Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Behold your king comes to you, O Zion,
meek and lowly, sitting upon an ass.
Ride on in the cause of truth
and for the sake of justice.
Your throne is the throne of God, it endures for ever;
and the sceptre of your kingdom is a righteous sceptre.
You have loved righteousness and hated evil.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.The Liturgy of Palm Sunday: Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem
If you attend a church that still uses liturgy (please say those churches still exist), then there is a chance that these are the first words you said or heard last Sunday. They are part of the Anglican liturgy for Palm Sunday, which I always thought was celebrated in every church though now I’m not so sure.
Whether every year that you can remember there has been that one church service where you were given a cross made of some dried plant (and totally didn’t use it for a sword fight with your mates after the service) or you have never come across the idea of Palm Sunday, today we’re going to explore what it’s purpose is.
- What does it mean, that Jesus was sitting on an ass?
- Jesus coming as a king doesn’t really match up with the guy who healed the bleeding woman.
- Son of David… but his dad is called Joseph!
The Importance of Scripture
Palm Sunday is a brilliant example of why knowing scripture is so important. Like, SO SO SO SO important! Let’s start with this piece of liturgy and work out from there. Yep, I know I just said scripture (a..k.a the Bible) was the most important but trust me on this. You see, originally all liturgy was based on the Bible and designed to help normal people to learn from God’s word. All of that makes it a pretty good starting place.
Hosanna to the Son of David / Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Jesus is routinely referred to as the Son of David yet His father’s name was Joseph. Confusing? Not really. It’s all about prophecies and (step)family trees. While Jospeh was not Jesus’ biological father, he is part of Joseph’s family. This means that Jesus is also part of David’s family because Joseph was a great… grandson of David’s. Hence, though it was via a lot of generations, Jesus was known as the Son of David because He was viewed as being descended from David.
So that bit isn’t really very “Palm Sunday-y” but the next bit is. In Matthew 21, when Jesus rides through Jerusalem the people are literally calling out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” These people, some of whom just thought Jesus was a teacher and others who had twigged that He was the Messiah, acknowledged that this carpenter riding on an ass came in God’s name! That is just a little bit crazy. But when we call out this line together as a congregation, as one community together as an act of worship, we are echoing those same first people who called it out. We are acknowledging that this carpenter-turned-teacher came in the name of God; that we want to gift Him with God’s grace.
Behold your king comes to you, O Zion, / meek and lowly, sitting on an ass
I love this image. As in all the heart emojis! 💙💚💛💜🧡❤️🖤 But why do I love it?
Let’s get a little personal for a moment. (According to some of my closest friends, I have no boundaries 🤷🏻♀️) I don’t really get the whole “I am a friend of God” idea. In theory, 100% on board with it. It sounds so cute and cuddly and comforting. In reality… I struggle to understand it when a human person befriends me so the idea that the SON OF GOD would be my friend is just INSANE! But God as my king? That I can understand. He’s on His throne and I’m down below, struggling to remember His mind-blowing mercy. It all makes sense.
So for God to come down to our level in Jesus? That He became one of us blows my mind! Then He pushes the point home even further and rides an ass, which we would call a donkey now. It’s like choosing a second-hand Robin Reliant when He should be driving a brand new Tesla. Yet He did that. The KING OF THE WHOLE FREAKING UNIVERSE came down to our level, riding in a second hand banger. He probably would have driven it too; no chauffeur for Jesus.
And this wasn’t by accident. You can read about the event in Matthew 21 but what’s even freakier is that Zechariah 9:9 also talks about our king arriving on a baby donkey. Centuries before Mary was born, let alone Jesus as a baby in a manger, God was telling His people what their king would look like. He always intended to come down to our level in order to bring us up to His. This is just incredible!
Your throne is the throne of God, it endures forever / and the sceptre of your kingdom is a righteous sceptre.
Kings sit on thrones. Everyone those that. Even today, when the British monarch has their coronation they sit on a throne. So we can agree that kings must have thrones to sit on. Continuing with the coronation example, the monarch is also handed a sceptre as a symbol of royal authority. All of which means that having access to a throne and sceptre probably means that you are royalty.
The Bible knows this too. Revelation says “I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21) when Jesus is speaking to John. Hebrews 1 tells us,
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.”
While there is no mention of a throne in Matthew 21, on the first Palm Sunday, they did acknowledge Him as a king. This small part of liturgy from Palm Sunday uses other passages from the Bible to further remind us that Jesus is not just a “good teacher”. He is a KING and therefore He has a right to the symbols of that.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you / with the oil of gladness above your fellows
Fun fact: Messiah/Christ means anointedor anointed one. Think about it like this: every time someone says “Jesus Christ” they are saying “Jesus the Anointed One”.
Why is this important? Because in Biblical times being anointed, typically with oil, was reserved for kings and priests. It was an honour but also something that marked you out as being special. For example, David was anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 16) before He ever met Saul or went to the royal court. Yet that act set David apart from those around him as someone special.
I can hear you all saying that Jesus was never anointed. He didn’t get any oil poured over His head. Well, I hate to break it to you but He was. In Matthew 26, so between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, a woman did anoint Jesus. In fact, this anointing was one of the things that angered Judas Iscariot who would go on to betray Jesus. Judas claims that he is angered at so much money being wasted (it was expensive oil) but the significance of this act would not have been lost on him. Jesus was being set apart as someone special, holy, and different.
Yes, it was a woman who set Jesus apart. Not a priest or prophet but just a normal woman. But shouldn’t this make it even more amazing to us. That God chose someone with no standing in society to practically shout about who His Son was!
“But it isn’t God literally anointing Him…”
Okay, you have a good point there. We have to look at Luke 4, where Jesus reads out a passage of Isaiah before claiming that the prophecy is made real in Jesus. How does that passage start?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach gospel to the poor.Luke 4:18
God did anoint Jesus. Even if we never see God tipping oil over Jesus’ head, His anointing is in His title, the act of a woman, and in prophecy. To say that Jesus is anointed is to acknowledge who He is, and in doing so remind ourselves that Jesus had been set apart from the rest of humanity.
That He is holy.
Ride on in the cause of truth / and for the sake of justice… You have loved righteousness and hated evil.
Okay, so not all of liturgy has been plucked straight out of Scripture or has an easy Bible verse to compare it with. Then again, C.S. Lewis didn’t quote a single Bible verse in The Chronicles of Narnia but we are all 100% convinced that Aslan is Jesus.
‘I am [in your world].’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.’C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Though liturgy may not always match up exactly to Scripture, it should always mirror it and never work against it. Spending time reading Scripture is the easiest way to do this, as we get to know Jesus’ character through it. These are just a few examples:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life.-John 14:6
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?Luke 18: 7-8
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.Jeremiah 23:5
Sure, no one told Jesus to “ride on in the cause of truth” (frankly it sounds like something out of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) but these few lines remind us of something key about the God-man we claim as King and Saviour. That He did not come to be only a teacher; definitely not to be “just a good teacher”.
Jesus upset and disrupted society with truth, justice, and righteousness. Why else would they have hung an innocent man on a cross, dying of suffocation amidst the pain of flesh ripped from His back, nails in His hands and feet, and a spear buried in His ribs? Because that is where this is all heading. The Son of David, a king on a donkey, was a week later abandoned and executed for sins He did not commit.
Why celebrate Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is a chance to focus completely on Jesus the King. We can revel in His glory, at how even the rocks know that He is the King of Kings (Luke 19:40).
But there is a deeper level to Palm Sunday, that this liturgy hints at. Good Friday is coming. The Son of Man, the King of Kings, will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice and in doing so be totally deserted. Even today, when we celebrate that Jesus is King we cannot escape this ending.
Personally, I think this only intensifies the joy of Palm Sunday. It is Jesus’ victory parade and coronation BEFORE the battle has even been fought. That is how sure Jesus is of winning against sin and death. And this small part of Anglican liturgy? It is our psalm of victory, our reminder that Jesus is the anointed King.