Palm Sunday Parousia
Jesus’ Arrival on Palm Sunday is a Preview of His Coming Again
There is a resemblance between what happened on Palm Sunday and the official welcome for a royal official in the Greco-Roman world. When the people of a city went out to welcome a visiting dignitary, his arrival is called (among other things) a parousia, a word that literally means “presence” or “nearness” or “arrival.” The word could be used in its ordinary sense; in Philippians 1:26 and Philippians 2:12, for example, Paul uses the word to describe his own physical presence in Philippi. By the time the New Testament was written, however, the church had come to use parousia in a technical sense, in reference to Christ’s appearing at the end of the age. Matthew, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, James, 2 Peter and 1 John all use the word parousia in this technical sense.
Commentators have long noted that when Paul’s says that Christians will “meet” the Lord in the air at his parousia in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, he is using language common to the Greco-Roman world. Those who belong to Christ will serve as a greeting party to welcome the Lord when he comes to reign at the end of the age.
In a sense, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday functioned as a “sneak preview” of the Jesus’ final parousia. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his works of power – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out demons, calming storms and raising the dead – gave the world a sneak preview of the age to come. His entry into Jerusalem and cleansing the temple functioned in the same way. All of these events point forward to a day that has not yet fully arrived.
Christian Worship Repeats Palm Sunday and Anticipates the Kingdom of God
It occurs to me that the church repeats Palm Sunday every week in its worship. Worship begins with a procession; a processional cross (and perhaps a book of Gospel readings) is carried into the sanctuary as the people sing hymns. The symbolism is clear: God’s people welcome Jesus into his holy temple (here, the body of Christ assembled) and praise his name. That sounds like Palm Sunday to me. When it is time to share the Lord’s table, the people join in their acclamation “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” These are Palm Sunday words.
We praise God in our worship, then, not just so that we can feel holy and close to God – or even just because God deserves our praise, which he does – but so so that we can join in the work that began on Palm Sunday – the work that will continues through the day of Christ’s appearing. Our praise comprises one aspect of our witness to the world. In our praise, we proclaim our faith in the king who came to save us through his suffering, death and resurrection. We proclaim our faith in the one who comes to us even now in word and sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we proclaim our faith in the one will come again in glory to reign over his redeemed creation. In our praise, we anticipate the day when Christ appears. On that day, we will visibly and openly join our voices with the choirs of angels and archangels that praise his name forever.
At the conclusion of our worship, then, the recessional does not symbolize God leaving the building, like Elvis at the end of a concert. We probably ought to call it the “processional into the world.” The parade goes on; we take our witness of praise into the streets. I’ve often thought that the church ought to conduct actual parades on Palm Sunday. We ought to march through town, singing hymns and carrying banners that say “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Even without the literal parade, however, the message of our praise remains the same. Here is your king! How will you receive him? And how will he receive you when he comes to reign in glory?