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The Perfect Ending

Guest Contributor

It’s Palm Sunday! Whether you celebrate this Christian observance or not, I bet we could piece together this holiday story, which might go something like this: There was a great man who lived a long time ago. He truly loved people—especially the downtrodden and marginalized—always did what was right even when it was costly, and reportedly performed several miracles.

Now some humorless religious authorities opposed him, but he certainly inspired their curiosity. Indeed, one day the great man rode into town meek and mild on a donkey, and the people suddenly recognized him as their long-awaited king. The whole community came together to sing and celebrate him! And everyone lived happily ever after. The End.

But wait—listen! Can you hear the jubilant song sung to their king?

All glory, laud, and honor[1]
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.

Shall we join along with them singing?

The company of angels
is praising you on high;
and we with all creation
in chorus make reply.
The people of the Hebrews
with palms before you went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before you we present.

Palm Sunday is one of my favorite holidays. I have always loved the joyous, triumphant celebration of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” penned by a ninth-century bishop and wish it were sung more than annually. And every year, as children trip over themselves in the church sanctuary, marching and waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna!” unexplainable emotion swells within me, stirring a tenderness and innocence from years long past. If I were to craft a children’s story, Palm Sunday might be the perfect ending: a great man who is loved by many and hated by some eventually brings the entire community together to celebrate him and crown him as their benevolent king.

More to This Story

But spoiler alert, or not, Palm Sunday is just the beginning of what is known as Passion or Easter week. There are stories still to come about this great man, Jesus of Nazareth, and even His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, which Palm Sunday celebrates, serves as a clue that there is more to this story when understood in the larger context of biblical history. Indeed, it is the fulfillment of ancient messianic oracles from the prophets such as Zechariah (whom the Gospels all cite here) beholding a humble and victorious king riding a donkey and the accompanying joyous response of its witnesses.[2]

Yes, Palm Sunday is just the beginning, and somewhat shockingly, the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that right after His triumphal entry, Jesus would overturn the tables of moneychangers and drive out those buying and selling at the temple in an astonishing display of righteous indignation.[3] The forecourt of the temple was the one place Gentiles could gather to pray; yet with business being conducted in their midst, they were effectively shut out from praying.[4] Jesus is incensed, and quoting the prophet Jeremiah, He declares, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17).

When the religious authorities hear this, Mark says that they “began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (verse 18). Who is this man Jesus upsetting their established financial affairs and calling the temple my house? Furthermore, many who recognize Jesus as their heaven-sent Redeemer and King and cry out “Hosanna”—meaning, “Save, we pray” or “Save now!”—will cry out against Him only a few days later. What a stunning turn of events from festive Palm Sunday!

But if we were to flip back only a couple pages before Jesus’s triumphal entry in Matthew’s Gospel alone, we would hear astonishing words from this “great man.” Jesus would speak of “the face of his Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10), a potentially blasphemous suggestion of His intimate, otherworldly relationship with God—unless He was much more than a great man. And here Jesus also likens Himself to a tender shepherd who leaves behind his ninety-nine sheep to search for the one who went astray to bring it to his gracious Father’s fold (Matthew 18: 11-14). No earthly shepherd has such power unless He is also a king whose kingdom is not of this world—as Jesus in fact declared.[5]

The rest of this historic week beyond Palm Sunday is filled with pathos, betrayal, suffering, and an ending upending all endings that would change the world forevermore. Sounds like the perfect ending to stories still to come….

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[1] Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans (c. 820), “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” translator JM Neale (1854).

[2] Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

[3] The cleansing of the temple comes much earlier in John’s Gospel as John is organizing the material theologically to respond to the signs demanded from Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry that He is indeed the Christ, the Redeemer.

[4] See William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 404-407.

[5] See John 18:36-37.

Danielle Durant invites others to join her in unearthing the perpetual wonders of beauty and truth found in the ageless drama of Scripture. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) and a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). Danielle is passionate about all things running, nature, and her expressive Maine Coon cat, Simeon.