by Rev. John Howard Farmer
A distillation of tomes tells that all four of the New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, include the triumphant arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem a week or so prior to Easter, or his glorious resurrection from the grave.
In addition, many scholars believe that the symbolism is captured prophetically in the Old Testament in “The Coming of Zion’s King” as told in Zechariah 9:9: “See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” If that is the case it sure did anger the Sanhedrin (assembly of rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient Land of Israel).
In those Gospels, Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees in front of him reportedly sang part of Psalm 118:25-26, “Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah: We have blessed you out of the house of Jehovah.”
Now what about the symbolism of the donkey? Well, the donkey is a symbol of peace, of humility. A horse is a steed of anger, of war. A king would have ridden a horse when he was bent on war and ridden a donkey to symbolize his arrival in peace. Indeed, the contemporaries of Jesus wanted a military king to whip Jerusalem and Rome into shape. However, the entry into Jerusalem by Jesus was as the King of Peace not as a war-waging king. That politically astute image remains with us in an old hymn: “Ride on King Jesus,” which I love to hear and sing. Here’s a sample of that ancient spiritual, which only entered our contemporary hymnals around 1940: “Ride on King Jesus, no man can-a-hinder me. Ride on King Jesus, ride on, no man can-a-hinder me. No man can-a-hinder me.
In that great getting up morning fair thee well, fair thee well. In that great getting up morning fair thee well, fair thee well. Ride on King Jesus.
King Jesus rides a milk white horse, no one works like him, the river Jordan he did cross, no one works like Him. No one works like Him.
In that great getting up morning fair thee well, fair thee well. In that great getting up morning fair thee well, fair thee well. Ride on King Jesus.”
The Bible reports that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he looked at the city and wept, perhaps seeing the suffering that awaited that city in the far-off events of the destruction of the second temple by Rome, 70 AD.
It was a known custom to cover the dusty path of someone thought worthy of the highest honor, such as in the Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 9:13) wherein Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat was similarly treated.
John’s Gospel and other New Testament references report that people gave Jesus this spectacular form of honor. The story goes that the people were described as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street. In ancient Jewish tradition, the palm is but one of the four types of branches carried for Sukkot (so named after the booths or huts in which Jews are supposed to dwell, following Yom Kippur, a week-long celebration) in Leviticus 23:40. The Disciple John, himself a son of a Jewish priest, specified palms.
In the strongly Greco-Roman influenced Christian tradition, the palm branches were symbols of triumph and victory. Yet, for those Caesar-followers in the crowd a toga wearer and palms indicated surrender… Nothing could have been further from the truth for Jesus. Although the Apostle Paul (Christian convert from Judaism) referred to Jesus as “triumphing,” his celebratory entry into Jerusalem was not commonly accepted until some thirteen centuries later.
Throughout the ages the palm branch was carried in funeral processions to represented eternal life. Later we learn palm branches were used as symbols of the Christian martyrs and their particular spiritual victories: that is a triumph over death.
By the time of the closing Book of Revelation (7:9) the white-clad multitude stands before the throne and lamb holding high their palm branches.
All the aforementioned notwithstanding, this Sunday at the Irvington Baptist Church we will celebrate with palms, music and the spoken word. The Youth will process with palm branches. Our ladies will have palm branch cross pins for our lapels. Our youth choir, Kingdom Kids, led by Karen Burke and Hazel Farmer will grace us with song. Deacon Burdette Warwick will lift us with a solo. One of our newest members, Laurel Taylor, will lift a tune. Burke, doing double-duty, will also bring a musical message.
Following worship, we will sit at table to share our traditional Palm Sunday lunch. Care to join us?