The picture I have in my head of Jesus coming into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover is of him riding on a donkey with people gathering along the path. Many have heard his teachings some had witnessed miraculous events. Others only have heard the stories. But those who gathered were filled with excitement and hope.
Just a week ago Jesus had been in Bethany, called there by Mary and Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died and had been buried in his tomb for four days. Jesus raised Lazarus to life. Those who were there saw him walk from his tomb, hands and feet still bound in cloths.
The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John tells us that some waved their hands in welcome. Others sang "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." Still others waved palm branches. You almost can hear the announcements being passed through the crowd. "Jesus is coming!"
Then they see him riding, not on a grand horse as they'd hoped, but on the back of a donkey's colt. We call this a "triumphal entry," but Jesus didn't look very regal. Instead he was a simply dressed peasant rabbi and miracle worker on a borrowed donkey being welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd.
Some looked at this little parade and wondered what the fuss was all about. Others looked on in amazement. They saw a new world order, of power so great it would make peace, of love so strong it embraced outcasts, of grace so freely given that people's sins were forgiven.
The crowd was tired of being oppressed, of continually being conquered and taken away to live in foreign lands. They were ready for victory. How they waved those palm branches and sang hosanna!
Can you imagine the conversation in the village at suppertime that evening? Family and friends, all gathering for the Passover festivities, must have talked a bit about Jesus. Stories remembering the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well who he asked for a drink. Stories of His willingness to help people, even healing on the Sabbath. Stories of His care for everyone, even feeding the multitudes on the hillside when they were hungry.
The battle Jesus waged was with our constant evil enemies such as greed, power, prejudice, hatred, resentment, abuse and holding grudges. They waved those palm branches for all his triumphs.
He also overcame the one battle we could not. Jesus overcame death. They told the story that night of Lazarus being called out of the tomb, and they had no idea that he soon would overcome death for himself and all of us.
Palm branches will be given out at many of our services this Sabbath. They remind us of the victories of Jesus. And they remind that as we follow our path of faith, we also can be victorious in our daily lives and life eternal.
My tradition this weekend is to take my palm and form it into the shape of a cross to put in my house for the year. Then, every time I see it, I stop and celebrate our victories, big and little, along our spiritual journeys. May you find a way to celebrate our victories in faith today and always. Amen.
- Bernstine is the executive director of United Churches of Lycoming County.