The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” [John 12:12-13 (NLT)]
All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
You are the King of Israel and David’s royal Son,
now in the Lord’s name coming, the King and Blessed One.
[Theodulph of Orleans (820)]
We are people of physical signs and symbols and rituals help us connect with events. As a little girl, I loved Palm Sunday and not just because it meant my Lenten fasting would soon end and jelly beans would be in my Easter basket the following week. I loved the way our liturgical church observed it. The hymns of the day were filled with hosannas (a welcome relief from the more somber hymns of the Lenten season). Typically, the opening hymn was “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and we children would follow the choir into the church while waving our palm branches. Even as a small child, I knew this day commemorated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Like the people of Jerusalem, I was filled with joy on this day. Having sung that “the wee little” Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see the Lord, I pictured people lining the streets and jostling one another for the best view as they might for a parade. I wondered if little children sat on their parents’ shoulders so they could see Jesus. Between the palms I waved and the day’s joyful music, I felt like I was there in Jerusalem and watching the promised Messiah approach on his donkey.
Today, in preparation for Palm Sunday, rather that thinking about those joyful cries of “Hosanna!” and the royal welcome given to our Lord, I thought about Jesus and what He must have been thinking. As Jesus neared the city, Luke tells us that He wept. Jesus, however, wasn’t just a little teary-eyed. Luke used the word eklausen which meant to sob or wail loudly, as one who mourns the dead! As He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, Jesus was in tears!
Having already told his disciples He would suffer and die, we know Jesus saw what lay at the end of the parade and it’s easy to think His tears were because of the horror awaiting Him. Those sobs, however, weren’t for Him—they were for His people and the city of Jerusalem.
Jesus knew that, in spite of their hosannas, He would be rejected. The people didn’t want their Messiah to be a Prince of Peace—they wanted him to be a conquering king. As He rode into town, Jesus pronounced judgment on the city that was blind to the true nature of God’s kingdom and prophesized its siege and destruction. Thirty-seven years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, the city was burned, the Temple destroyed, and over one million Jews were slaughtered. While palms waved and people cheered, the grief-stricken Jesus saw Jerusalem’s future and sobbed. It would be nearly 19 centuries before the Jews again had a homeland.
On that Sunday so long ago, the Prince of Peace arrived in the city whose name meant peace. The first part of Jerusalem’s name is yiroo, meaning “they will see” or “they will feel awe,” and core of the word is shalem, meaning completeness and wholeness. Shalem is the root of the Hebrew word for peace—shalom. Jerusalem’s name literally meant, “They will see wholeness” or “They will feel the awe of completeness.” That day they saw the wholeness of God but, sadly, they didn’t understand!