I have participated in many different Palm Sunday processions.
I have been at churches where we gathered in the parking lot. Palms were distributed and blessed and then the crucifer led us around the property and up to the doors of the church. There, the crucifer lifted the processional cross like a javelin and pounded the bottom of the cross on the middle of the doors, calling for the gates to be opened that the king might come in. As the doors were opened, we processed into the church, singing, and waving our palms.
I have been at churches where the children bring all the excitement. The congregation is gathered in the church singing, “All Glory Laud and Honor,” and then the children come down the aisle. They are waving their palms as they gather at the front of the church. When the account of Jesus’ entry is read from John, the children burst into singing, “Hosanna,” as they wave their palms.
Different churches have different entrance rites on Palm Sunday. With most of them, however, I have felt a strained desire to take us back to the time of Jesus, to ask us to stand with the crowds and somehow recapture the moment, to help us experience the entry into Jerusalem, as if we were there.
This is why I appreciate John’s account of the entry into Jerusalem. Notice how John differs from the other gospel writers.
In all the other gospels, the evangelists record the event as it unfolds. There is the direction of Jesus to bring the colt, the response of the disciples, the record of prophecy fulfilled, the actions of the people, and the response of the rulers. Only in John do we find this account punctuated by a moment of recollection.
After the prophecy is reported, John writes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (12:16).
John does not ask us to step into the moment and to experience it. No, John actually asks us to step out of the moment and to reflect on it. For John, the entry into Jerusalem is not something we need to enter into. Rather, it is something we reflect on. Why?
John does not ask us to step into the moment and to experience it. No, John actually asks us to step out of the moment and to reflect on it
Because John knows that, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, things look different. After we have seen Jesus bear the burden of our punishment, after we have watched Jesus offer His life for our salvation, after we have witnessed His resurrection from the dead, and after we see He now rules over all things... after all that, this moment in His ministry takes on deeper meaning.
In our world, people expect God to do great things. If you can heal the sick or predict the future or bring health, wealth, and happiness, you can gather a crowd and make claims about God. If, however, you are a small church, struggling to keep the doors open... if you are an aging church ethnically undiversified... if you are a poor church renting out your building to survive... people wonder about you. “How dare you speak for God?” “Wouldn’t God be present with more fanfare?” “Wouldn’t his work be more obvious?”
Jesus, however, chooses to come among His people in humble ways. Today, we remember that reality: When Jesus approached His greatest work, He did it without fanfare.
Today, we remember that reality: When Jesus approached His greatest work, He did it without fanfare.
In our reading, John has brought us to the edge of the Passion, the hour of glory, and yet it is strangely anticlimactic. Jesus is not part of a royal procession. He comes to sinners unarmed. Only in recollection do the disciples realize what has happened.
John tells us they, “...remembered that these things had been written about Him.” That is, they remembered God had promised to come into His Kingdom, not riding on a horse in military power but riding on a colt in divine humility. Years later, as they reflected on this moment, they began to glimpse the wonder of Jesus, a wonder He had then and a wonder He retains now. As Jesus goes about His work in the world, He does so through the way of humility.
Today, as we gather for Palm Sunday, John invites us to join the disciples in faithful reflection. We do not need to have processions with palms. We do not need to enter the excitement of the crowds. We do not need to replay the oddness of children singing His praises or the tension of religious leaders despising the celebration. No, we are invited to simply experience the wonder of Jesus, the Lord of all, who does His work in humility.
Today, you may hear the Word read by a reader who stumbles. Today, you may hear the Word preached by a preacher who mumbles. Today, you may find your church is just a faint shadow of its former self in days of glory... but... take heart. Rejoice. Sing. Praise.
Why? Because God comes to you in humility. Jesus comes today to bring you salvation, but He chooses to be here in humble ways. In John’s gospel, Jesus approaches His greatest work without fanfare. In our lives, God comes in ways which are humble and quiet.
Today, on Palm Sunday, we do not need to create a “you were there” experience. Why? Because God is already here: In words that are spoken, in bread that is broken. Today, John encourages us to join the disciples, not in the mesmerizing mess that is the entry into Jerusalem, but in the clearer contemplation that follows. John encourages us to remember how God comes to us. Indeed, God is here, in the humblest of ways.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 12:12-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 12:12-19.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Detlev Schulz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 12:12-19.
Alternative Reading Resources for the Sunday of the Passion
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 14:1-15-15:47.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 14:1-15-15:47.