Day 1: Palm Sunday, March 25
The Palm Sunday Syndrome
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it,” (Luke 19:41, NIV).
Palm Sunday is usually celebrated as one of the memorable, joyful days of the Church year. It has been celebrated in this manner since at least the 4th century. Palm Sunday is seen as a festive day of awe, triumph and praise.
But I do not think it was a triumphal, celebratory day for Jesus. There is clear evidence in the biblical texts that it was a sad day for our Lord. As the crowds on the two-mile journey from Bethpage into Jerusalem began to chant, “Hosanna” and as they waved their palm branches, they were most likely celebrating a political Messiah who would free them from Rome. Palm branches were used to celebrate Judas Maccabeus’ recapturing of the temple from Syria several centuries earlier. The crowds no doubt were likely celebrating not a savior from their sins, but a political savior who would bring them power and prestige.
Jesus was not moved. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘if you … had only known … what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus knew that the crowds were caught up in the euphoria of the moment with their expectation of a political Messiah who would get Rome off their backs. He knew that the chants of “Hosanna” would in a few short days give way to cries, “Crucify him.” And so, he wept, as he felt the burden of a people who wanted a change of power, but not a true change of heart. A people caught up in the fanfare, but who would not follow him to the cross.
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, his first act was to visit the temple. There he observed the religious, commercial huckstering and he cleaned house: “‘For my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers’” (Luke 19:46). Palm Sunday was not a happy day for Jesus.
So, what is the Palm Sunday Syndrome? People like following Jesus when he’s popular, when he gives them what they want, when he grants them power and fits into their preconceived notion of “the good life.” Unfortunately, the syndrome is prevalent in our own time. And many of us will celebrate this Palm Sunday with the same self-centered intentions. But, will we follow him to the cross on Friday?
Dennis P. Hollinger, Ph.D.
President; Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics