A Palm Sunday Contemplation

The week before Easter is “Palm Sunday”, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Whereas Christmas and Easter have many hymns in the LDS hymnbook, there is but one that celebrates this event:

All Glory Laud and Honor

1. All glory, laud, and honor
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessed One.

2. The company of angels
Are praising thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before thee went;
Our praise and love and anthems
Before thee we present.

We all know the narrative: Jesus mounted on a donkey, entered Jerusalem, while his followers “Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (John 12:13)

Many of these scriptures were written well after the time, and often with the objective of showing how Christ fit the prophesied role of Messiah.  Hence, the palms, the riding upon a donkey, were all part of Old Testament prophecy — symbols to convince early converts that Jesus was the Christ — the fulfillment of prophecy.

But perhaps we can see things in a different light.  What was going on here?  Why did the people welcome Christ as if a King, then a few days later demand that the Pilate crucify him?

I believe it has to do with our cultural expectations — we want a king to save us, and the people in Christ’s time were no different.  They were in captivity, they wanted a leader who was strong, disruptive to the power that they perceived as making their lives miserable.

Yet, Jesus rode not on a horse, as if he were Christ the “Victor”, but rather, upon an ass, a donkey, a beast of burden unfitting for the King of Kings.

I believe that one of the most difficult things we experience in our faith journey is that most Mormons favor authoritarian leaders in our Church, and sometimes in other aspects of our lives as well.  This idea that a man can save us through direct action as an earthly king is deep within our psyche. Even the Book of Mormon warns of those who became “King Men”, seeking to set up a kingdom.

Yet Jesus wasn’t an earthly king in the same way that people expected.  In fact, I suspect that if Jesus were to arise today, to come back with the same personality he did 2000 years ago, we’d be seriously disappointed. After all, we LDS are building up a majestic kingdom, with great and spacious temples and conference centers fit for the King of Kings. We devote our time, talents, and all we have, for building up of the kingdom of God on the earth, explicitly defined as the Church.

I’m not trying to challenge this definition, but I do struggle with it.  For Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and I’m sure this disappointed many.  Yet, paradoxically, he also said, “The Kingdom of God is within.” (Luke 17:21).  When I put these two statements together, I realize something…something profound, at least to me.

We seek and relate to thrones, principalities, and kingdoms — exaltations, as promise for our obedience to commandments and in making and keeping sacred covenants. Yet such rewards seem more like “kingdoms of this world”.  The kingdom of heaven, in contrast, is not arrayed in thrones, principalities, powers, and kingdoms, but rather, is mounted on a humble donkey and lives, breathes, and dies in fully human form.

We miss the mark when we array our God in thrones and temples — when the representatives of our God, those who sit in Jesus seat, are seated in thrones of red on high stands.

Jesus would be a very disappointing General Authority.

Yet where do we stand as Jesus rides in triumph into Jerusalem?  Will we place palms before him?  Will we stand by him as he takes on the ostentatiousness of the Temple?  Will we demand Barrabas be freed in his place?  Will we deny him when the cock crows?

In a sacred moment that holy week, Jesus called his disciples “friends”.  No longer disciples, no longer beneath their master, but rather, equal to them.  He washed their feet, not to cleanse them from the blood and sins of this generation, but rather, to demonstrate that he was the servant of all — as they should be as well. When one of them challenged Jesus to show them the Father, he told them that the Father — God — is within him. And if within Him, within us as well.

Realizing this, we see new meaning when we proclaim “Hosanna!  Blessed be the One who comes in the name of the Lord”.  In this moment of joy and triumph, the shackles of our naive, “true believing” eyes fall away, and we see the One who comes in the name of the Lord for who He truly is.

He…is us.  The King sits not on gilded thrones, but in the chair given to the home and visiting teacher in the homes of suffering saints.  The Lord of all is not found at gates of pearl, but rather, mending fences of wood and hurt as we minister to each other.

We are blessed when we come in the name of the Lord.

To thee, before thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the love we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

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