I think that’s the thing first and foremost in the hearts and minds of the people in the crowd that first Palm Sunday. Sure, there were people who were all ready to just have a good time and go “party on, excellent!” - there always is. But I hope (there it is again) they were in the minority. I think most of the people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem that day were hoping for a “good” time, but in the very best sense of the word.
We’ve made such a celebration of it! The traditional description is “Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.” Trying our best to get in touch with what we think could be the spirit of the day, we might wave palm branches and parade around, shouting hosanna as if it were really a hallelujah. Of course, a parade is a great way to engage children and we might try and update it with some tree branches or banners, flags or even one of those big foam #1 fingers. It’s fun.
But is it?
It’s okay to be looking for ways to connect with what’s happening here, but put yourself in the crowd with Jesus for a minute. Not the crowd of how we’ve told the story of this day or as someone who knows the rest of the story of Jesus, but the people that day who didn’t know anything more than what they were hoping for from a king that had been promised for a long time.
Hosanna doesn’t mean “yay.” It means something like “save us” or “deliver us.” Jesus’ arrival on a donkey from the direction of the Mount of Olives was meant to fulfil the prophecy of how the king would arrive. I wonder if the crowd wasn’t so much celebrating his arrival as begging him to prove that he’s what they hoped for. I wonder if they’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t deliver what they expect.
They weren’t the only ones with hopes that day. I wonder what Jesus was thinking. He staged his arrival intentionally to fulfill the prophecy. Was this the response he hoped for? Did he mean to affirm their hope or raise their expectations? Did he wonder if this would turn into a show of support or disappointment later in the week?
At the same time, Pilate was likely arriving in Jerusalem with a well-staged show of Roman force. Was he hoping that would keep the Passover week quiet and without any disturbances or, worse, conflict?
I wonder what the disciples, the twelve closest to Jesus, were thinking. Peter, in particular, had already declared his concern about what Jesus was saying would happen. I wonder if they were hopeful that this was a show of support or worried that it was just making matters more difficult. Maybe they were a little confused and just hoping for the best.
Maybe we all are. I don’t think the journey of Jesus’ last days begins with triumph, it ends with it. It begins with hope. It travels through anger, questions, fear, betrayal, grief, surprise, joy and more - it’s a full week. Take a walk with Jesus.