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Featured sacred art “Hosanna!” by Mike Moyers

Blog #383: The Two Symbolic Acts of Palm Sunday

If you wish to, you can go to Israel and walk from the village of Bethphage to Jerusalem, a journey of a few kilometers, going mostly downhill. There will be thousands of other people doing so, all pilgrims from around the world, re-enacting the events of the first “Palm Sunday” when Jesus and his disciples walked that exact route. Actually, Jesus rode on a donkey (more on that in a bit) while his disciples waved palm branches. As they did so, the crowds gathered on the side of the road shouted, “Hosanna”, and other terms. What was this all about? Two things.

1.) Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In other words, Jesus’ was proclaiming himself to be the king/Israel’s Messiah. Interestingly, the crowds who had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover (for on that in a bit) did not look away. As Jesus ascended that final bend in the road and was now climbing toward Jerusalem, a large multitude gathered around him. This crowd understood what was happening, that Jesus was the Messiah and they, instinctively (it seems) applied and acted out a “messianic psalm” to the Messiah which reads,

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! (literally, “Hosanna”) Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession upto the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:18-29)

2.) When Jesus entered Jerusalem, we read that the “whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:7-11) This triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem occurred on the one day of the year (on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Nisan) in which, according to the Jewish calendar, was the designated date for the selection by each Jewish family, of its Passover Lamb. The family would then look after the lamb for five days before having it sacrificed by priests on the day of Passover. God had Himself given specific requirements for observing Passover and one of those requirements was the selecting of an acceptable (“without blemish”) lamb on that specific date. Originally, that day was the start of a new year in the Jewish calendar (though that was later changed to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur which is held is the fall). “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” (Exodus 12:1-3) The lamb would serve to take away their sins and to protect them from the angel of death who would later that day be “passing over” the land of Egypt. That is why the date of Nisan 10, for early Jews, was known as “lamb selection day.”

We should note that before Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist pointed him out to his disciples and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As Christians, we are used to that terminology, but it must have been a shock to those gathered faithful Jews. But God was working His plan for the salvation of humans, even though the crowd on Palm Sunday was quite oblivious to what was fully happening: They may have hailed him as the arrived Messiah and Israel’s king but Jesus was asking them to go one step further in their understanding of who he was: to choose him as their Passover Lamb and to believe that he would take away all their sins. Later Christians, of course, understood this latter truth about Jesus and so the apostle Paul wrote, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7) and that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21)

With Jesus there is always more than meets the eye. Happy Palm Sunday!

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