Bishop Untener’s Homily
In John’s Gospel this event with the palm branches takes place just after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This happened in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. Word spread about this and some of the people who had come to Jerusalem for the great feast of Passover began to get excited. At long last here was someone with the kind of power they needed to take over and lead their country to its glory days once again… a king who could re-establish the kingdom of Israel.
Notice the sequence in John’s account. The people begin saluting Jesus as king, and then he deliberately finds a donkey and sits upon it. Jesus makes it clear that he will be a different kind of king.
They misunderstood the Lazarus miracle. Raising people back to life is not what Jesus came to do. This miracle was a sign of his power over death. Jesus didn’t come to keep bringing people back to life on this side of death. Jesus came to take us through death to the other side… to a glorious, transformed human life. The raising of Lazarus was simply a sign of all that, a sign of his power over death.
Shortly after this glorious entry into Jerusalem, the crowning work of Jesus would take place. There would be the last supper, the washing of feet, the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the condemnation, crucifixion, death… and the glorious resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Jesus came to establish the reign of God, but not in the way the people popularly understood this – not by military might. Jesus was a "king," but not in the way the people popularly understood this.
- As part of their coronation, kings were anointed with precious oil. Just before this event with the palm branches, Jesus was anointed. He was anointed by Mary, Martha’s sister, at the banquet. When Judas objected that it was a waste of expensive oil, Jesus said that it was an anointing in preparation for his imminent burial.
- The only crown Jesus would have on his head would be the crown of thorns.
- Instead of being seated on a throne, Jesus would be nailed to a cross.
- Instead of a royal robe, Jesus would be cloaked in mockeries.
- Instead of a crowd shouting "Long live the king!" Jesus would hear the crowd shout, "Crucify him!"
We enter this week to say that we will follow this king. We know what kind of a king this is… a king that will lead us if necessary through suffering, and one day certainly through death. We know that following this king is the path to life.
When we take these palms in our hand we say that we’re willing to follow that kind of a king, this king. We’ve willing to be loving, forgiving… to respond to evil with goodness. We’re willing to take the cross as our logo. Because Jesus showed us in his living, dying, and rising, that he is the way, the truth and the life.
We don’t casually pick up these palms. We don’t lightly place them in our homes. We do so knowing what we are committing ourselves to, and we do so with peace and joy, for we are safe and secure when we walk in the footsteps of the Lord who has such power, and who loves us so.
Originally given April 8, 2001