What exactly is the meaning of Palm Sunday? We know the simple facts: Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and asked his disciples to bring him a foal, the colt of a donkey to ride upon into the gates of Jerusalem. As Jesus entered the city the crowds began shouting, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!' and waved palm branches and spread out their coats on the streets. But this story is quite rich with symbolism and points to something much deeper.
First of all, the waving of palms and laying down of coats by the people was no accident or coincidence. Palms were signs of victory and of military achievement. The Romans gave palms to the victors in the Roman games and emperors gave them to their subjects following thier military conquests. The Jewish people had picked up on this and in [the Hebrew book of] 1 Maccabees the people waved palm branches to celebrate the newly established independence of Jerusalem and Judea.
The crowds believed Jesus was the 'King,' that is, they believed he was the Messiah who had come to establish Israel's independence from Rome, to liberate them in a very real way as their leader. They wanted a Messiah who would be their political hero. In fact, the whole scene replicates a King or General's triumphant entry into a city. It all seemed so perfect and hopeful.
And even today we want this kind of Jesus, this type of Messiah. We want a Jesus who will bless our politics, bless our wars and battles, and will be 'on our side' against all our foreign enemies. We seek a Messiah who will make us the world's super power and bless our armies, weapons and military conquests.
The only problem is: Jesus isn't that kind of Messiah.
The irony may have been lost on the people at the time, the way it is lost on most of us today, but Jesus' 'triumphal entry' was not that of a General or a warrior. No, such men ride stallions. Jesus rode in on a donkey. This symbolized that Jesus came on a mission of peace. The donkey revealed Jesus to be a humble peasant on a peace mission, not a military warrior.
This donkey, this symbol of peace is important on several levels. The donkey is the animal that is often used to mock and ridicule others. The word 'ass' is not a flattering one, we use it to ridicule people. As GK Chesterton wrote of the donkey, he is the 'devil's walking parody of four footed things.'
But, in the way that Jesus had of constantly turning everything upside down, Jesus rides in on a donkey for his triumphal entry and not only establishes this irony, but lifts up the lowly, in this case, the lowly donkey in the process. This donkey becomes the sacred throne for, not only a King, but the very Son of God. Note that it was a donkey that had carried Jesus and Mary at the beginning of his life just before he was born as they rode into Bethlehem. And now a donkey carries him into Jerusalem just before his death.
Again Jesus shows us that that which we think has no value, has tremendous value in God's eyes. In our society, animals are among the lowliest and have almost no value in…