Text: Henry H. Milman, 1827
From Psalter Hymnal, 1987
Click here to listen:
As a child I loved Palm Sunday morning. All the Sunday School kids would proudly march down the aisles of our church, waving branches and singing a song with Hosanna! as one of the lyrics. I always thought Palm Sunday was a celebration – and it is. But it marks the beginning of one of the most dramatic weeks in human history that I was not able to understand when I was waving palm branches as a kid.
This Sunday’s hymn captures the irony of Palm Sunday. The people are joyfully hailing the King that they will crucify less than a week later. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem says that the people “began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'” Luke 19:37b-38.
Jesus is the King of Kings. He was welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, but he never ruled from an earthly throne. The hymn says he came in lowly pomp. He rode into Jerusalem in a parade of praise, but he knew he had come to Jerusalem to die. Christ first bows his head and submits to the cross before he takes his seat at the right hand of God to reign as King. The adoring crowds did not anticipate this type of king when they were waving the branches and shouting. And only days later, the crowds were not shouting “Hosanna” but “Crucify.” How quickly we change our tune when things don’t turn out the way we hoped they would.
I didn’t really understand Palm Sunday as a child, but I realize that I don’t really fully understand it as an adult. The King of Kings chose to finish his time on earth in such an unexpected way. It was unexpected from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate today, to the washing of his disciples’ feet that we commemorate on Maundy Thursday, to his death and apparent defeat on Friday. And then his unexpected resurrection from the tomb on Easter day. I pray that the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to the mystery and the irony of the humble, meek Savior bowing his head to die for our sins, and prepare us for the week ahead as we commemorate his passion and resurrection.