It must have been quite a sight that day outside the wall of Jerusalem. Seeing Jesus, on a donkey, no less, a ride reserved for Kings, coming towards the city. I wonder what started the palm-waving or who was the first to lay down their coat? With the laying down and the raising up, how many visions of victory were laid and raised from inside the hearts of the people? Visions of Jesus' deliverance from the oppression of Rome, healing for their afflictions, restoration of their broken city must have swirled amongst the shouts of “Hosanna!” I wonder how long after the people's hope began to soar for deliverance did they realize that Jesus had a different kind of deliverance in mind? That He would indeed deliver, heal and restore, but in a way no one saw coming? I wonder how long it took for the hope in the raised palms to come down?
Last year on Palm Sunday, I sat with this same computer in my lap and wrote about hope and palm leaves. My friend who had been on the road to recovery in her journey with leukemia had taken a sudden and uncertain turn. I had spoken to her two days before and she told me she was scared, she was ready to fight, she loved me and she'd see me for lunch on Monday. That afternoon, while I was writing, I found out that she had experienced a very scary night, but was stable now. Her husband told me later that evening, that they didn't need anything for now but they would definitely see me in the morning. What I woke up to the next morning was a text from her husband saying to get to the hospital immediately.
Being there at the hospital that day was one of the hardest and holiest moments I've ever been a part of. Her small group from her church, her pastor, her family, pockets of her beloved friends, we all stood there, and we sang. We sang hymns, we listened to her pastor read the words of Romans 8 and we wept when he read about “when we don't know what to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings we can't understand.” (v 26) Two hours after I walked off the elevator, and within the hour that we had arranged to meet for lunch, she was gone.
I think sitting in that room, helping her Mom and her husband pack up her overnight bag, listening to her best friend from college try to help wade through what comes next; that was about the time my palm leaf came down. This was not the deliverance that we wanted. This was not the healing that we asked for. This was not the restoration we had in mind. And yet, here we were, with socks to pick up and unfinished journal entries, and undelivered birthday gifts in my purse.
Palm Sunday, and the day that follows, now represents something so tragic and beautiful to me. When Jesus came riding in, over the coats and expectations laid before Him and under the hopes raised up all around Him among the waving leaves, the expectations I have on what kind of a Savior He really is dies. Instead, the heart of the God-Man is revealed. He has come to not just conquer what seems to rule us, He has come to conquer death itself. He has come not to just heal what causes suffering here, but to bring a healing that can never be shaken. He comes not just to restore our broken hearts, but to restore our broken souls.
In our grief, then and now, I don't have the ability to say “but this makes it OK.” That's not what is happening here. What is happening, is the only One who can bring peace to the suffering that still exists this side of Heaven has made His way into the City. He grieves before the Temple. He eats and drinks with His friends that will break His heart. He weeps and prays in the Garden. He bleeds. He knows that this side of Heaven will be hard for us. (Mark 11, John 13, 16-17, 19)
And yet, He promises us a peace that surpasses all understanding. (Philippians 4:7) A peace that is just one piece of that healing His death and resurrection brings to those who call upon His name. A peace that when grief is all too tangible, He gently reminds the heart that cancer did not win. A peace that when life feels that it will never be the same, we are assured that it most certainly will not be, but that this is not how the story ends. A peace He knew we would need for our lives after the palm leaves would come down, but also for us to place our hope in on the darkest of days.
You see, He did deliver us. He did heal us. He did restore us. He will never stop doing so.