Palm Sunday - Grief, Hope and Promise: A Love Story

Today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Passion Week, Jesus’ last week of ministry before His death and resurrection. Some of our more liturgical brothers and sisters around the world have been preparing for Resurrection Sunday for more than 30 days already. From this day until next Sunday, almost all Christians around the world will be reading, thinking, preparing, praying and fasting in an effort to prepare their heart for the heaviness of Friday and the beauty of Sunday.

On this Sunday, many years ago, during the time of Jesus, He and his disciples, along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews, streamed into the city of Jerusalem from the farthest corners of the land. Their purpose was fulfillment of the mandatory feast day of Passover, the annual time when Israel remembered their past redemption from Egypt in the Exodus.

By the time Jesus celebrated this Passover meal, their last supper, with His disciples, it had been celebrated around 1500 times before. They did so annually because the first Passover was incredibly rich with God’s power and presence. Miracles. Signs and wonders. Awesome, in the proper sense of the word.

Think about it. A family of about three or four generations went into Egypt as welcomed guests. Over 400 years later, they are a population of slaves in the millions. They are oppressed and killed. They are disliked and slandered. This oppression had been their reality for so long, the generation of Moses and Aaron could hardly remember a time when it wasn’t the case. The ages before slavery existed only in story and song. But God entered in and spoke. He worked wonders through Moses and spoke a promise of redemption and deliverance.

Contemplate this powerful relationship of ideas:

Greif + A Promise = Hope

These ideas are expressed in God’s first call to Moses. This is what he said:

“The Lord said [to Moses at the burning bush], “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey… Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”—Exodus 3:7-10

Do you see it? Affliction. Cry. Suffering. Deliverance. Out of Egypt. This is what the first Passover was all about. The hope of deliverance into a new life, a life with God and in His promised land. The Jewish people remembered and rehearsed this event year after year, wherever they were, and wherever they are, even until today. Our Jewish friends around the world will celebrate Passover this Wednesday, April 8 through April 16. The best celebration of all will still be in Jerusalem.

The Passover, its preparation and the connected feast of unleavened bread takes more than a week. Jerusalem, in the time of Jesus, would have been swimming with people, a surge of business opportunities, a torrent of worshippers in the temple, throbbing crowds everywhere, all looking to make the necessary preparations and gather the necessary stuffs for the Passover meal. These crowds would have made the Romans, especially Pilate, the Governor, very nervous. The Jews hated the Romans. The Romans both oppressed and quietly feared the Jews. These people were known to revolt. Pilate was under great pressure to keep the city under calm control.

Jesus had warned his disciples many times about what awaited Him in Jerusalem. He told them that He would be betrayed, beaten and killed. They did not understand and would not believe it because their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah allowed no room for this route. He would ascend to the throne of Israel, kick out the oppressing Romans and restore the kingdom of David. That is what they saw happening.

Follow this episode in Mark 10. Nothing is omitted in the flow of verses. It is almost unthinkable to follow up what Jesus revealed, yet again, to his disciples, with the remark and question asked by James and John. Unthinkable!

“They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”—Mark 10:32-37

Did you catch that? Jesus: I’m going to die and rise again. Disciples: Can we sit next to your throne? Contemplate this rusted version of the above relationship of ideas in the heart of the disciples:

A Misunderstood Promise + Misplaced Hope = Unexpected Grief

Unfortunately, this is what awaited the disciples at the end of this week. They would have a head-on collision with Jesus’ mission and purpose. Their misunderstanding and misplacement would be a blind-side crash. It would bring them much grief, fear and doubt. On Friday night, they would be huddled behind closed doors. Isolated. Fearful. Anxious. Afraid of what might happen next. Would the Romans come for them too?

Consider now your place. This week, as Christians, we will celebrate the passion of Jesus as we look forward to remembering the heaviness of His death and the glory of His resurrection. And this year we will do so like never before. Instead of our Sunday best, most of us will be in pajamas. Probably all day. Instead of a big family meal, we will gather with only those in our home. Without the crowded fanfare, shared joy and carnival in the church parking lot, we will all celebrate and remember Jesus’ death and resurrection under wise pandemic restrictions.

In this way, most of us resemble the Jews in the first Passover much more than the disciples at the time of Jesus. The Jews back then started from a place of grief. The disciples began with a misunderstood promise. We are different. Today, we are very different. Consider this renewed version of the relationship of grief, promise and hope:

Grief + A Fulfilled Promise = Transformative Hope

We know who Jesus is. We know what He has done. And we know that God has kept His promise in Jesus. And He will continue to do so.

“But as God is faithful, our [Paul and Timothy’s] word to you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”—2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Without making light of anything that is happening in the world right now, I find it powerfully relevant that we are called to remember the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus right now. Think about it. This is the time.

We are in grief. We are in fear. We are isolated and out of rhythm. So many things have been shaken and tested. So many relationships are under pressure, usually the most important ones. The extroverts among us are going mad. The introverts among us have a longer fuse. To top it all off, no one has a viable prediction. There is no timeline. We are all just waiting.

But, as then, God has provided us a way through it. That way requires faith. But God has supplied His promise. We are to trust in His promise. His promise is Jesus. His promises are fulfilled in Jesus. All of them.

So, this Passion Week, reflect on your grief and mourning. It is real. You should feel it and recognize it. But you should also remember God’s promise. God’s ancient deliverance of His people from slavery and plagues. God’s redemption and triumph over sin, death and the devil in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And God’s promise to grant you eternal life through faith in Jesus. Grief, hope and promise have a relationship. It’s actually a love story. It’s your story.

Family Discussion Questions:
1. What is grief? Why would a person be sad? What can be good about being sad?
2. What is a promise? What is the most important part of a promise?
3. What is hope? How would you describe hope in your own words?
4. How do you think grief and promise and hope work together? (Write each word largely on a card or post-it note and ask folks to rearrange it how they see them working together)
How does Jesus make a real difference in what we are struggling through right now?

Small Group Discussion Questions:
1. What do you know about a Passover Seder meal? Have you ever celebrated one? Share with your group.
2. Can you recall the events of the Exodus with your group? Recreate a general timeline.
3. Have someone create a “test” out of the ten plagues. See who in your group can name them in order. Key: Exodus 7:20-11:10.
4. Where in the Exodus story do you see grief and mourning?
5. Where does God reveal a promise? How does this promise create hope? Do you remember the Jewish nation struggling with this hope?
6. Now think about the disciples of Jesus. How did they relate hope, promise and grief? What was their experience? How did they misunderstand?
7. Take the original exodus and the experience of the disciples of Jesus and compare them. How did they handle grief and hope?
8. Reread 2 Corinthians 1:20. What does this say about Jesus? What relevance does it have for your in this time?
9. Share with your group what you are currently grieving? Be honest. Everyone is grieving something in this time.
10. Share with your group your faith in the promise of God.
Encourage one another in this time with testimonies of hope in Jesus Christ. We all need hope in this time.

Read these two passages, find hope in them, and encourage each other by them:

“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”—Hebrews 6:17-20

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”—1 Peter 1:3-5

Weekly Reading Plan:
This week, in this plan, you will follow Jesus’ footsteps in the final days and hours of His betrayal, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection. See this same reading plan complemented with short commentary and prayers in the Passion Week Prayer guide available on our website.

Today: Matthew 21:1-9; Zechariah 9:9; Luke 19:41-44
Monday: Matthew 21:10-17; Zechariah 14:21; Isaiah 11:1-5
Tuesday: Matthew 21:18-22; Luke 20:1-19; Mark 11:18
Wednesday: Matthew 26:1-16
Thursday: Matthew 26:36-50; Luke 22:7-34
Friday: John 19:1-30
Saturday: Psalm 55; Psalm 28
Sunday: John 20:1-29
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