Last Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday – a day that we traditionally attribute to Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus rode into town on a donkey, fulfilling a messianic prophecy spoken long ago through the Prophet Zechariah and recounted by Matthew:
“This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in this very particular way He was declaring himself as the Messiah the Jewish people had been waiting for. It is a wonderful day, full of celebration and hope for a bright future. It is hard for me to sit back, thousands of years later, and imagine such a hopeful and joyous crowd turning so quickly into an angry mob demanding Jesus be crucified. It’s baffling if you think about it. But history has shown us how quickly public opinion can turn, sometimes it merely takes a rumor.
Still, as I sit here I can’t help but think about what it must have been like for those closest to Jesus. How they must have felt proud to enter into the city with Jesus, and how confident they must have felt in their belief that He was the promised one they had waited so long for. And yet, as we can see most famously in the story of Peter, not a handful of days later this proud and confident disciple of Jesus becomes afraid of his association with Him and instead of remaining by His side Peter denies that he even knows Jesus. Not only does he deny it, but he denies it three times. I imagine the chill that must have run down Peter’s spine when the rooster crowed and Jesus locked eyes with him from across the courtyard.
We can never know the intimate details of what went on in the minds of the disciples, but we can imagine. We don’t have any indication that any of them spoke up for Jesus against the Jewish religious leaders and the mob they incited, perhaps they were simply too afraid for their own lives. Or had they begun to doubt that Jesus was, in fact, who they thought He was? I think they were afraid, at least at first, or maybe they were all in denial that any of this was happening: the arrest, the trial, the punishment. It could be that they were sitting back waiting for Jesus to call forth His heavenly glory and smite the unbelievers, leaving no room for anyone to doubt who He was.
And then Jesus did the unthinkable – He died. I imagine this must have been shocking to His followers, beyond what words can describe. How is it that the savior, the great and promised Messiah could die? He was supposed to free the people and usher in a never ending age of peace and prosperity in a renewed relationship with God – finally undoing the damage that was done so long ago in the garden.
We know that Jesus died Friday afternoon, it is why we call it “Good Friday.” But I can’t help but imagine that to the followers of Christ who were there on that day it was anything but good; it must have been frightening. There was barely enough time in the day to get Jesus down from the cross and into a tomb before the Sabbath began, and then they had to wait until the Sabbath ended before anything more could be done. We call that day Holy Saturday, a day where people stand vigil, remembering the death Jesus suffered on the cross, and awaiting the dawn of Easter morning – also known as Resurrection Sunday.
Today, we are in the unique position of looking back on the event, full well knowing what happens Sunday morning. For us it is the beginning of the story, instead of the end of one. This weekend is a time to remember, but it is not a time without hope or without promise. We have only to wait for the dawn, for Easter to come and celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to set us free and bring us back into relationship with Him. Jesus may not have been what the Jews expected, but He was exactly what we all needed Him to be.