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This week’s post is a Palm Sunday reflection written by Allie Dunn, one of the singers on our worship team.
I decided to further investigate the significance of Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter and the first day of Holy Week. In 1986, I was born on Palm Sunday that year – March 16th. Easter came early; I ironically came late (and haven’t been on time since). God chose to place me on this earth into my parents’ arms on that particular day, and I wondered if He had a specific reason for this.
I already know the basic story of Palm Sunday. However, I was unaware (or it had slipped my mind) that just prior to this event, Jesus resurrected His dear friend Lazarus, after He Himself wept & mourned his death. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of Lazarus’ resuscitation on Saturday, the day immediately before Palm Sunday. I do not know if this is the actual amount of time between these events – Pastor Eric gave his sermon discussing Lazarus two weeks ago.
The people of Jerusalem heard of this miracle and enthusiastically awaited Christ’s arrival to prepare and celebrate the coming Passover. Many now believed that He was the Messiah, the mighty one foretold by the prophet Ezekiel, among others. As the disciples processed into the city, Jesus riding atop a donkey, the people laid palms on the road, like a red carpet for an earthly king or celebrity. They cried,
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The word “hosanna” is now interpreted as “great joy and triumph” in anticipation of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the events Christians remember and reflect upon this week. However, there are traditions in history that suggest “hosanna” actually comes from the Hebrew “hoshi’a na,” which literally means something quite different.
During the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, people were to “rejoice before the Lord.” Many psalms are chanted by the priest. However, at Psalm 118:25-26, the trumpets sound, men and boys wave palm fronds in the air while reciting with the priest:
“O Domine, salvum fac; O Domine, bene prosperare! Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini!”
The English version reads:
“Oh Lord, save us; Oh Lord, bring prosperity! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Then trumpets sound while men & boys wave palm fronds in the air. “Hoshi’a na” is the Hebrew translation for the Latin “salvum fac” – save us!
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people were acknowledging and appealing, almost pleading, to their Saviour who had finally come! But this also brought them great hope and joy that with Christ’s arrival, their promised king would fight for them. He would overthrow the corrupt political leaders, abolish all suffering and persecution, triumphing over all and setting Israel free! Jesus did come to Jerusalem for those reasons, but not in the way the Israelites expected. He followed the purpose of His Father, surrendering and sacrificing His flesh and blood as the ultimate Passover Lamb – “Agnus Dei,” the Lamb of God.
This was not what Jesus wanted to do – in the garden of Gethsemane He begged His Father for another way to bring the world salvation. Jesus was meant to suffer in this way to save us all, to save the entire world. Not just the Jews or Gentiles or Samaritans, but even the Romans and those perceived as wicked, evil and corrupt. All men are sinners, which is why Christ was crucified, took all of our sin upon Himself and demolished it with the painful death of his body.
I share a similar flawed mindset with the crowd of that original Palm Sunday, waving their branches and shouting “Save us! Bring prosperity! You are the Messiah here to become our King!” For many years now, I asked God how much longer my physical and mental anguish would last. Had He forgotten me? Was there no light at the end of the tunnel, no end to my suffering? I often cry out “Lord, save me! Let me succeed! I am a good person and a good Christian! Why don’t You answer when I call Your name and ask for help?” I sense many of us share the same plea.
The Gospel of John highlights various examples of human suffering. There’s the man born blind, the dying Lazarus, Jesus’ anguish in the garden and then His brutal beating and execution. Yet God uses these men and their pains for good, to show ourselves and others His everlasting grace, mercy and love. The healing of the blind man, resuscitation of Lazarus and the death and resurrection of Jesus all had the same positive end goal – to open our eyes so that we might believe, turn away from deadly sin, seek the Lord and His ways so that we may be saved and be free in the name of Christ.
Lately I know I’ve been struggling to grasp this concept. Like the disciples in John 9:1-3, I believed we create our own heartaches through our sin. But Jesus gives them the true cause of the man’s blindness: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
I know that good is supposed to come from suffering and allow us to better understand and encourage the people we meet who struggle. But we tend to keep our shameful ways secret, hiding them from the people we love in order to protect them and our reputations. I wrote the following in 2008 during a bout of depression:
“Every time I’m accused, there’s a sentence to pay.
Either I sink beneath the waves or I float only to burn.
I’d rather drown alone than get your clothes wet,
Let you jump into the cold, or make you swim in my dark rapids.
Only I don’t realize you’re watching all along on the bank.
Dry, but forever chilled.”
I was so lost in my pain that I saw no hope or positive purpose. I didn’t understand God was teaching me and slowly guiding me to a better place. My task may be to relate with and assist others through words and song. As Charles Spurgeon put it in The Soul Winner:
“You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water.”
I am impatient and yearning for God to reveal the great plans He has for me in the future, how my experiences are meant for His glory. I wish I could know the positive works He intends through my agonies and pains. Every time I think I’ve figured it out, He throws another curve in my path. I am like those on the sidelines that day as Jesus paraded into the city, expecting Him to fix all my problems because I have faith. I need to still learn that He doesn’t answer our hopes and prayers in the fashion we would like, but in the way that is best for us and our souls. Then we can be free in Him and therefore spread His word and love to the people we meet. I start to see how He has helped me grow as I look back at my journal entries from years and months past. Yet my time on this earth is not yet complete and I know there is only more to come. This is what I will contemplate and pray about this Holy Week and upcoming Easter season. Hosanna in excelsis! Thank you God in the Highest for saving us, for saving me!
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
“The song I came to sing
Remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing
And in unstringing my instrument.
The time has not yet come true,
The words have not been rightly set;
Only there is the agony
Of wishing in my heart…
I have not seen his face,
Nor have I listened to his voice;
Only I have heard his gentle footsteps
From the road before my house…
But the lamp has not been lit
And I cannot ask him into my house;
I live in the hope of meeting with him;
But this meeting is not yet.”
-Waiting by Rabindranath Tagore
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