By Timothy Kretzmann
On Palm Sunday we celebrate a day long ago that started when Jesus and his disciples got up in the town of Bethany, near Jerusalem. It was days before Passover, and Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, as were many other Jews, to celebrate the great festival. But the disciples were uneasy. The last time they were in Jerusalem, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees had boldly sent guards to arrest Jesus. But when they entered the temple where he was teaching, they stopped and listened to Him and were so moved with what He was saying that they could not arrest Him.
And they returned to the Pharisees without Jesus, saying, “We never heard any man speak like this. We could not arrest him.”
And the Pharisees grew even more angry with Jesus. The disciples were uneasy.
As Jesus and the disciples prepared to leave Bethany for Jerusalem a couple of miles away, Jesus instructed two disciples to go to a nearby town. As they entered the town, He told them, they would see a donkey that had never been ridden. They were to untie him and if anyone asked what they were doing, they were to say that the Lord has need of him. The disciples did what Jesus told them, and soon returned with the donkey. They spread some blankets on the donkey’s back, Jesus got on, and they started for Jerusalem, Word had spread quickly that Jesus was in Bethany and many people came looking for Him, so that by the time they left for Jerusalem there was a crowd of people walking behind them.
As they walked towards Jerusalem, the disciples looked at Jesus and wondered as I’m sure they wondered many times, “What manner of man is this?”
And they remembered the first time they had seen Jesus; He looked at them, and said simply, “Follow me.”
And as each man looked into His eyes, his heart said, “Of course. What else could I do?”
And they had left their homes, families, and their jobs and their whole lives behind and followed Him. And they saw Him sow hope in lives filled with fear, love in hearts infested with hate, and joy in all souls who were open to him.
And then the disciples remembered the miracles. Hundreds and hundreds of sick, blind, deaf, mute, lame flocked to Him. People with all kinds of diseases came to Him, or were carried to Him and went away cured and whole. Thousands were fed on a sunny hillside, after he blessed a small basket of loaves and fishes.
They remembered the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee stilled by His word. And then He had given them, the disciples, the power to heal; and He sent them out to the towns and through the countryside healing people in His name.
And they remembered when Jesus left the fertile and bountiful land of Galilee and came to the holy city of Jerusalem, where they found men with hearts as hard and unyielding as the rocks that the city was built upon. The chief priests and Pharisees despised Jesus, because He spoke often of their hypocrisy, and because so many people were being drawn to Him. They often tried to turn the people against Him. But still, Jesus kept teaching and healing, and more and more people came to Him; and now everywhere He went, crowds of people were with Him.
But what really made the disciples uneasy was something that had happened just two weeks before this day. Jesus had been alone with his disciples in the wilderness when he got word that Lazarus, His good friend in Bethany, was very sick. He waited a couple of days and then word came that Lazarus had died. Then they set out for Bethany.
When they arrived a day or two later, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus and also good friends of Jesus, were very distraught and said, “If only you’d been here, he would not have died. But now it is too late.”
And they wept and Jesus wept with them.
Then He stood and said, “Come, let us go unto the tomb.”
And so the group of friends, relatives and disciples walked slowly up the hill to the tomb.
“Roll away the stone,” said Jesus when they got there.
“But Master, he has been dead four days-it will smell,” protested Martha.
But Jesus insisted and the stone that sealed the opening of the tomb was removed. Jesus closed His eyes and prayed.
Then He opened His eyes, peered into the darkness of the tomb, and called out, “Lazarus, come forth!”
The disciples stared at Jesus dumbfounded, and followed His gaze into the tomb. They thought they saw movement in the darkness and then suddenly, there was Lazarus standing in the doorway of the tomb, wrapped in his grave linens, shielding his eyes from the bright light of the sun. He glanced around at the stunned and silent faces of the crowd and spotted Jesus. He weakly tottered out of the darkness of the tomb, knelt down before Him, and touched the Master’s feet.
“What manner of man is this?” thought the disciples as they looked at Jesus riding the donkey up the east side of the Mount of Olives, closer and closer to Jerusalem.
Word of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life spread like lightning. The chief priests and Pharisees nearly exploded with anger when they heard about it. They immediately issued an order that anyone knowing the whereabouts of Jesus should report him to them at once. Jesus left Bethany and went to the town of Ephraim, a safe distance away, for a little over a week; and now here they were heading for Jerusalem right over the top of this hill – the Mount of Olives. The disciples were uneasy.
And then they got to the top of the Mount of Olives and the city came into view and there in the road were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. At the sight of Him, a cry went up:
“He’s here. The Messiah is here.”
And the people started shouting and waving palm branches and soon the crowd was all around them shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed be the Kind of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David!”
The closer they got to the city walls, the more people there were. They were throwing palm branches, and the men were throwing their robes, into the road for the donkey to walk on as they did for kings in those days. And somewhere amid the tumult and the praise, the dust and the jubilation of the crowd the uneasiness the disciples left them, like a lifting fog, and they walked tall, their hearts filled with joy beside their Master. With so many enthusiastic supporters around, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees would never try to arrest Jesus, lest the multitude turned into a mob against them.
And as the procession made its way through the gates of the city, and on toward the temple mount, the disciples saw a group of Pharisees pushing through the crowd toward Jesus.
Finally, when one of them got close enough, he shouted to Jesus, “Master, tell these people to be quiet.”
And Jesus replied, “If these people were silenced the very stones would shout their praises to the Son of Man!”
And so today we celebrate the day when the world lifted up its voice in joy and honor to Jesus the Christ.