waving a bunch of palm branches and waiting for a political uprising, when he’s a little preoccupied with crushing death and opening up heaven anyone and everyone who gives their life to him.
God has a plan. And it’s bigger, wiser, and probably very different from what we’re planning. But he is not absent. He is working out everything for our ultimate good. We just have to wait a while to figure out what that is.
But don’t worry. Sunday is coming. And it’s going to be more epic than what you had in mind.