What Was the Spark Leading to the Crucifixion?

On April 12, Americans remember the start of the Civil War. Conditions of war had been building for years, but the shots at Ft. Sumter accelerated conflicting undercurrents into full scale war. The shot was the fuse to a powder keg filled through years of geographical frustrations. History is often this way. One critical event releases the full force of tension building, and actions unthinkable months before become reality over night.

Palm Sunday is such an event, and is the doorway to Holy Week, becoming the spark, lighting the fuse, leading to the Crucifixion and Glorious Resurrection. The raising of Lazarus and the subsequent entry into Jerusalem thrust Jesus into the events of the Passion. For throughout His ministry, He threatened the religious establishment and this sudden publicity was their opportunity to ensnare Him.

The Church celebrates this day like other feasts with readings from Scriptures and hymns to enlighten the meaning of the feast. The Scriptures for this feast are Gen 49:1-2; 8-12; Zeph. 3:14-19; Zech 9:9-15; Matt 21:1-17; Phil 4:4-9; John 12:1-18. By reading through these texts and hymns, several key thoughts arise bringing us into an experience of this day.

1. Behold the King. This is a feast of rejoicing. It is a foreshadowing of the feast of Easter. The king is coming and will deliver. We are called to remember Christ comes to us continually in power and glory in the Eucharist. Zephaniah 3:14ff

2. The King is the Suffering Servant. This was not the king most expected. The palms were patriotic symbols originating from the Maccabean era, proclaiming a Jewish self-rule and freedom from foreign oppression. Yet Jesus was not a king of earthly power and dominion, but He was to become the Suffering Servant who would be obedient through the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. According to Rabbinical philosophy, when Messiah came, He would ride into Jerusalem on a white horse. If however, Israel was not ready for Messiah, He would ride in on a donkey. And here's Jesus riding on a donkey, not so much confirming rabbinical speculation as fulfilling prophetic indication, for hundreds of years earlier, Zechariah said the King would come riding on a donkey (9:9).

“Humbles Himself and comes from Bethany riding on a dumb beast.” Vespers of Palm Sunday

3. Accept the Kingdom. The Feast summons us to accept the rule and kingdom of God as the goal and content of the Christian life.

Theophan the Recluse: The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil 2.13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established.
4. Praise of Innocence. Innocent children offer palms and praise, which is contrasted with the anger of the Pharisees. The innocent were able to see Christ as King, but the sinfulness of the Pharisees darkened their hearts from understanding. The cries of Hosanna meant “save us now”. Little did they know the form their salvation would take.

“From the mouths of babes and infants you have founded praise.” Vespers

“The children honor Him with palms and branches.” Vespers

5. Prefigures the Gentiles. The Fathers see in the colt an image of the Gentiles being tamed by Christ so they could be brought into the fold of the people of God.

“Riding on an untamed colt, you have prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles, those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to faith.” Vespers

6. Tragedy of the Betrayal. Many of those praising Jesus during the Entry were also calling for His crucifixion later in the week. This tragic turn of events is a warning to all that we too are never far from betrayal of the One we praise. Each sin is a kiss of Judas and cry of “Give us, Barabbas”.

Regardless of the events set in motion by Palm Sunday, it is cause for rejoicing. For the King has come and will deliver us from the bonds of death and provide entry into His kingdom.
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