There are some places on the Christian calendar so significant that they warrant special attention and extra time. One of those unfolds this week. The events that the church commemorates in the waning days of Jesus’ life begin on Palm Sunday and continue up until the morning of Easter Sunday.
If there could be one word to sum up the mood that starts the week it would be “bittersweet.” If something is literally bittersweet, it simultaneously tastes both bitter and sweet at the same time—like coffee and doughnuts on a Sunday morning. Many life events—especially what we might call “real life” events—are bittersweet in a similar way. Life is often broken and beautiful at the same time.
As we picture Jesus riding into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, it might be hard to know whether to cry or laugh with joy. Does Jesus enter the city in lowliness or pomp? Is He coming to bow His head to die—or to reign in power? The answer is bittersweet: yes. Jesus comes in both of these ways and for both of these reasons. He comes not as a king we expect or think that we want: a king wearing bright and shining armor, commanding the obedience of his subjects, lording it over others. No, he comes instead as the King that we need. A king who gives up his own life, like a kernel of wheat, so that it might bear much fruit (John 12:24). Encountering Jesus on Palm Sunday reminds us that Life truly is beautiful…though it might taste bitter and feel broken right now.
As we enter Holy Week, we remember again the bitterness of Palm Sunday’s humility, the bitterness of Maundy Thursday’s betrayal, and the bitterness of Good Friday’s death. But…be patient. Holy Week (and, for that matter, all of Lent) might taste bitter now. But there is a very sweet ending in store!