Jesus retells the whole story from the inside out
An essay and benediction for your Palm Sunday
It is one week until Easter. For those of you who grew up in liturgical traditions - unlike myself - you might remember Palm Sunday being a day of celebration at your church: kids coming down the aisles waving palm branches and singing to kick off what we know as Holy Week.1 This is the big week for us Christians.
This is the week that makes us weird in the eyes of the world.
Palm Sunday begins the last week of Jesus’ life on earth as he had known it. And he does it with a prophetic act that stands in sharp contrast to the ways of the world, it’s a disruption to the status quo.
So let’s begin with the story, shall we?
After saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’”
The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?”
They said, “His Master needs him.”
They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street.
Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!
Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”
But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”
(This is the Message paraphrase of the story of Palm Sunday in Luke 19:29-40.)
Most leaders intent on declaring kingdom and their authority might plan their entry parade a bit differently than this. Dictators in history always did this, the Roman army did it just the week before this moment in Jerusalem: enter like you mean to rule.
This is the kind of ruler we understand. We get this. The world will tell you that you need power and influence, that you should be ruthless and wealthy, displaying might and power to inspire fear and trembling into your enemies and your friends.
But when Jesus is proclaimed as the Messiah, the one we’ve all been waiting for, the culmination of the promises - he rides into Jerusalem, on the back of a borrowed donkey, surrounded by ordinary people waving the symbol of resistance, a palm branch. He didn’t choose the wealthiest and the best. He didn’t choose the ones that the world would have picked as his key influencers and marketers and managers and thought leaders. He doesn’t ride in on a noble war steed with flags waving.
He is surrounded by regular folks like us and he’s riding a donkey his buddies borrowed from a guy.
Jesus never missed an opportunity to disrupt the narrative.
And people wonder why I love Jesus so much.
He is so beautifully subversive, always turning what we think we know about God over and inviting us into something more beautiful and real. Jesus puts us at odds with the world but not in the way that we think.
Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole says, “This gospel will force you to act, to interrupt the world as it is in ways that make even pious people indignant.”
Palm Sunday is grand disruption - it’s prophecy and protest and peace-making and powerful all at once. Even the rocks would cry out.
Palm Sunday is meant to be a joyful celebration to most of us and yet there is a shadow side to our palm branches and shouts of “hosanna,” too. Because this crowd of people? The ones who are chanting his name and cheering and hosanna-ing all over the place? These are the ones who fail.
With the exception of the women - Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, the mother of the sons of Zebedee; Salome; a sister of Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary of Clopas - who stayed at the Cross with the disciple John, almost every single one of these people will fail Jesus. They go from hollering praises to calling for blood, they boldly walk the streets waving palm branches and laying out their cloaks for Jesus to walk upon, and within days, they are skulking behind doors and denying Jesus, betraying him, if not actively hollering “Crucify him!” then remaining silent - which probably hurt even more.
It turned out that they wanted what they thought Jesus was going to do for them and their own little kingdoms more than they wanted Jesus and his wide, expansive kin-dom.
It’s a tragedy we feel deeply. Because if we’re honest, most of us know that we probably wouldn’t be any different. People are people. That’s the problem with the disciples and the crowds, they’re too relatable. Too honest. The Bible doesn’t pretty up anyone. You see yourself there. Even now we can go from shouting praise to being ashamed of Jesus. We cling to our ideas of power and influence, of being the conqueror. We want our little kingdoms to get the power and influence. But it’s not just that, is it?
But don’t be too hard on them. They were afraid. Their hearts were broken. They had families and worries and realities, just as we do. They were disappointed and scared. Just as we are.
And yet these people bring us hope. It’s not the righteous that Jesus came to save. He said that the healthy don’t need a doctor, he came for the sick. We’re the sick. We are all the sick and Jesus came for us, to heal us, to cure everything that is evil and broken and at odds with God in us. Jesus came for us who are seduced by thrones and opulence, the afraid and silent and disappointed, but he meets us in ordinary roads and stables and kitchens and hillsides instead.
Jesus retells the whole story from the inside out.
Holy Week is the week when Jesus kicks over tables in the temple.
This is the week when Jesus teaches some of his most well known sermons and parables.
He is anointed by a woman in Bethany, she finds him at the home of someone named Simon and breaks open an alabaster jar of perfume, pouring it over his head, prophetically anointing him for burial. Interruption.
This is the week when Judas betrays Jesus to the religious authorities for thirty pieces of silver - the plot against him begins to move into full motion.
This is the week when the Last Supper happens (which we mark on Thursday). Jesus takes on the clothes and behaviours of a servant and literally washes the feet of his disciples, serving them in this most basic way, giving us a glimpse of what greatness looks like in the Kingdom of God. Disruption! On that night, he takes the bread and the wine, telling the disciples there that it is his blood and body, poured out and broken for them.
This is the week when Jesus goes to the Garden and prays with such intensity that he sweats blood. Then Good Friday comes - the day of everything colliding. He’s arrested, Peter disowns Jesus, he is mocked, he goes before Pilate and before Herod, Judas is overwhelmed with remorse and hangs himself once he sees that Jesus has been condemned. Voluntary suffering at the hands of state-sponsored violence with a weeping mother looking on, bitter with the betrayal of friends, strengthened by the steadfast presence of women who will not turn away even here, with death, and eventually resurrection.
There is a moment on that Friday I find this to be one of the most powerful moments in Scripture - honestly, it haunts me - because at the moment that Jesus dies, this veil in the Temple that separates everyone from an inner sanctuary known as the Holy of Holies, reserved for the presence of God and only ever entered by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, rips from top to bottom.
Top to bottom.
The Holy of Holies has been opened. The very room that was the place where priests would meet with God on behalf of the people, the veil that hid them from sight, this is the veil that is torn from top to bottom at the moment of his death. God is among us now.
In one week, these people, the ones laying down their Palm Branches and shouting Hosanna, go from thinking that this is it - they’re finally going to be winners, they’re finally going to get the throne - to having their hearts broken.
This is the week they are disappointed.
RELATED: We had hoped
They are scared, they are fickle, they are grieving, they are confused, they did what they swore they would never do, they weren’t as brave and loyal as they thought they were, they are overwhelmed because they are losing everything.
They lost everything.
They thought they knew how this story would end.
They thought they knew what Jesus was going to do.
They thought they had a plan.
Today, I want to challenge you to sink down into Holy Week.
Let it disrupt your life. Don’t rush from Hosanna to He is Risen. You’ll miss it if you don’t see yourself here in this story.
The power of Easter will be lost if you want to jump over this part.
We need to walk with the disciples, with Jesus through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to understand Easter Sunday’s miracle.
One thing I’ll never get over is how Jesus stays with his people, loving them, teaching them, serving them, feeding them, yearning to be with them, even knowing that they will almost all desert him within a week. Knowing that they will break his heart, he stays.
There is a line there in John 13, in his telling of the Last Supper. And he writes, “Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.”
He loved them right to the end. Knowing the time had come, he loved them, he loves you, right to the end.
If you ever wonder if Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to be betrayed, to be heartbroken, this is the week when you hear your answer. If you question how Jesus can be near to you when you are grieving and hurting, this week is your answer.
Make some room for the confusion, the lament, the grief, the sorrow this week. Walk with the disciples during this week, see the world through their eyes, remember how miraculous this disruption was, to fully understand the power of the Resurrection.
Leave a little room for the discomfort, let God disrupt you, for the remembering and suffering, for the grieving and the longing, and the Holy stirring.
Joy comes in the morning, but you’ll miss it if you turn from the story just as the sun begins to set.
Everything that makes us who we are - the reconciled, the healed, the redeemed, the whole, the fully human, the saved, the set free, the church - this is happening in this week.
I keep coming back to that word “disruption” for this day and for this week, for what Easter is in our lives. Jesus disrupted everything. And now we are part of disrupting the sin, the death, the destruction, the brokenness, the evil, the injustice, the oppression, the marginalization, of this world because Jesus disrupted us. We need this week of disruption. Love is the great disruption to the powers and principalities still at work in this tired, beautiful world.
The old world has been disrupted, overturned, and a new world is breathing, about to be born. There is nothing against us or in us that can stop us from clinging to Jesus, from turning to redemption, over and over, turning again and again.
And whatever happened on the cross, however we impose meaning and narrative and metaphors onto it, however we try to explain or understand it, this is the truest truth of it all: it was enough.
The cross was enough and is enough, we are only responding to the disruptive abundance of redemption.
Hand me a palm branch, the King is coming.
God of donkeys and palm branches, of people who betray and people who hold fast, of holy weeks that bring us to the depths of suffering and the heights of resurrection, draw near to us.
Disrupt us, God.
Disrupt all the ways we’ve adopted and adapted to the world’s priorities, powers, and principles. As the light disrupts the dark, disrupt us. We can hear your. new world breathing, about to be born.
And we claim our spot in your kin-dom, God, right with the liars and the thieves, the betrayers and the silent ones, the faithful and the stalwart.
May the rocks never have to cry out on our watch, may our mouths be filled with joy and truth. We want to be a people who can hold space for both our hope and our grief, our disappointment and your disruptions.
We ask for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand what it is your Spirit is saying to the Church in this moment, may we never miss an opportunity to disrupt with you.
Jesus, retell the whole story from the inside out. Retell us from the inside out.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God and Mother of us all. Amen.
In case you missed these Field Notes:
Goodbye + Hello to Confession: Lent Part 5 + audio - for subscribers
Goodbye + Hello to Prayer: Lent Part 4 + audio - for subscribers
Goodbye + Hello to Almsgiving: Lent Part 3 + audio - for subscribers
Goodbye + Hello to Fasting: Lent Part 2 + audio - for subscribers
Goodbye + Hello to Ash Wednesday: Lent Part 1 + audio - for subscribers
If you are looking for a daily devotional for Holy Week, Anchored in I AM: Holy Week With the Words of Jesus is available as a digital download right now. This devotional is intended to be an intense, one-week journey from Palm Sunday right through to Easter Sunday. There are eight meditations altogether, covering the I AM statements of Jesus like "I am the bread of life" and "I am the way, the truth, and the life" etc.
A version of this essay appeared in 2021 for Field Notes subscribers. Some traditions call this “Passion Week” which reminds us that this entire story is passionate, not impartial or tame. Salvation is God’s disruptive passion; redemption, rescue, renewal, resurrection are the great passion of God, the love that sustained Jesus through each day of this week.