Together with Jesus, we enter Holy Week at Jerusalem.
As Jesus and the disciples made their unique entry into Jerusalem, a festive and agitated crowd gathered to see the spectacle. Some people threw down their clothes, while others hacked down palm branches to spread before Jesus. Religious acclamations were shouted out. Yet, not long after, the life of Jesus would end in bloodshed.
Passover was a volatile time and the Romans soldiers increased security. Crowds are a jumble of people and expectations, and not always predictable in their reactions. For those with more revolutionary messianic hopes, the use of palm branches would recall the Maccabean triumphs. The spread out garments could be seen as a royal acclamation. When Jesus was born, Saint Matthew notes that all of Jerusalem along with Herod had been ‘troubled’. He now uses an even stronger term, saying the city ‘quaked’.
So who can now reconstruct accurately the mix of heightened religious beliefs, political hopes, and sheer excitement generated by Christ’s entry into Jerusalem? It would not have been rare for those in Jerusalem to go out into the streets to greet arriving pilgrims. But this entry would turn out to be unique and momentous. Hundreds of years earlier Solomon was acknowledged as the true heir to the throne of his father King David when he rode into Jerusalem mounted on David’s own mule. The donkey or mule, when rode by a king, was associated with a peaceful rule, while a horse rode indicated a time of war.
The entry of Jesus, sitting upon a mule indicated a peaceful rule, yet it shouting crowds gathered in front of Him and behind Him. For some this might have been looked upon as a parody of the triumphal entry of past kings, for some it could have been seen as the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, for others they saw a spiritual King entering the holy city who would usher in a new spiritual kingdom.
In no way was Jesus deluded as He entered into Jerusalem. He knew that His triumphant entry would lead to Calvary. Neither should we be deluded into believing that following Jesus will always be easy and smooth.
Today at Mass, the Lord’s entrance will be commemorated, whatever its form may be: with a procession or a solemn entrance or a simple entrance. Then the Passion will be read or sung. The liturgy indicates that it is ‘Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord’. As well as recording the variety of reactions to and beliefs about Jesus, the Scriptures as understood by the Church will unfold the real and saving meaning of what is being said and done by Christ himself.
There were indeed very significant events in that city beginning with His entrance and culminating in His passion, death and resurrection. We need, however, to go step by step in Holy Week reflecting on each event as we go. Saint Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the city was in tumult and people were asking who this was.
And as Catholics we need to constantly deepen our own faith, and to help others answer the question of who Jesus is. Jerusalem quaked when Jesus entered it, the earth would quake as Jesus died, and there was a strong earthquake as He rose from the tomb. The impact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is without precedent.
The good news of salvation must not be tamed. Jesus Christ has a sovereign authority not known before on earth. He reigns with the kind of power that is unique. He makes a difference to everyone and to everything. The bible’s last book, the Apocalypse, keeps before us the sight of a new heaven and a new earth. There is a holy city too, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.