Mark 11:1-11: The Liturgy of the Palms
1 When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”
4 They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. 5 Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. 9 Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
There are many different resonances and allusions in this account of Jesus so-called triumphal entry. I want to focus on one today. In the ancient world when the king or emperor came to a city certain protocols were expected to be followed. At a certain distance from the city the ruler would be announced as soon to arrive, sometimes with trumpet blasts (see 1 Thess.4:1ff.) sometimes with advance messengers.
At the news of the imminent arrival or royalty people were supposed to drop what they were doing and prepare for the royal procession. The great ones, the rulers, officials, and leading men of the city were to go out to meet the royal figure and form his honor procession into the city.
Once there it was customary for the royalty to visit the temple to offer prayers. This was symbolic of the ruler’s claiming ownership and sovereignty over the city.
Alexander the Great once came to the city of Tyre, was received by it leading citizens, but denied access to the temple to offer prayers. By this action the people of Tyre were rebuffing Alexander’s claim to own and rule them. Alexander later made a “second coming” to Tyre in judgment and destroyed the city.
I hope you’re beginning to make some connections with Mark’s account. In Jesus’ case, as he approaches the city that is rightfully his, the city and its great ones go about their business as usual. None of the leading citizens of Jerusalem stop and go out to join the honor procession for Jesus’ entry. Only the peasants, the people of the land, drop their work and take up palms branches and lay cloaks for Jesus’ donkey to process on. When Jesus’ arrives, he goes into the temple, is greeted by no one, looks around at it (probably in sadness), and then, instead of being ushered to a place of residence and meal, he retreats with his disciples to Bethany.
Can it be any clearer? All the protocols are flaunted. Jesus is accorded none of the respect or honor as the king he is. The city’s rejection of him is clear. In consequence, Jesus judges and rejects the temple as no longer a fit vehicle for God to dwell in. The “triumph” of his entry into Jerusalem dissolves almost immediately, not just later in the week as the people keep turning against him. It’s not for nothing that some call this story “the a-triumphal entry” (the “a” prefix is a negative)!
We celebrate this event the Sunday before Easter. Holy Week is upon us. Is it too much a stretch to suggest that we ought also accommodate our schedules and time in a way that reflects what we celebrate?
-Should we not make an effort to be at our church’s Holy Week services? They aren’t just optional extras for us.
-Are there ways we need to restructure our own time and that of our family to spend time together honoring and welcoming Jesus again to his most holy and also horrendous
-Though we are not trying to “relive” Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection “as if” we did not know how it turns out, the truth that in his death and resurrection we too die, are buried, and raised to new life (Rom.6:1-4) brings us into the drama and dynamics of this week as the heart of our own commitment to and following of Jesus.
Can we stand with him today at the intersection of the world’s resistance to Jesus’ will and way and walk into it with courage and hope as he did? Can we bear the enormity of saying, despite our own desires and best interests, “not my will but thine be done”?
Holy Week is indeed upon us. What does this mean for you and for me? It’s well-worth thinking about!