Many know this day as Palm Sunday. Others call it Passion Sunday. I like to consider both the palm and passion aspects of the day together.
On the Sunday before Easter, we remember and celebrate the day Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey. This action fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9). Many of the people in Jerusalem laid their coats down in front of Jesus. Others grabbed palm branches and began waving them (a Jewish national symbol conveying the notion of victory over one's enemies) as they hailed Jesus as king. Most in the crowd that day shouted praises toward Jesus, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt 21:9; echoing the words of the psalmist; Ps 118:25-26).
This is a celebration! Shouts of praise...symbols of victory...a kingly entrance (except for that donkey, what's that about???) Well...it's about a plan that goes beyond earthly reasoning and understanding.
We mustn't stop at the waving of palm branches. We must read on a little further. And Luke shares with us the event immediately after Jesus' entrance to Jerusalem. The people are shouting praises, the Pharisees are upset, Jesus tells them that he won't silence the crowd because if he does, then the rocks will begin to shout praises, and then he looks over the city of Jerusalem and weeps. This is not a good cry. This is a grieving cry. You see, Jesus knows the path that is set before him. The path that he has begun with this entrance. He knows that by the end of the week, the shouts of praise will turn to cries for his death. He sees the sin in the people's hearts and their refusal to let him cleanse them. He knows that their shouts of "Hosanna," meaning "Lord, save us" are just words. They don't really mean it...at least not in the sense that really matters - spiritually. In fact, their cries of "Hosanna" are directing him to the moment and place where he can fulfill their request - the cross. And so, Jesus weeps. And each step Jesus takes from this point forward takes him one step closer to the cross.
This is the passion (suffering). This is the palm (praise). This is the journey of Holy Week.
(Illustration: Jean-Hippolyte Flanderin, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, 1842)