The irony of Palm Sunday isn’t lost on me. As a child, it took me a while to realize it, but over time it went from being humorous, to disturbing, to now, as I grow older, simply a representative of human nature versus the divine.
The story of Palm Sunday and indeed the entire Passion is confounding when viewing from a timeline of events.
On Sunday, Jesus is welcomed into the city of Jerusalem like a humble conqueror by the masses. On a young colt, he processes into the city as the throngs wave palm branches and lay down their cloaks and palm branches onto the road. They know the great deeds he has done – including raising a man from the dead.
On Thursday, his closest friends and confidants gather with him for the traditional Passover meal. We can guess it is like any other meal among family and friends, with a mixture of tradition (singing of songs, hymns, and prayers) as well as the atmosphere of friendship. There is probably a good deal of laughing, visiting, joke telling, and good natured ribbing that goes along with any gathering of friends.
Thursday night, Jesus goes off to pray and is met by a mob of men bent on taking him into custody. Yet another miracle takes place (the healing of the high priests servants ear) and in the end, Jesus is led away to jail where he is tortured and tried. His friends all leave him – and in Peter’s case, denies him three times.
Friday morning – the same crowd that welcomed him to the city are calling for his death. Talk about going from hero to zero. Jesus is condemned to death.
Friday afternoon – in a spectacle that only the Romans could do, Jesus is lead through the streets and up to a hill with two other criminals, being followed by a crowd of people (probably many of the same that had welcomed him on Sunday) and is nailed to a cross and dies.
How fickle the crowds. How fickle the friends. The same people that where hailing him on Sunday watch him die with curiosity and apathy on Friday. His friends that pledged their lives to him less than 24 hours earlier are, for the most part, gone.
Such is human nature.
It is easy to convict the people present for their ways – for turning their backs on him whom they hailed. But in truth, we have to ask ourselves, would we do any different if we were in their shoes and knew what they knew?
We are lucky because we know the end of the story – and we know what that saving grace can do. The human nature meets the divine in the very heart of men and women today as it did then. How else can you explain how Peter, the man that betrayed Jesus not once, but three times, the simple fisherman, would go on to become the first leader of the fledgling church. How else can you explain how those followers that fled, or whose, followed along with the crowds on Friday would spread the Gospel to all ends of the earth – and many of them die in the process.
It was not their human nature that did this, it was something greater than rational thought and reasoning that our simple minds can comprehend, it is that touch of the divine – that great mystery of how a great all seeing, all loving God can give His Son for humanity, and indeed, reach down into each welcoming heart, and call them back home again.