“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ …But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?’ He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” (Mt 21: 6-10, 15-17)
The crowds greet Jesus as a victorious conqueror, but they don’t yet understand the meaning or nature of Christ’s imminent “victory.” The last thing they expect is for this “prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” to be crucified by the Romans five days from now. Hence the “praise” offered by the people to our Lord on this occasion is rather infantile, not only in the case of the children, but also the adults.
Today we also greet Christ as victorious conqueror, but our vision of His “victory” very much includes His Cross. In the Byzantine Troparion-hymn of today’s feast, we greet Christ as “Vanquisher of death.” And we carry the “symbols of victory” (τὰ τῆς νίκης σύμβολα, победы знамения), a reference not just to palm-leaves, but to palm-leaves woven into little crosses, as ancient Christians did in Jerusalem.
As we celebrate Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem, let me remember what kind of “victory” He comes to offer me. He comes to trample death “by death,” that is, by walking through it, rather than avoiding it. He comes in humility, seated on a donkey, - and a borrowed donkey at that, because He was so poor, He didn’t have one of His own. And He comes several days before Passover and before His own death, to become our new Passover. Let me enter Jerusalem with Him today, and walk with Him, and in His name, toward His kind of “victory.”