Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. God is the Lord, and He revealed Himself to us. Save us, O Son of God, who sat on a donkey’s colt.
~Entrance Hymn, Palm Sunday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes
And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and He sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! And when He entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Jesus was really a revolutionary figure when He walked the earth two thousand years ago. He turned a lot of ideas that people had upside down, which is why to many, His voice brought a measure of hope, while to both the Jewish and Roman establishment, His voice was a voice that made them uncomfortable, angry and eventually murderous. He took the idea that the one who is greatest is the one who was served by many and changed it to the idea that the one who is the greatest is the one who is serving. He summarized 613 commandments of the Old Testament into only two—love God and love our neighbor. We’ve been given talents, not for our own glory, but to be used to serve others. Jesus was recognized as a “king,” yet He rode on a donkey instead of a chariot, His “army” was rag-tag disciples instead of soldiers and His kingdom was not of earth but of heaven itself. His greatest triumph was on the cross, which at that time was the most humiliating of deaths to suffer. And today, the symbol of our Christianity, the cross, was once reserved for the worst of criminals.
It is amazing how God has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He led the people of Israel out of Egypt using a cloud and a pillar of fire. He spoke to the Virgin Mary and Joseph through an angel. His Nativity was announced by angels but revealed quietly to a few shepherds. At the baptism, the Trinity was revealed as the voice of God thundered over the River Jordan, the Spirit appeared as a dove, and the Son of God stood as a man to receive baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. At the Transfiguration, Jesus appeared in glory in the clouds, surrounded by Moses and Elijah, the central figures of the Old Testament.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode on a donkey, entering Jerusalem as a humble “king.” As we hear in the entrance hymn of Palm Sunday, “God is the Lord and He revealed Himself to us.” However, He revealed Himself as a humble king, rather than as a might warrior. We sing “save us, O Son of God, who sat on a donkey’s colt.” We ask for His salvation not because He was a ruthless dictator but because He was a humble servant. Our salvation is not going to come through might and conquest but through humility and servanthood. Going back to the account of Palm Sunday, from John 12:15, the prophecies of the Old Testament told the people of Israel, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt.” In other words, don’t fear because this king is not the stereotypical warrior king. He is coming in humility, but He is our king.
Going back to the hymn of Palm Sunday that was discussed in the last reflection, we sing, “therefore, imitating the children, carrying the symbols of victory.” (Apolytikion of Palm Sunday) In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is another irony as we make our way to salvation. Jesus doesn’t tell us to approach Him as an accomplished businessman, or a mighty warrior, or a famous person. He tells us that we are to approach like children, because children are innocent, joyful, resilient and forgive easily. Indeed, we can learn a lot from our children. Humble, simple, child-like innocence and resilience are important aspects of the Christian character. In entering Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a chariot, Jesus shows us that He has come as a humble servant. The one who wishes to rule must do so with humility and as a servant. And that the path to salvation is found in love and service, rather than conquest and defeat.
In heaven upon the throne, on earth upon the colt, You were carried, O Christ our God; and the praise of the Angels, and the hymns of the children, You received as they cried to You, “Blessed are You, the One, Who is coming to call Adam back again.” (Kontakion, Palm Sunday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Christ’s entry into Jerusalem set the tone for the entire week. On Palm Sunday, the King of glory entered the city, humble and sitting on a donkey. Five days later, He would carry the cross as a man condemned by His own people. And seven days after His entry into Jerusalem, He would be raised in glory, our Savior risen from the dead.