Biblical Words 
The ancient royal city is visited by a Prince of Peace it will not accept.
Note: The Revised Common Lectionary has two sets of readings for this Sunday, the “Liturgy of the Palms” and the “Liturgy of the Passion.” My practice is to treat these separately, doing the “Palms” on this Sunday, and saving the “Passion” until Good Friday, when the entire Passion Narrative in Luke will be listened to.
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29.
The Liturgy of the Palms has only two readings, a Psalm and a Gospel, the two virtually mirror images of each other.
The Psalm reading is a portion of the long Psalm 118.
This entire psalm contains a sequence of
liturgical actions that in reality forms a profound background to Jesus’ entry
The selected verses of our reading focus on the Coming One who seeks entry into the temple.
There is a summons to praise the Lord – and someone calls out, “Let me in, so I can do that!”
Who is this speaker?
Earlier he has said, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; / the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place” (verse 5).
The speaker is one who has already been saved and has come to the temple to give thanks for that deliverance. He was besieged by “all nations,” fought them off, and survived by the Lord’s help (verses 10-13, not in our reading). His escape was hailed in “the tents of the righteous” as a great victory, and he comes to the temple because, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (verse 17).
The Christian use of only verses 19-29 for Palm Sunday has in fact reversed the liturgical structure of the old Jerusalem cult drama. In the old ritual, the triumphal entry into the city and temple was the climax after all the struggle, a struggle that indeed took the speaker to the threshold of death (verses 13 and 17). In the Christian drama, however, Jesus makes a triumphal entry into the temple before the great struggle with the powers of death – to which, indeed, he succumbs, is killed, and can attain victory only by recovering from death.
Thus Palm Sunday is always ironic. It appears to be something that it turns out not to be. The declaration about the great reversal – “The stone that the builders rejected / has become the chief cornerstone” (verse 22) – means that the “apparent” victory of the moment is really a token of a more ultimate victory on the other side of the struggle with death.
When the speaker has actually entered the temple, the people cry out, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” (Verse 25.)
This “save us,” in Hebrew, is the hosh‘iah na’ that becomes the “Hosanna” of the Gospels.
With this cry the hopeful people receive the victorious royal figure: “Blessed in the name of the Lord is the one who comes!” (Verse 26. Note the order of the phrases. The NRSV margin is correct for the Hebrew; the quotations in the Gospels change the order.) The people process to the altar, waving “branches” to celebrate the salvation signified by the arrival of this Coming One.
The coda: standing in the center of the temple court, and presumably facing the holy of holies inside the temple building, the royal speaker declares, “You are my God, I will extol you.” And the liturgy ends with a final summons to all to give thanks for God’s steadfast love.
Mount of Olivesbehind the viewer.
This is approximately where Palm Sunday occurred. The presentstructure was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the early
16th century CE. The gate was sealed shut as ordered by
the Lord in Ezekiel 44:2. (Photo by Jay Wilcoxen.)
Gospel According to Luke is read only in its own terms (without harmonizing it
with the other Gospels), it becomes evident that Luke does not in fact
have a “triumphal entry” into
After the parade is over, Jesus has still not reached the city: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” At that point, Luke gives Jesus’ long lament over the coming destruction of the unfaithful city (Luke -44).
Only then does Jesus finally enter the temple – and immediately drive out the merchants (without thinking it over for a day, as Mark has it, Mark , 15-17). (Hans Conzelmann points out that in Luke Jesus actually “occupies” the temple for several days, though he ignores the rest of the city until its time to do the Passover, The Theology of St. Luke, pp. 75-76.)
(For more on
the city in Luke-Acts, see below the Special
Back to the beginning of our reading.
As in Mark,
Luke gives special attention to securing
the animal on which Jesus will ride in the parade (verses 29-34). The action is located on the east side of the
In any case,
riding this animal is a highly symbolic act. We learn the power of the symbolism from
And the prophecy goes on to identify this royal figure as the Prince of Peace:
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
What the enthusiastic disciples declare about Jesus comes from Psalm 118, though in their version it comes out this way:
Blessed is the king
The disciples make such a clamor that good law-abiding Pharisees urge Jesus to quiet them down. At this moment, however, they can’t be quiet, says Jesus, or else the stones themselves would cry out. This is the high celebrative moment which must be allowed its full expression!
Unlike the great psalm, however, this is not the last note. In Jesus’ drama, the cost of the intense battle for salvation is yet to come.
Special Note on
In Mark and
in Luke (and Acts), the disciples are never to return to
Luke’s relation to
On the other
hand, Luke seems to know
seems to have viewed the
middle block of traditions gathered in the “travel narrative” () is presented as a journey to
of the future restoration of the world-centered sanctuary city is carried
throughout Isaiah, particularly in Isaiah 40:1-11; 49:8-23; 54; 60; and
62. In several of these passages, the
Anointed One is the agent or companion of the restored mother city (49:1-8;
61). And, these visions in Isaiah emphasized
that the scattered people of
understood Jesus in terms of the prophesies of Isaiah is clear from such
pivotal quotations from that scroll as Luke 3:4-6; -19; ; ; and . Luke understood the importance of Jesus going
rather mature view of those events, not only was the prophetic Jesus rejected
by Jerusalem, the risen Jesus was
also rejected – as related at length in Acts.
Thus, the prophetic Jesus had foreseen that
By the time
Luke was composing his two-volume work,
Some Christian groups would reject the whole Israelite heritage (Marcion, around 140 CE), but the main line of non-Judean churches would insist that that heritage was carried on, by the authority of the Holy Spirit, in the life of the new communities that had spread throughout the Roman provinces, even to Rome itself.
By then, the only