Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.
There is something majestic, exhilarating and timeless about the Latin rendering of this supreme moment of joy, as the Son of God, Messiah, the Hope of Israel enters Jerusalem on a donkey.
A prophet on a donkey.
As we enter this Holy Week – the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – it is important to remember that it does indeed begin with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.
To the Romans, palm leaves were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jews who greeted their Messiah were simply echoing this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judæa.
But what kind of prophet of God or victorious king parades in triumph on a donkey?
The One who was born of a woman?
The One who was lain in a manger?
The One who emptied Himself in humility?
The one who was soon to die on a cross, where Christ’s grace simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.