The Triumph of Palm Sunday

Yesterday we celebrated the Proper Liturgy for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. One of the primary themes of this day is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This year the story of the triumphal entry came from Mark 11:1-11. The triumphal entry also marks our entry into Holy Week.

During the blessing of the palms we prayed:

On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life. (Book of Common Prayer p.271).

I wonder, though, if the people who were with Jesus on that day really understood what triumph meant. I wonder if we do.

The picture Mark offers us – Jesus riding on a colt, peasants throwing cloaks on the road, others cutting branches from the fields and waving them around or throwing them onto the road – is not our usual picture of triumph. If this is a triumphal entry where is the display of strength and power? Where are the heroes telling stories of conquest and victory? Why is no one shouting, “We’re number one?”

Those questions are addressed in the story immediately preceding the triumphal entry story. There we read that Jesus healed a blind man named Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). The very last sentence of that story provides a lens through which we need to see and understand the triumphal entry. The Bartimaeus story ends with this: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way” (Mark 10:52). Apparently Bartimaeus regained his sight and then joined the procession into Jerusalem.

Theologically Mark is telling us that we will need new sight, new vision, in order to see and understand Jesus’ triumphal entry. If we want to be a part of the entry into Jerusalem as well as into Holy Week we will have to look at triumph with different eyes. Triumph in God’s world does not look like triumph in our world.

More often than not we want an exteriorized triumph – one of pomp and circumstance, power, strength, and victory. God, however, seeks inner triumph of humility, peace, obedience, love. The triumphal entry manifests the self-emptying and self-giving love of Christ as described in the following:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).

So Christ rides the humility of a colt into Jerusalem rather than a war horse. He is surrounded by peasants instead of an imperial army. His followers carry leafy branches and not weapons. He displays peace instead of violence. He is a servant and not a commander. He acts out of obedience rather than domination. He gives instead of taking. His way is one of letting go rather than attachment.

If we are to be disciples of Christ, following him on the way, then like Bartimaeus we must have our eyes opened to a new way of being, living, loving, and dying. It is the way of kenosis, the triumph of self-emptying – the absolute abandonment of one’s self to God in one’s will, action, word, every manifestation of one’s being. Nothing is held in reserve.

This means we live without having to be right, successful, or in control. We do not seek approval or admiration from others. We give our self without fear, worry, or anxiety. We remove from our relationships with others all expectation, judgment, comparison, and competition. This letting go and emptying frees us to love and surrender to love.

Life lived in kenotic love, as revealed by the only-begotten Son, is given to humanity in the dual commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

The triumph of Palm Sunday is the self-emptying that allows us to be fully present and to fully love. “The more total our self-emptying, the more absolute is our spirit’s ingress into the bright realm of Eternal Divinity” (Father Sophrony).



  1. I find it difficult to wave a palm frond with joy at this service… it makes me so conscious of my hypocrisy.

    In other words, it is a wonderfully fitting start to the week.


    1. Thanks, Eva, for your words and honesty. This liturgy always reminds me that we can neither live solely in the palms of life or the passion. The two co-exist – the palms and the passion, the successes and the failures, the joys and the sorrows – and God fills both. Blessings on your Holy Week.


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