(mercy in palms)
Why are people acting so weird? That is the title of an article in the Atlantic this past week by Olga Khazan. Ms. Khazan writes about how stressed out we are, about substance abuse and gun sales spiking. Isolation is changing us she says. She writes about the parallel between our moral behavior and out social connections. The less connected we are, the less moral we become. “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.” That is evident when we have so many that say and act like “the rules do not apply to me.”
Stressed out. Acting bazar. Caving into anger. Examples are ample. Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars; the couple returning from vacation at our SLC airport, the intoxicated husband killing his wife while she was securing their child in a car seat. The horrific war crimes by Russia against Ukraine—hospitals and clinics bombed, a train station attacked with missiles. So many killed. The pandemic, social unrest, stressed out medical workers, teachers, and law enforcement personnel. We are culturally stressed out. We are all feeling it.
Olga goes on to say that rudeness is contagious. When “we witness rudeness we are three times less likely to help someone.” Kindness, mercy, and hope are in short supply. A doctor in Ukraine was being interviewed this past week about the impact of hospitals being bombed. The journalist asked the effect of the bombings on people. His reply was to the point—it destroys hope. Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, not death and destruction.
We need today’s message. We need to refresh our memory of Palm Sunday and Holy Week’s importance.
A poem by Benjamin E. Mays:
I only have a minute
Only sixty seconds in it
Didn’t seek it
Didn’t choose it
But it is up to me to use it
Just a little minute
But eternity is in it
Palm Sunday. Jesus rides a donkey that has never been ridden before and enters Jerusalem. Verse 13 of John chapter 12 tells us that many people in Jerusalem “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” Other accounts inform us that they spread these palm branches on the road before Jesus to honor Him (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8).
So why palm branches? Almost two centuries before this event, palm branches had become associated with triumphal celebrations. In 164 B.C. palm branches were used to celebrate the rededication of the temple that had been occupied by enemies. The Jews had reclaimed their city and the Temple and rededicated the Temple with the waving of palm branches. And then in 141 B.C. the Jews celebrated victory over their enemies by honoring their liberator, Simon the Maccabee, with the waving of palm branches. Indeed, the palm branch became a symbol of Jewish nationalism in the centuries surrounding the ministry of Christ. Now as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, palm branches are used to signal the people’s hope and expectation that a new liberator has arrived. They wanted Jesus to bring about freedom and “make Israel great again.”
Wars and conquest are a part of our human history. The victorious conquerors would enter their city to parades. Our country celebrated the end of World War II much the same way. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is markedly different. He didn’t come in as a triumphant general surrounded by his conquering army. He rode in as a humble servant. Isaiah describes Him as “the suffering servant,” whom Bible prophecy foretold would be our (the world’s) Messiah.
Instead of duking it out with physical enemies, Jesus took on evil, all evil—past, present, and future by yielding Himself to cross. He put His fists down and let evil do its worst. He surrendered Himself to public shame, a sham of a trial, the humility of death on the cross. In our place. Picture this, all the evil of all the ages collectively focused on that one man and He withstood it all. When evil had done its worst and exhausted itself, Jesus quietly whispers those three simple words that will ring out through eternity. “It is finished.” Our redemption, the salvation of all was complete.
When Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem the crowds did not shout sounds of victory like praise God, or hail the king. They shouted Hosanna—translated, “Lord save us!” Yes, they hoped for physical deliverance. Jesus gave them the better type of deliverance. Salvation from fear, sin, death, and the devil (from all evil). He saved us by dying in our place for us.
Palms. Palm Sunday. Let this day remind us of the certainty of our hope in God. Take your palm. Hold it. Wave it back and forth! Look at it! Think of it as a symbol of hope, a symbol of healing and deliverance. Jesus’ death on the victorious cross proves that love is more powerful than hate, hope than despair, forgiveness than all our sin and shame. Because Jesus we can be people of hope that do not respond evil for evil, hurt for hurt.
We can experience stress. We can be bummed out about all that is going on in our world. We can be grieved and heartbroken about what is wrong in our lives. But we do not have to be controlled or held captive by any of that. Jesus makes all the difference. We are people of God. Because of Jesus and His life, death and resurrection the Spirit of God indwells us—lives in and through us. God empowers us to rise about the stuff of life to live as people of hope who seize the day and utilize every minute for the sake of heaven and goodness and kindness and love.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.