On Palm Sunday, our Lord was greeted as a king, the promised and long-awaited messianic Son of David. In the mind of the populace, He would free Israel from the Roman occupation and, by His earthly reign, establish the Kingdom of God. Such mistaken notions of the messiah would accompany our Lord to His last moments on the cross.
He is a king, but not by the world’s standards. His kingship is shrouded throughout the Passion Narrative: He is ushered into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse as the emperor would be; olive branches and cloaks are spread before Him; He is cloaked in royal red, a reed placed in his hand instead of a scepter, and a crown of thorns on His head; the guards genuflect before Him; Pilate delivers the charge, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
He is a king, but the kind of king which the Old Testament prophets foretold. He would not be like the kings of Israel who forgot that they were instruments of God in the plan of salvation and in their pride acted like the kings of the nations. But like the king of today’s Gospel for the blessing of palms, “Tell the daughter of Sion, your king comes to you without display, astride a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
St. Paul, in the Epistle, tells us the kind of king He is: the eternal God Who, pre-existing and exalted forever in the resurrection, for a time, set aside, not His Godhead, but the glory of His Godhead, to enter into the human condition, a humble king, God and man, all powerful, all merciful; who imposes the burden of His authority not over His people but over death, and its causes, sin, and its consequences, hopelessness; a king who is able to right every wrong, to vanquish our direst enemies, to restore us to freedom, to establish an order of grace where nothing is irretrievably lost, but where we find forgiveness, life, renewal, and hope.
We have the advantage of hindsight, and the gift of grace, to recognize the kingship of Christ and the kind of king He is, and so our participation today in these sacred rites is one of true acclaim and honor towards our crucified and risen Lord. We know that the events of Palm Sunday will lead to His death, but His death is not a failure. It is the triumph of the messiah king, who out of love, descends and raises us up with Him. It is death’s last stand. It is the death of death. It is our life saved, redeemed, and restored.