Friday, March 14, 2008

Palm Sunday Anticipation

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the Sunday during which we recall the entry of Christ into Jerusalem for his final week of earthly ministry leading up to and including his death, burial, and resurrection. Despite the habit of some traditions of making much of the last several weeks, such as Ash Wednesday and Lent, the coming week is one in which our sobriety grows deeper. Our sense of awe becomes keener. And with Job we are compelled to "lay mine hand upon my mouth." If you have not begun the process of slowing down and turning your thoughts to the passion narrative of our Lord, begin now even as you prepare for worship on Palm Sunday. This Sunday, although often celebrated in such a way that we seem to miss the irony, is a Sunday in which we recognize our complicity in Christ's death, even as we cry out, "Hosanna!" Laurence Hull Stookey captures this thought well in his work, Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church (pg 88-89):

"To separate out the narratives of the entry of Jesus into the city and interpret the occasion behind them as utterly joyous and victorious is to misread the Gospels. The label 'triumphal entry' is a misnomer and a source of much misinterpretation. The New Testament writers know fully well that the 'Hosanna!' cries of Sunday will by Friday turn into calls for crucifixion. The entry into the city is charged with irony, and it is about us as fully as it is about the people of ancient Jerusalem: Our faith, too, is fickle; we are the crucifiers of the One whose coming we have called 'blessed.'"

And yet, as we read in Matthew 23:39, a day will come when we do finally cry out, "Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!" That time is now, as we agree with John the Revelator in his "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." And it is future, as we will one day cry out at His very coming. It's hard to imagine Paul writing 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 without the "triumphal" entry in mind [1]. Speaking of the Second Coming of Christ, Paul says:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

The word here for "meet" was sometimes used in extra-biblical literature of the period to describe the people of a walled city pouring out of that city to meet a returning King and escort him back into the city. What a wonderful image of God's people being gathered to their Lord, shouting finally and with full effect, "Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!"

This Palm Sunday, do not miss the irony. Do not dismiss the tension. But do not forget that we look forward to a day in which our covenant-keeping King redeems all creation to the shouts of His people.

[1] The Greek word used by Paul in 1 Thes. 4:17 is a verb, ἀπάντησις (apantesis). John uses a cognate in his description of the people coming to meet Christ outside Jerusalem, the noun ὑπάντησις (hypantesis).


Thom said...

Matt, using the Palatino Linotype output from and the font HTML tag, you will be able to reproduce very nice-looking koine in your blogposts.

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks Thom! I've found that including Greek at Word Press is very simple, but I wasn't able to figure out a way here on Blogger. A friend tried to help me once, but something about me being on a Mac kept the directions from making sufficient sense to me. Anyway...I appreciate the help!

Mike said...

"something about me being on a Mac"

That is all you had to say Matt. That always explains every problem.


Matthew Bradley said...


Jealousy really isn't becoming. You keep saving up and one day you can be one of the cool kids. :^)