In the streets today are palm-leaf holding crowds. These ornate and decoratively-folded leaves of palm (or coconut, I would suppose) have become staple items for religious Filipinos during this time of the year. Celebrating Palm Sunday a week before Easter meant buying these 20-inch wands from vendors right outside the church. Then at the priest’s signal, as though an unction, devotees would wave the palm leaves in unison. The rustling of the leaves are in themselves a melodic chorus.
I remember growing up with these palm wands drying on our window grates. I suppose our devout Catholic Ae (my beloved grandaunt and nanny) simply forgot to take them down even months after Lent. And perhaps it wasn’t until the cooler -ber months ushered in that she was reminded of the Lent that has since passed and perhaps, too, that the Christmas tree this time should already be given its due focus.
The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recount the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a festive entry on a small donkey as a great multitude took branches of palm tress, went out to meet him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (Matthew 21:8-11; Mark 11:7-10; Luke 19:37; John 12:12-14)
One wonders, could the story have ended with “Happy Ever After” if that were the last scene of the act? Could it be a better ending if Jesus was coronated right after such grand entrance and eventually reign Israel and the world as befitting of him? Or, if he had wanted a more cozy conclusion, could he have just stayed in the welcome comforts of the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus–his dear friends one of whom didn’t even withhold the costliest of perfumes to be poured on his feet–and continue on with his teachings and fellowship?
However, as history has recorded, the events that transpired after were anticlimactic yet similarly engrossing that if it were a book being read, only a master novelist could have authored it so succinctly.
Jesus entered Jerusalem–or the world, for that matter–for one purpose and that is to go to the cross to do what no one else can do. Yet he did not let the noise of the palm-waving crowd take his eyes away from his purpose. Perhaps it was the first time on earth that he experienced such a frenzied mob who actually acknowledged him as God and King, instead of mere probable guesses every time he does a healing crusade. John 4:29 records the woman who ran to her friends after her encounter with Jesus at the well, “Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Yet no first-time nor special recognition can distract him from his calling. He was single-minded about his mission.
Had Jesus chosen to back out of his calling, there wouldn’t be any Christians. There wouldn’t be a church. There wouldn’t be anything to base love upon. There wouldn’t be a redemption story in anything. There wouldn’t be hope for the future, joy for today, and peace for tomorrow.
I confess to being easily-distracted by power and attention. I crave them and am positively charged by the affection of people. Yet if these palm leaves of power, attention, and affection were to be my driving force or my guide ropes, then I am bound to trip, if not totally fall.
So I thank Jesus that we’re different. He didn’t stop half-way on his journey when it seemed like it could have been the sweet perfect ending. He completed it. He went through the whole plotline of being betrayed and beaten, of having a crown of thorns buried in his head, of dragging a wooden cross on his own death march, of being crucified. Jesus chose not to be overwhelmed by the pomp and pageantry of Palm Sunday, nor the fatal kiss and garden drama on Thursday, nor the death verdict on Good Friday, nor the darkness on Black Saturday. He focused on Easter Sunday, when the redeeming value of the cost of his sacrifice will never betray him, nor time, nor anyone.
This Lent, I am reminded of the single-minded and straight-bound vision of Jesus. And of my own fickleness. Just as our loving Jesus fixed his eyes forward and far, may I, too, settle not on the passing comforts of this world, nor worry on the pressing burden of the cross. Yet look forward down and further out into eternity to see a hope that is not fickle like myself.
Knowing that my frail will can only transport me thus far, I know I have to gaze on Jesus–the author and the perfecter of my faith–who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
There is an upward call. There is a heavenly citizenship. And I know I won’t be needing a palm wand to bring me there.
–April 13, 2014