28-31 After saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’” 32-33 The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?” 34 They said, “His Master needs him.” 35-36 They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street.
37-38 Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!
39 Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”
40 But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.” (Luke 19:28-40; The Message)
Did you catch it? Or rather, did you catch the lack of it? The very thing for which this day is named is missing. No palms? No palms!!
Some scholars actually take umbrage to the mention of palms in the first place; only John makes the waved fronds from palms (likely Judean Date Palms) and the waving of palms is associated with Sukkot, not Passover. Perhaps picayune issues go the average reader, but I mention them only because we’re in fraught territory.
So no palms. Just cloaks. But think of that; a garment that was central to ancient life. A garment that provided warmth, that folded could serve as a bag or a tarpaulin; a garment that could make a tent or a makeshift pillow. For those present, it is a sign of fealty. Of recognition. Of joy.
John Dominic Cossan and Marcus Borg, in their excellent book The Last Week, paint a potent picture: Jesus riding in on a colt and being heralded as the king of peace; on the other side of Jerusalem, Pilate arrives amidst forced cries of acclamation from the oppressed and the sounds of marching Roman centurions prepped for a week of increased presence.
The joy that spontaneously arises from the earth stands in tension. The stones have no cloaks but they shan’t be silenced. Creation itself sings forth, silencing the blaring trumpets of the strutting, conquering powers.
In the shadow of the cross God demands we first see light. Yes, a difficult week awaits us. It is patient, looming like a specter and growing more insistent with each fleeting minute.
But not yet. Now, joy. Songs. Waving and laying, marching and affirming.
Thanks be to God.