The background music intensifies. The storyline in our favourite movie or book pulls us deeper into its world, and we begin to tense with anticipation. We instinctively know something important is about to happen. It’s called rising action. It’s the phenomenon of events coming together in a way that must lead to a climax of some sort or other. We don’t know yet what it will be, but we sense it will be significant. It’s why we’ve committed ourselves to sit in front of the screen, or spend so many hours reading the book. There is something in us that resonates with the aligning of events toward a purpose. The chaos of seemingly random acts is beginning to come to order. We are on the cusp of seeing with clarity. But we’re not quite there yet. Every sense is alive in anticipation.
It’s A.D. 33; it’s the final week of Jesus’ life. Jesus has trodden the dusty paths of Judea, coming and going through its hub, Jerusalem, numerous times in the past three years of His ministry. He has healed the wounded, disputed with hypocrites, and mastered storms. He has resisted others’ attempts to manipulate His ministry. He has limited His followers’ attempts to publically pronounce His Messiahship.
Today is different. Those around Him sense something is about to happen. He has revisited the hamlet of Bethany where He had raised His friend Lazarus to life, and the word is spreading. The national holiday of Passover is only days away and crowds of Jews, flocking to the city for the festivities, are drawn to detour by the hamlet. What show-stopping action might the miracle-worker be doing today?
Giving instructions to two of His disciples, Jesus waits. They return with a young donkey and Jesus nods His approval. They help Him mount and turn onto the path that leads over the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. As they crest the hill an amazing sight greets them. Crowds of revelers are streaming from the city toward Him. Behind Him a group has been growing, snatching up boughs from the base of palm trees. A chant begins to work its way through the throng.
“Hosanna!” they shout victoriously. It is the rallying cry of a people who want to throw off the yoke of bondage.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” the other group responds. The shouting, chanting voices echo across the valley as the two groups meet. The crowd begins to form along the two sides of the path like spectators preparing for a parade, waving their branches. As the donkey steps into the melee, someone lays his bough at the colt’s hooves; the crowd follows, delighted with this display of honouring its rider. Branch after bough are tossed before the colt and rider creating a carpet of green and gold across the valley and up the rise to the city gate. The teacher is being given the welcome of a hero, a rescuing army commander, a king. But some don’t like that.
“Teacher,” a red-faced religious leader protests, sidling up to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples!”
Jesus turns a victorious look on the objector and replies, ”I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” There is no stopping this now, He says. The time is ripe. The action will rise to a pitch never before experienced on this old earth. The Creator is becoming the selfless Saviour and nothing in Heaven or Earth can stop it.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today we remember the rising action of the greatest event ever accomplished. Today, we too have the opportunity to lay before the Messiah our boughs of worship. We too must choose if He will be our commander and king, or one who offends our own self-centered worldview. Do we want just a good teacher whose sayings we can take or leave as we choose? Or are we willing to see He is much more, that He gives all and requires all from those who will accept Him?
Can we shout with the followers of millennia past, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
(Photo Credit: Felix Burton, Wikimedia Commons)