Easter is a holiday marked by irony and paradox. During Easter week, we celebrate life attained through death. We worship a mighty king who ruled over no earthly nation. We read about people who saw God-become-man with their own eyes, yet failed to recognize him.
Today is Palm Sunday, and the bitter irony of Easter is nowhere more evident than in this famous scene, described in all four of the Gospels:
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
“Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
The cruel irony is that within one week, the crowd that gladly welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem would be calling for his brutal death. Jesus was welcomed through the city gates like a king, but would soon be driven out of the same city, by many of the same people, to his death. The architect of their own salvation was staring them in the face, but when Jesus turned out to be a different sort of saviour than the people wanted (perhaps they hoped he would lead a violent revolution against their Roman oppressors), they turned their backs on him.
Is this just a quaint moral fable from Bible times? Can we, safely looking back with the benefit of thousands of years of hindsight, condemn the crowd for its fickleness? Not so fast. Jill Carattini, writing for the Slice of Infinity devotional, has some sobering words to consider this Palm Sunday:
It is this drama that is still religiously enacted. What I long to imagine was a fickle crowd—an illustration of the power of mobthink, or a sign of a hard-hearted people—only reminds me of my own vacillations with the Son of God. How easily our declarations that he is Lord become denials of his existence. How readily hands waving in praise and celebration become fists raised at the heavens in pain or hardship. Like a palm laid down and forgotten, the honor we bestow on Sunday can easily be abandoned by Wednesday.
It’s not enough to condemn those who welcomed, and then rejected, Jesus during Palm Sunday and the subsequent Easter week events. We must ask ourselves—this week, and next week, and everyweek—whether our own lives are marked by that same ficklness, that same waffling between devotion and rejection. And we must never cease giving thanks that Jesus’ love for each of us proves stronger than our faithlessness.